After several years away from stands following 2010’s “Robots of Doom,” Vertigo Comics is bringing Tom Strong back to the fore with “Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril.” The six-issue miniseries, written by Peter Hogan and featuring art by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, blasts into comic shops July 31.
Originally created by writer Alan Moore for his America’s Best Comics imprint at Wildstorm, “Tom Strong” debuted in 1999 and featured the titular hero in a post-modern superhero series that jammed period-tales of sea-faring pirates next to retro-futurist romps on the dark side of the moon. The character, referred to as a science-hero, was raised in an experimental high-gravity chamber, endured intensive schooling and has prolonged his life and improved his vitality through the ingestion of a fictional West Indian root.
With “Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril,” series veterans Hogan, Sprouse and Story send Tom Strong on a quest and return the hero to Terra Obscura, an alternate Earth on the far side of the universe populated by a team of science heroes Moore and Hogan resurrected from the ashes of the nearly forgotten 1940s imprint, Nedor Comics. Tom Strong finds himself is in a tough spot: he’s powerless, and the lives of his daughter and her unborn child are threatened. Tom Strong and his son-in-law Val Var Garm have set out to find something that just might save Tesla from certain death.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Peter Hogan about the new miniseries, Silver Age heroes and the looming specter of death.
CBR News: First off, what can you tell us about the story you’ve set out to tell in “Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril?”
Peter Hogan: It’s an odd one. Partly because it involves Tom going to Terra Obscura, so the whole story’s kind of a team-up with those characters. Also, something terrible has happened on that world, so Tom’s headed into some very dark territory indeed — though I can promise that we do come back out into the light again before story’s end.
You wrote a couple of “Tom Strong” stories back in the early 2000s. What has the experience of stepping back into the world of “Tom Strong,” bringing Tom back, and likely introducing the character to new readers, been like?
I wrote three issues of the original run, plus the Tesla Strong special [“The Many Worlds of Tesla Strong,”] and then the “Tom Strong & The Robots Of Doom” miniseries in 2010. So yes, it’s been a couple of years off the stands, but I’m sure old readers will welcome him back with open arms. New readers can always discover him through the trades, and I’d say they’re in for a treat.
Since you’ve revisited the Tom Strong character multiple times, what about him keeps drawing you back? What do you find compelling about the character and his world?
I honestly think he’s one of the best heroic characters we’ve got. There’s a real nobility there — Tom always tries to do the right thing, even at personal cost. He’s able to grow, to admit that he’s wrong. He has all the best aspects of the Silver Age version of Superman, but revised for today’s readership.
Chris Sprouse and Karl Story are returning to handle the pencils and inks, lending some continuity to the aesthetic of the book. What are they bringing to the book? Have you fallen easily back into a “Tom Strong” rhythm?
Oh, sure. I think we all trust each other to bring our best game to this.
In “Planet of Peril,” something is threatening the life of Strong’s daughter, Tesla, and he and Val Var Garm head out to try to save her. How is the relationship between Strong and Val Var taking shape? They were at odds for a time, but do they still have any lingering tension?
Well, Val is Tom’s son-in-law now, so there’s still a little bit of irritation there, but mainly they pull together, because that’s what families are supposed to do.
What other characters might we see returning as Strong ventures towards Terra Obscura? How might they complicate, or ease, the situation?
You’ll see most of the old Terra Obscura characters, though there are a few familiar faces missing — and we’ll also be meeting a few ones that are new to the reader, like the Cavalier, who’s another 1940s Nedor character that I’ve revived. Tom’s on a quest, so mainly the people he encounters are helping him find the person he’s looking for.
Describing Tom’s journey as a quest brings to mind the trope of the hero’s journey, in which a character searches for something specific but ultimately ends up discovering himself. Tom is searching for a way to save his daughter, but what else might he discover on his journey?
You’ll have to wait and see.
Tom Strong is a character with powers and a super-genius intellect who has these wild adventures. It seems that the books grew to be something very character driven, telling stories about love lost and found, and also about family.
Yes, I agree. I think Alan put a lot of heart into Tom’s creation, and that’s something I’ve tried to stay true to. Love and family are things that are a central part of all our lives, and without heart, what have you got? I read a couple of things recently that were perfectly plotted but had no heart at all — the characters might as well have been made out of cardboard, so you simply didn’t care what happened to them. But when I put Tom through the wringer, I’d like to think that the readers empathize with him.
Over its history, “Tom Strong” has reveled in pulp genre stories — it’s almost as if a writer could use the characters to tell nearly any type of story, from retro-futurist moon romps to swashbuckling pirate tales. Does “Planet of Peril” fit into that same tradition, and do you find there is an inherent pulp sensibility in contemporary comics?
People always pick up on the pulp aspect, but I actually think Tom’s more Silver Age. It has that innocence and imagination and energy, but hopefully handled with a modern sensibility. Someone I met in a comic shop coined the phrase ‘post-modern Silver Age’ to describe things like “Planetary” and “All-Star Superman,” and he included Tom Strong in that category. I’ll go along with that.
“Post-modern Silver Age” makes a lot of sense — it’s as if, maybe, those Silver-Age tropes act as a package, or a foil, for something emotionally and psychologically complex.
I think so. I think the things that we all love about superheroes often get swamped by unnecessary baggage in the modern world — the convoluted continuity, the crossover events and so on — but if you strip it all down to the basics, it still works just fine, and it becomes relevant again.
Lastly, what sort of perils will Tom Strong find on the Planet of Peril?
Death. Lots and lots of death. Not the standard comic book back-from-the-grave-after-six-months version, but the real thing. Like I said, it’s dark territory.
“Tom Stronge and the Planet of Peril” #1 debuts July 31.