How many science heroes does it take to overthrow a Nazi regime? Hopefully just one because that’s all the world has in Peter Hogan and Chris Sprouse’s brand-new limited series, “Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom,” which finally returns the fan-favorite, pulp action hero to the comic book page after an absence of nearly half a decade.
Co-created by Sprouse and legendary comic writer Alan Moore for Wildstorm‘s America’s Best Comics imprint, Tom Strong appeared in his own self-titled series and several spinoff titles from 1999 to 2006. The characters and world of “Tom Strong” harkened back to the classic pulp stories of the 1950s mixed with a dose of Silver Age sensibilities. Strong himself acted more like a “science hero,” having gained super strength and durability from growing up in a high-gravity environment and obtaining a longer than normal lifespan as well as mental and physical perfection after ingesting a special root. Together with his supporting cast – consisting of his wife, Dhalua, his daughter, Tesla, their steam-powered robot assistant, Pneuman, and anthropomorphic gorilla, Solomon – Tom Strong went on various adventures traversing time, space and everything in between.
Hogan previously penned a few issues of the original “Tom Strong” run in addition to the “Terra Obscura” limited series. He returns to the character this June with the six-issue “Robots of Doom,” which sees Tom’s illegitimate son Albrecht altering the past and turning the modern day into a hellish, Nazi ruled world. The writer spoke with CBR News about the upcoming title and what the future holds for some of America’s best comics.
Wildstorm editor Ben Abernathy first approached Hogan about the possibility of doing a Tom Strong story back in late 2008. Before they proceeded, however, the writer said Abernathy wanted to make sure that Alan Moore would agree to reviving the character. “I rang up Alan and asked him, and fortunately for me, he was absolutely fine with the idea,” Hogan told Comic Book Resources. “He told me, ‘You’ve got this whole world to play with now – so go and have fun with it.’ The next step was to come up with a plot, and it kind of seemed to require something big and dramatic, to re-establish Tom properly with the readers.”
The author decided to revive a concept Moore never got around to using during his tenure on the original title – a group of robots known as the Dero. “They were going to be his version of an old pulp concept concocted by Richard Shaver, of a race of ‘detrimental robots’ living inside the Earth,” explained Hogan. “I don’t know what Alan’s plans for them might have been, but in my story they’re not so much villains as a weapon. They’re how Albrecht manages to conquer the world.”
Albrecht himself first appeared in “Tom Strong” issue #6, conceived after his mother Ingrid Weiss stole “genetic material” from an unconscious Tom during World War II. Although possessing his father’s durability and strength, Albrecht’s mother raised him to follow the Nazi ideal. “I think Albrecht desperately wants Tom’s approval, which of course he’ll never get, because Tom loathes and detests everything that Albrecht stands for,” said Hogan. “That’s the tragedy. But any sympathy one might feel for Albrecht is undercut by the fact that he’s a Nazi. For me, having to write speeches full of Nazi ideology, and make it sound sincere and reasonable. That was hard. It does leave a very nasty taste in the mind.”
The very first issue of the new limited series shows the devastating effects of Albrecht’s warped mind and new Nazi regime, which Hogan said leads to the death of Tom’s entire family. “It [has] the effect of isolating Tom and giving him a powerful motivation to fight back, but it sprang simply from the logical conclusion that in a Nazi reality Dhalua and Tesla would have ended up in a concentration camp almost immediately,” said the writer. “One of the points I make in the first issue is that, given enough time and absolute power, the Nazis would have killed everybody and anybody that didn’t fit their definition of an Aryan master race. The Holocaust would eventually have hit most of humanity, basically.”
Hogan said that Tom spends the majority of the series desperately trying to set right what once went wrong and overthrow the new world order. “It’s a world that Tom simply cannot allow to continue,” he explained. “There’s a point in the first issue where Ingrid Weiss is telling him that resistance is futile, because the Nazis have already won, and Tom replies, ‘Even if that were true, I would still oppose you and everything you stand for until my dying day.'”
Hogan said that Tom’s determination to do what’s right is one of the things he really enjoys about the character. He related the strong-willed hero to another cape-wearing, world-famous do gooder. “I think he’s a lot like the early ’60s Superman. He’s noble, and reasonable, and conscientious, trying to do the best he can in a difficult world,” said Hogan. “And despite the fact that he has to combat evil, there’s no malice in him at all. Tom would rather rehabilitate than punish, and he’s a lot more about resolution than he is about conflict. He’s a peacemaker, and I think that makes him fairly unusual, as comic book adventure heroes go.”
That same comparison to Superman is something Hogan said many readers tend not to immediately pick up on. While the pulp elements in the series do appear evident, many overlook the Silver Age influence. “Tom has a foot in both worlds, but there’s also a very modern sensibility to it all,” he explained. “He’s this strange blend of innocence and experience, which makes him quite difficult to write – but also quite unique to read, I hope. When I think of the Silver Age, I tend to think of innocence, sure, but also and above all else, imagination. You look at the Mort Weisinger-era Superman titles, or Jack Kirby at his peak, and it’s like these non-stop fountains of ideas. I also think there was a real energy there, a vitality and freshness that came from not being swamped under the weight of a half-century of continuity.”
As mentioned earlier, the reality warp causes the elimination of Tom’s family early on in the story. However, Hogan insisted that this doesn’t mean Tom will not be without a supporting cast for this limited series. “You’ll be seeing various people from Tom’s supporting cast, but I don’t want to ruin the surprises by telling you which ones – and you’ll mainly be seeing them as they were in 1939, so they’re probably very different back then from what you might expect,” he said. “I also brought one character on board simply in order to solve a plot problem, and he ended up becoming one of the best things about the whole story.”
After not writing the character for a number of years, the writer said he now approaches the new series an experienced man. He not only better understands the character, but certain knowledge gained over the last few years allowed him to better approach this particular Tom Strong story. “One of the things that’s happened to me since I last wrote Tom is that I’m now a father, and I certainly couldn’t have written this story without that experience,” said Hogan. “There’s a thread running through it about father-son relationships – and not just the Tom/Albrecht one, there are several others in there as well.”
Another exciting aspect of the new limited series for Hogan is working with artist Sprouse. “Well, apart from the fact that all Chris’ stuff is gorgeous, he’s really good at handling emotional material, and there’s a lot of that in this story,” said the scribe. “He’s also great at solving technical problems. There’ve been a couple of occasions where I’ve said, ‘Look, I have no idea how you’re going to pull this off, but here’s what we need,’ and Chris has always delivered more than I hoped for. There’s a spectacular instance of that in issue three, where I think readers are just going to turn the page and go ‘Wow!'”
While this particular limited series deals with re-introducing the character for the present, the question remains of the future. According to Hogan, whatever that holds, he’d love to be a part of it. “Obviously, it would be nice to be offered other work as well, but I think both Chris and I are in this for the long haul, and there’s practically no end to the stories we could tell,” he said. “It’s a very rich seam to mine. I’m very happy to be writing Tom, and I genuinely feel like I’ve lucked out, because this is one of the best gigs in all of comics.”
“Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom” issue #1 smashes into stores on June 2