When Alan Moore was ensconced at Rob Liefeld's company Extreme in the late 90's he worked on several properties, but the longest and most acclaimed of his somewhat sub-par work for Liefeld was his reimagining of Liefeld's dickheaded killer Superman rip-off - Supreme. His history was rebooted and the character became a much more well behaved sort, and there was a meta gimmick in that many issues saw him remembering his new history, which was drawn by the chameleonic artist Rick Veitch, as adventures in the style of the comics they would have been drawn as at that time. When Jim Lee set up the ABC imprint for Moore in 1999, amongst the series he kicked off with (such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea and the wonderful Top Ten), he decided there was still mileage in the neo-Silver Age Superman idea and created Tom Strong, a superstrong scientific genius, with increased longevity whose lifetime has so far spanned the entire twentieth century. The main stories were illustrated by Chris Sprouse to start with, and flashbacks by a variety of other artists (Arthur Adams, Gary Frank, Cam Smith, Dave Gibbons and Gerry Ordway), however the meta aspect that Supreme contained is no longer fully present. Although the series was serialised rather than containing arcs, the first seven issues do form a loose arc storyline regarding Tom and ghosts from his past. So lets have some light-hearted hijinks as a tribute to the Silver Age, a comicbook sci-fi fantasy age that in no way involved stories about rape.
The book begins with a text write-up that names Millenium City as the place where Tom Strong lives and protects. It's based in the same US as Top Ten's Neopolis and Promethea's New York. The background text names "Paul Saveen" as Tom's archenemy and how they clashed many times before Saveen's skeleton was found in a jeep in West Africa in 1992. Tom Strong and his family are hugely popular in his home city and their story will be told in the next few issues.
|Timmy gets his fan information.|
We see Tom's parents in 1899 on a boat piloted by the pidgin English speaking black man Tomas. Before he can be even more offensive, the boat crashes on Attabar Teru and Tomas is killed much to the distress of Susan Strong. Her husband, Sinclair, sets up his artifically intelligent robot "the Pneumatic Man", who later is known as just "Pneuman". The Peunmatic Man builds them a shelter while one of the natives watches from the shadows.
|Tom's parents and Pneuman.|
Tommy's cable car is attacked and Tom Strong flies to the rescue using a helipack. Tommy doesn't notice the fight and continues reading. The story jumps to 1903, and Sinclair has build a small scientific complex inside an extinct volcano using the latent heat as power. Tom is being kept in a high pressure chamber to increase his strength. Susan wants Tom to come out and play with some of the "Ozu" tribes children, now they are all on friendly terms. Sinclair says not until Tom is eleven.
Susan: "I'd just like to feel his skin against my check Sinclair, just for a while."
Dressed in pressure suits, they give Tom a meal. Susan asks why they feed him "Goloka Root", Sinclair replies that it "promotes longevity and higher cognative awareness". Tom also starts speaking the "Ozu" language which he is learning via Pneuman.
In the present, Tom fends off the cable car hijacker, but Tommy doesn't notice still. We jump to Tom as a young adult in 1921. Tom has built a new high tech complex in the volcano and says to Pneuman he wishes his parents had been alive to see it. He then goes to see his adoptive family, the Ozu, to say farewell as he is leaving to explore the wider world. He has taught them English and Chief Kumba Omotu, reminds him to keep chewing the Goloka root and that his daughter Dhalua loves him. Tom kisses her saying he loves her like a sister. Tom says he shall dream of Attabar Teru, his home while he is away and sails off, while Dhalua stays and watches him disappear over the horizon.
We then get a quick fight between Tom and Paul Saveen atop Millenium City's "Statue Of Harmony". Tom gets the better of him and then calls Pneuman, he wants to return to Attabar Teru. There he marries Dhalua (She's your "sister" Tom, gross!), and in the marital bed says to her he wants to bring some new sentient life into the world. She thinks he's talking about having a child:
Tom: "I was thinking about performing innovative brain experiments on a monkey.. but I suppose we could have a baby as well."
