The ABC's of "Terra Obscura" with Writer Peter Hogan

Fans of Alan Moore's ABC (America's Best Comics) imprint at DC Comics were given a diverse lot of new characters when the line launched, but something was missing: a bonafide superhero team. Enter writer Peter Hogan, whose collaboration with Moore on "Terra Obscura" resulted in an acclaimed mini-series and a recent trade paperback collection. CBR News spoke with Hogan about the upcoming "Terra Obscura Vol.2" and the writer provided a brief introduction to all things "Obscura."

"Shortly after Alan started America's Best Comics, someone pointed out that there was a 1940s comicbook of that name, and when he checked it out he discovered that one of its lead characters was the original Doc Strange," explains Hogan. "He looked a bit like Tom Strong, which gave Alan the idea for reviving him and the other characters from that old company, which was called Nedor and later Standard. All those Golden Age characters turned out to be out of copyright, so Alan was able to use them, and put his own spin on them, in a two-part Tom Strong story set on a parallel Earth, which Alan called Terra Obscura.

"There seemed to be a lot of potential there, and a lot of fan interest as well, so when we were discussing possible projects, I suggested doing something more with them, and once we started talking it developed into a proper collaboration. As to the whole public domain angle [the characters belong to the public, not Moore or DC], all I really know for certain is that DC's legal department said that we can use them, and that's all I really need to know. Others have said that what it means is that literally anyone can do their versions of those characters, based on the 1940s versions. If that's true, then I'd like to think that we'd be a hard act to follow. I think we've done those characters justice, and then some."

The introduction to the "Terra Obscura" graphic novel reveals a large cast of characters with distinct abilities and personalities, so in order to help new readers keep track of them all, Hogan provided a brief introduction to the main characters of the series. "Well, the main two are Tom Strange, who's a super-powered scientist, and comparable to Superman, and the Terror. Alan killed off the human version of the Terror, then revived him as a self-aware computer program. So, he's gone from being a dark vigilante figure - which is what he used to be way back when - into something a lot creepier and nastier. The Terror was one of the main elements of the first series, and he remains a real menace, as you will see. His old sidekick Tim will also figure heavily in the second series.

"Then there are Carol and Diana a.k.a. the Fighting Yank - though Carol hates that name - and Ms Masque, who are now a crime fighting couple. Carol's super-powered, Diana isn't. We'll be concentrating mainly on those five in Volume Two, and everyone else gets a much smaller role. There are about a dozen other characters, and you can read all their bios in the preface to the trade paperback.

"As to the inspirations … before we started Volume Two, Alan and I spent a long time just talking about the comics we'd loved as kids - the Silver Age, basically - and I think that had an impact on what we were doing, and that some of our feelings about Superman and Batman are visible in the way we've handled Tom Strange and the Terror. Not simply as nostalgia, but on a kind of primal emotional level."

The size of cast- while not as large as something like DC Comics' "Legion of Superheroes" or "JSA"- could be intimidating to some writers, but Hogan just looks as the glass being that much more full. "Well, at first I found the idea of a large cast attractive, because I'd never handled one before. But I promptly discovered just how difficult it is and yes, it is hard to give everybody a decent role, and some characters inevitably get neglected or sidelined. So, that's one reason why we've slimmed the cast down this time around - it gives more chance to focus on the ones we're spotlighting, and look at them in a bit more depth."

Not many writers can lay claim to direct collaboration with Alan Moore, possibly the most respected and acclaimed writer in modern comics and Hogan is aware of the honor of working with Moore. "It's great!" he exclaims. "For a kickoff, it was obviously amazingly flattering to be asked to do so, and Alan is one of the nicest and funniest people you could ever hope to meet, so just hanging out with him is incredibly enjoyable. As to how it works … we do a fair amount by phone and letter, but the bulk of it is face to face. With each issue I'd go up to Northampton for the day, and we'd plot it out page by page, panel by panel. Sometimes it's incredibly tight, sometimes there's leeway for me to wing it a bit. Then I come home and write the scripts, and Alan occasionally suggests a change or two once they're done, but that's actually quite rare because we've nailed it all so thoroughly in advance."

Fans have commented on the dense nature of Hogan's writing- every page is packed with panels and splash pages are used sparingly, something the writer says is a necessity in "Terra Obscura." "It's really a by-product of having a large cast, a moderately complicated storyline and only six issues to get it all across in, but I guess that all helped move it along at quite a speed. If you look at other stories of mine, they're probably a lot less hectic. It's the story's needs that dictate the pace, basically."

With volume two of the series set to hit stores this summer, fans have a lot of questions about what'll happen and Hogan revealed a few details. "Well, Tom Strange has a new girlfriend, who's the jungle heroine Princess Pantha, and their first date gets interrupted by the discovery of a mysterious object out in space. This appears to be the spaceship of the missing-presumed-dead hero Captain Future, who hasn't been seen for over forty years. Then time starts acting funny, and people who are long dead start reappearing, and it's assumed that there's a connection between this and the reappearance of Future's ship. So, Tom Strange is going to have to go out there to investigate … and the Terror also wants Future's ship, for his own reasons, so he's off to space as well. The story's largely about the two of them, and how their relationship has changed over the years."

Some readers felt the relationship developing between Diana and Carol was more for shock value, since it appeared in the last few pages of the mini-series, but Hogan says it was a completely natural progression of the series. "Actually, it was completely organic. We'd decided that the Diana-Tim relationship was probably doomed, and that Carol and Diana getting closer to each other was equally inevitable. With that large a cast, it's reasonable to assume that at least one of them would be gay. That's not a matter of going for a shock factor, that's just statistics. So, we decided to make Carol gay, while Diana's basically bi.

"But I was amazed that so many people were surprised by their getting together at the end, because I thought I'd made all their flirting fairly obvious throughout. I guess I was just too subtle! As to this series, yes, we will be seeing more of the girls … and Tim will also be trying to lure Diana back again, though you'll have to wait to see how that pans out."

Besides Alan Moore, Hogan has another partner in crime on the series: Canadian artist Yanick Paquette, someone for whom Hogan is grateful. "Yanick was Scott's [Dunbier, editor of the series] choice, and since Scott has a knack for finding really great artists, I trusted him. But I was very pleasantly surprised to discover just how good Yanick really is, and he continues to amaze me. It's always a treat when I get a batch of pencils to look at, and I have to say that I think he's getting better all the time.

"What you always hope is that the artist will interpret the script well, and that if he does decide to improvise a bit or ignore your instructions that it'll make things better rather than worse. Yanick does all that and more - some of his background additions have made me laugh with delight. Plus, he's a really nice guy."

The first trade paperback of the series is selling briskly and with the anticipation running high on Volume Two, Hogan says he can see himself staying with the characters for some time. "Well, they're good characters, and the more I do the more I want to do. We've still got several big plot threads unresolved, quite a few 1940s characters who haven't even made an appearance yet, and a lot of untold backstory to explore. Plus, I'd also like to do some single issues that focussed on individual characters, and flesh them out a bit more. For example, we didn't manage to include the Magnet in Volume Two, and I really miss him.

"So, there really is a lot that could be done, but whether it will be basically depends on sales. Meanwhile, there are lots of other characters out there that I'd like to write as well, so who knows? It depends on what I'm offered."

You'll be seeing a lot of Hogan in the second half of 2004 and the scribe reveals, "I have another issue of Tom Strong coming out in a matter of months, which is called 'Cold Calling.' It's the follow-up to my Greta Gabriel story, and reveals her final fate. And I've been working on another ABC project, which I can't tell you about yet, and having discussions with various other companies about several other things. Watch this space."

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