Written by Alan Moore, Leah Moore (Bad to the Bone)
Artists: Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and various artists
Collects Tom Strong 15-19 with the original covers and concept art.
Publisher: America’s Best Comics
Publication date: 2004
The first issue has one story and the last one has three stand alone stories. The other three issues are a long and mightily epic story arch.
Tom Strong is a “science hero” who protects Millennium City from all sorts of nasty people. He’s also a scientist, and invents and engineers a lot of handy stuff. Dhalua is his wife and Tesla is their adult daughter. Solomon is Tom’s old friend and a gorilla.
“Ring of Fire!” starts when a large hole is blown from the ground up into the middle of the Stronghold. Poor Pneuman has partly melted trying to save Tesla from being kidnapped. Tom is able to salvage his memory tapes and sees a burning man taking Tesla down the hole. Tom, Solomon, and Dhalua put on the transparent but really tough gemsuits which were last seen in issue eight. They descend down to the hole for quite a while until they reach the bottom where a rock wall has collapsed. Tom uses his molecular agitators which allow them to just go through. On the other side, they encounter lava people and Dhalua theorizes that they have evolved there just like their own life evolved on the surface. They have kidnapped Tesla.
I guess this is another tribute to pulp age comics where a girl is kidnapped and she ends up swooning over her kidnapper. Tesla didn’t swoon, though, but it’s still quite cheesy. However, I quite like the character of Val Var Garm so I guess I can forgive this one. 😉 Last time I was irritated with the gemsuits because Tesla was wearing one and it was transparent and she was kneeling inside it with very little clothes on. This time, the whole group is doing the same, although both Tom and Solomon are wearing full t-shirts while Dhalua’s shirt leaves her midriff bare. Sigh.
The next issue says that is has “the most outrageous new America’s Best character yet”, the Weird Rider. The story “Some call him the space cowboy” introduces a space faring Old West character. The start of the story is told from his point of view when he’s parked in Venus and meets the Modular Man (who was last seen in issue two). After a brief fight, the discussion establishes that the Weird Rider is from Earth, despite having a third eye and riding a small, motorcycle like space craft. He mentions that Earth is in danger.
Meanwhile on Earth, Tom is getting used to the idea that he’s no longer the only man in his daughter’s life (and since she’s in her sixties, that a lot of getting used to); she now has a boyfriend Val. Val is just learning English and the customs around him. Tom is frustrated and when a strange man sets down into the city and seems to be threatening the locals, he takes out his frustrations on the new guy. However, it turns out that the Weird Rider is in fact friendly. Tom apologizes and takes him, and some members of his Strongmen fan club, to Stronghold and they talk. A massive army of ant people is coming to Earth to conquer it!
In the next issue, Ant Fugue!, Tom gathers up allies against the onslaught. We get to see some familiar faces from previous issues and Tom even goes to Venus to talk to the Modular Man. Near the end of the issue, the five kids from the Strongmen club decide that they want to help somehow and mess with the one small space ship which was left over.
The battle is joined in the next issue, The Last Roundup.
I throughly enjoyed the three issues. The story is, of course, simplistic; the ants aren’t given a voice at all. Our heroes speculate that they simply want to use Earth as a plantation with humans as slaves but we don’t really know that. They are essentially a faceless enemy. Still, our heroes rally against them and get to be heroic. I also found it great that the idiot kids are in fact behaving idiotically and not saving the day, as I briefly feared. I also enjoy a large cast of familiar characters and here almost every character we’ve met comes back and work together. Although I don’t remember Svetlana X who seems to be Russian’s defender. I really enjoyed her character; she’s very strong and durable, and adventurous. The comic doesn’t have many characters like her.
The small space craft which are used in this story are, of course, absolutely ridiculous. They usually seat just one but can accommodate five kids when they have to. They resemble space motorcycles but the Weird Rider talks about them as if they were horses. In fact, this story has several characters who talk weirdly; the Weird Rider talks all the time in supposedly Old West accent and word choices, Svetlana has a Russian accent and doesn’t really grasp the idioms correctly (“Tom, I hope Dhalua is not urinated with me, for coming with you while she keeps to the saucer.”), and Val has trouble with English word order. (By the way, considering that the first two times we saw Val he didn’t speak a world of English, it’s really unlikely that he would have learned it so quickly. Of course, this is a comic book.) Still, this doesn’t make the comic harder to read, but to me at least, is highlighted the differences of the characters.
The last issue has three stories. “Electric Ladyland! ” is drawn by Howard Chaykin. Dhalua is kidnapped by a robot when the Strongs are having their one night out. Of course, Tom follows her and finds a secret underground society of women.
”Tom Strong’s Nemesis Paul Saveen: Bad To The Bone ” is written by Leah Moore and focuses on Saveen’s last day out in the desert. It’s rather poignant and fitting to the character.
”The Hero-Hoard Of Horatio Hogg!” is made completely of cheese! Tesla and Tom are signing comics starring themselves when they are sucked into a comic book. It’s actually an interdimentional prison which just looks like a comic book and several other science heroes are already trapped in there. It’s cheesy fun with very cheesy dialog: ”Ha, ha, ha! Why not look closer, moppet of might, and see for yourself!” ”Fools! You’ve clearly reckoned without the dimensional dexterity and super science of Horatio Hogg, collector of champions, and now you must serve your time in my pulp paper prison!”
The collection is great fun for anyone who likes classic super heroes in a science fiction setting. I would recommend reading the two previous collections first, though.