He does indeed create an intelligent gorilla, "King Solomon". The talking gorilla unfortunately has the voice and vocabulary of an upperclass Edwardian gentleman. All "bally" this and "old chap" that and it's fantastically annoying. Now while I'd like to suggest another foot-to-teeth high speed interface scenario take place, gorilla's are superstrong and I only like to beat up children.
|Tom, Dalua, Tesla, Solomon and Pneuman.|
Tom: "Welcome to the club member 2059. Glad I could help you get to school on time."
He then disappears and Tommy finally clocks what was going on, says his catchphrase and the issue ends.
Chapter Two starts with a flashback to 1987. Tom, Solomon and Tesla are hunting something in a sewer. The page and panel layout makes it look like something is remembering them doing it. They are destroying devices Tom calls "mechanical parasites." We then cut to an image of two nerds peering at it in the present day, having been rebuilt by them via a construction kit they ordered online.
|Death and Rebirth of Modular Man.|
Dhalua and Solomon are being interviewed after saving the plane. Then Pneuman informs them "Modular Man" is back and they rush off to help. More buildings have been assimilated by the parasites and they start attacking Pneuman as well, Solomon unscrews his legs before they can reach his brain. Dhalua looks up and sees the metal plates have formed a giant face which haltingly speaks.
|Modular Man keeps on a'growing.|
Suddenly Tom's spaceship appears overhead. Tom tells Tesla to get clear then uses his grapple gun to dive down into the middle of the Modular Man. Modular Man asks if Tom is going to destroy him again, and Tom says yes he'll keep doing it until Modular Man gets bored. Tom then reasons with him, saying what kind of existence is it to keep being created and destroyed, and Modular Man asks what he does he suggest?
|Chris Sprouse's art really is Very Good.|
Tom: "It was silent. Oh there were breathtaking vistas and beautiful sunsets, but it all went unoticed. It's only life that gives meaning to the stars and worlds my sweet. Life or something very much like it."
The next chapter introduces the "Aztech" civilisation. A technologically advanced Aztec society, it still practices human sacrifice, using it to interact with "Quetzalcoatl-9", a fractal intelligence and tame God. The Aztech's practice "lateral expansion". They conquer parallel earths by assimilation. The High Priest is called "Moctecuzuma" who initiates another annexation.
|Introducing The Aztechs.|
He wakes strapped to the sacrificially altar. Moctecuzuma tells him he speaks English, French and Spanish, so speak to him:
Tom: "Aztecs arrive from a parallel world. Incredible."
Moctecuzuma says it's not that unbelievable. For their time the Aztechs were the most advanced race on Earth and have had more time to reach their technological peak. On their home Earth when COrtez arrived, they dealt with him using machine guns. Moctecuzuma says Tom is to be sacrificed as he has an above average intelligence so Quetzalcoatl-9 will assimilate him, "you will not survive the process".
|A sticky situation for Tom.|
Tom: "You no longer want to be their God?"
Quetzalcoatl-9: "Oh, quite the contrary. I want to remind them what a God really is."
Tom hijacks a flying disc and works his way past guards to "the palace of the sun". Moctecuzuma follows him there, but is too late. Tom has "broken the circle of data protection". He tries to quickly reprogram but Quetzalcoatl-9 rises up and kills him. Then it starts honoring his agreement with Tom and pulls back the annexing pyramids.
Quetzalcoatl-9: "The other 2057 worlds of my Empire I shall retain, ruled by benign theocracy. Why? What did you expect?"
Tom says on his earth, the serpent is the symbol of betrayal. Quetzalcoatl-9 says they trusted each other, and that trust results in a better outcome than betrayal. "May you and your world go in peace" Quetzalcoatl-9 says, and Tom leaves the pyramid which disappears behind him and reunites with his family.
