When Alan Moore first created Tom Strong, it was as though he was expressing a wish that he’d been around to write comics during the early days of the medium. The pages of Tom’s comic were dense with plots, places, and characters that would have felt at home in the world of the pulps. That general vibe can still be found in “Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril” #1, but where once the comic was full of riotous invention, now it feels a bit as though it’s all been done before.
The entire issue is dedicated to characters readers have already known for a long time, and the only “weird science” idea in it is that a baby would inherit characteristics of its father. Despite the ticking clock of Tesla Strong’s dangerous pregnancy, the whole issue feels a bit dull, as people just stand around talking for twenty pages. In fact, they spend most of their time talking about people, like Tesla and Tom Strange, who are unconscious or on another planet and therefore don’t do anything either.
Even the old-fashioned feel wears a bit thin. As Tom and Val Var Garm prepare to go Terra Obscura, a sort of alternate Earth that happens to appear in Earthly comic books as well, there’s a run of digs at comics writers that would have been charming in a Silver Age Marvel book, but here is so nudge-nudge-wink-wink-isn’t-this-meta that it pulls the reader completely out of the moment. Terra Obscura itself has appeared in a few issues of “Tom Strong” already, and even got its own spin-off miniseries. So: nothing new here. It’s kind of like a lazy episode of “Doctor Who” about the Daleks– you need to do something new with them; you can’t just rely on established continuity and fan love to carry the story.
Luckily for Tom Strong and his pals, Chris Sprouse’s art is as fantastic as always. There’s a reason Sprouse has pencilled nearly every Tom Strong story, existing somewhere between old and new with strong, simple lines. Even without much to work with, Sprouse manages to make every panel dynamic and dramatic, always choosing exactly the right angle and frame for the action. People standing around talking has never looked so good.
If I’ve been harsh on the writing in “Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril” #1, it’s because I was disappointed after I read it. The very end does promise an interesting twist as Tom and Val arrive at Terra Obscura, and it’s possible that the story will pick up now that the action’s begun. Hogan has written plenty of other Tom Strong books and I do trust him, but this first issue was a pretty bland start to what should be a book with short, punchy stories that are jam-packed with invention. Nevertheless, the characters feel right, the pacing is good, and the art is just so great that it’s tough to feel too bad about the whole thing.