Sunday, 16 December 2012

Tom Strong

Alan Moore titles are not known for their sense of fun. As highly regarded as they may be nobody would describe Watchmen, V For Vendetta, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as joyful. Generally speaking the closest he comes to fun is a gritty title that has a sense of humour and cracks the occasional joke.

This is not the case with Tom Strong. From its opening issue it’s very clear that this is a far more light-hearted affair than we’re use to from Moore.

We also get a different storytelling approach from the writer. Moore usually works in multi-issue arcs and takes his time with storytelling. Here he focuses on stories contained within a single issue, which adds to the feeling of Tom Strong being a more fun affair than we’re used to. It lessens the reliance on continuity so prominent in comics and shifts the focus to the ideas and stories on display.

And what ideas they are! An empire of technological Aztecs that spans across several alternate universes, Nazis that have access to S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque airships and time travel, a sentient landmass, a race of volcano people, and cowboys from space (sporting third eyes) are among the creations on offer. None of the stories are predictable thanks to Moore’s invention and ability to surprise his audience.

The selection of artists help matters too. It’s not uncommon for a single issue to feature the work of three or four different artists as the plot jumps between past, present and future or flits into a parallel world. Regular pencil man Chris Sprouse is joined by Art Adams, Dave Gibbons, and Gary Frank, among others, who create a sense of carefree fun and give us some wonderful visuals. It lends Tom Strong a varied feel.

The quality doesn’t dip after Moore makes his final regular contribution with issue 22 (he would return to pen the final issue of the original run). He goes out with a bang by giving us a story that ties together many elements of his run on the book, eerily similar to DC’s love of multi-universe tales. Following that we get stories about creatures that are the wind of Millennium City, magical desert cities, space travel, and ghost women.

Tom Strong is a tremendously inventive book and one that perfectly captures the spirit of what comic books can be. They should be like this far more often. Too much continuity gets boring very quickly. Moore has his faults, but falling into the trap of meta-reference is not among them.

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