In Millenium City not long after, Solomon and Pneuman are sorting through Tom's post. One is a mysterious package that Solomon takes to Tom who is still in bed with Dhalua. It is a white rose with a note that says "Happy Anniversary" on it, no signature just a lipstick mark and a swastika. Tom tries to remember what July 6th is an anniversay of, as several planes appear outside and start attacking.
|Have I mentioned how much I like the art?|
We get a flashback to Tom in the ruins of Berlin in the final days of the European theatre of WW2. He is trying to track Ingrid as she is a genetically engineered superwoman called "the Third Reich's secret weapon. Their last hope". She appears behind him, clad in black leather and with several female soldiers with her. She insults Tom for marrying a "swartze girl", what a bitch.
|The start of a beautiful friendship, not.|
Ingrid: "Ah, herr Strong. You are awake. You missed all the fun we've had while you were sleeping."
I... I don't like the sound of that. She explains her purpose is to regroup and when the time is right, restablish Nazi rule. Tom says that she is crazy. She laughs and said Himmler said the same thing but he's dead now so who cares? She has in the bunker bombs to take out their enemies. She wants Tom to join her, but he says the idea "makes me sick". She says in that case, she has what she wanted from him so he can die now.
But Tom manages to break the chains holding him and attacks Ingrid, knocking her into a fire which sets the rest of the bunker on fire. She tells her Nazi girls to escape while she and Tom fight. The fire sets all the bombs off and there is a huge explosion. Somehow Tom survives this and the flashback ends.
|Ingrid in the present day.|
Tom: "No. I'm a survivor. You're a relic of something that should have died some time ago."
She dodges his attacks and mocks his positive attributes, sneering that he is so "confident". Then a trap door opens underneath and he falls into a pit. It starts up humming and Tom recognises it as a time machine. "Give my regards to Pangaea" sys Ingrid and Tom is thrown far back in time.
Tom arrives on pre-historic earth, the air is toxic so he puts on a breathing mask. He dictates to a diary about his observations and thoughts on the situation he is in. He is not certain how he'll survive, low oxygen, no drinkable water, no food, he is screwed. He has been to this time period before with Dhalua in the 1950's. Cue flashback.
|The slime beast attacks.|
Tom: "This must be some sort of gigantic slime-mould... A collective organism made from billions of sub-microscopic lifeforms acting in unison."
The mould creature gets aggressive and Tom chucks a bomb at it. It reforms and speaks to them saying "Pangaea is... not...your continent". Tom says he and Dhalua are from the future where Pangaea no longer exists. This upsets the mould but before it can attack them again, the time machine yanks Tom and Dhalua back to the 1950's. End flashback.
Tom in the present muses on how they accidentally bought some of the slime creature back with them. He imprisoned it and studied it, then to stop it escaping again decided to send it back in time in 1975 to rejoin the rest of itself. In retrospect Tom thinks that might have been a mistake.
The slime creature then reveals itself to be the size of a mountain range now. It forms a human shape to converse with Tom. It tells Tom it has formed an alliance with Ingrid Weiss and her male cohort to provide a distraction for him while they prepare a surprise for Tom's one hundreth birthday. The time machine to get back is a ways to the east.
|Tom versus Mr. Mould.|
Turns out it's the site of a heavy meteor shower destined to wipe the slime mould out. As Tom fires up the time machine he departs to the sight of the enraged slime creature being devastated by meteors. He arrives back in 1999 and in a strange set of rooms. He explores and finds a huge model of Millenium City and a voice says "Tom.. at last."
|Paul Saveen revealed.|
Tom is investigating the disappearance of reporter Greta Gabriel who has been investigating a spate of fires in the "Soup Bone" district. He tracks her to some sewers but once inside he is taken prisoner by Saveen who he is meeting for the first time. Saveen takes Tom and Greta to a room with a huge machine in it. It creates something called "Phlogisten, the thermal liquid".
|I'm beginning to think Tom likes being chained up.|
Back in the present, Tom continues looking for Saveen as he talks to him over an intercom. Meanwhile Dhalua and Tesla are busy beating the shit out of the Nazi girls to find out what happened to Tom. One of them spills the beans and Tesla calls Pneuman to bring them their "M.P.D Copters" and take the Nazi girls into custody.
Tom wanders through a museum dedicated to his life of fighting crime. It has statues of all his arch-enemies including Ingrid. Saveen says he has found a way "to really hurt you".
Saveen: "We know a way past that bullet proof triangle, Tom. We know a way to your heart."
The Ingrid statue turns out to be Ingrid herself, and she and Tom fight. He punches her through a wall an behind it Saveen is sitting relaxed in a chair. He says they shouldn't keep Tom in suspense any longer and brings out a boy dressed in Nazi regalia. Saveen says "Albrecht Strong...your son."
|A shocking swerve!|
Dhalua and Tesla, accompanied by Solomon fly to where they have detected somewhere high tech in the sewers so in they go. Albrecht greets Tom and says he is glad he is not a Jew. Tom thinks this is a trick, but Ingrid explains how she "took" his genetic material when he was unconcious in the bunker. She kept it on ice for nearly fifty years, when Paul Saveen found out in 1990 he supported her while she had the child.
Tom tried to reason the nazi ideology out of Albrecht, but gets punched for his troubles. "Albrecht... your mother has filled you with poison" pleads Tom. Albrecht punches his again for trying to turn him against her. Saveen says he's won, he's "poisoned your future". Tom says well lets have a look at the future and turns on future predicting machine that is in the museum.
|Future Tom smacks down Future Albrecht.|
Tom: "It breaks my heart to say this Albrecht... but you're genuinely a despicable little bastard."
He and Tom fight and fall to the ground where some elderly "Strongmen of America" including Mr. Holy Socks (ugh) rush to protect Tom. But Tom needs no help. He calls Albrecht's Nazi ideals "infantile". Then he says Saveen has been dead for nearly sixty years and despite Albrecht wielding his technology, Tom can still defeat Albrecht and he punches him unconcious. Tom picks him up and says he might be rehabilitated and the flash forward ends.
Albrecht smashs the future predicting machine saying he will not be pitied by his father. Tom points out that in the vision he said Saveen had been dead for nearly sixty years. Then he questions Saveen as to how he created a skeleton with perfectly matched dental records. He then reveals "Saveen" as a "Denby Quilks" aka "Charade" a gloopy man, like Batman's Clayface who can impersonate anyone. Ingrid says if they are not working with the real Saveen they are leaving.
|Dhalua is PISSED OFF.|
Dhalua: "No I was looking in her eyes when her spirit shattered. She will not be back."
A few months later it is New years Eve. Tom and family are out celebrating an contemplating the soon to be over twentieth century. As the fireworks start at the beginning of the twenty-first century Tom says:
Tom: "Happy New Year everyone. I love you all."
So that's the first volume of Tom Strong. I have to say that although it has it's positive points most of that being the wonderful art, I find it to be somewhat...boring. Maybe because The Silver Age is my least favourite era in comic's history this neo-Silver Age stuff generally does nothing for me. About the only one I like that I can think of is Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, which imbued genuinely powerful emotion in his walk through what makes Superman the ultimate hero. This feels somewhat flat and detached by comparison, it's saying all the right things, but the soul isn't present. Tom himself was actually designed by Moore to be used by other writers and he quit the series at issue #22. Unfortunately Tom Strong ran into the same problems the rest of the non-Moore ABC comics did, people simply weren't interested unless Moore was involved. Moore came back and wrote issue #36, the final issue, which also functioned as a tie-in to his appearance in the apocalyptic events at the end of Promethea. In some ways it's something of a shame Tom didn't last as a hero, having a black wife and mixed race daughter who both kicked ass as well, put right one of my main Silver Age related gripes, which was how male dominated and whitebread the era was. But it was not to be. I'm not sure I'll be looking at further Tom Strong volumes apart from Terrific Tales, because the two other volumes he wrote are out of print and cost more than I am willing to pay for a character I am not that fussed about. We shall see if my completionism gets the better of me...