Review: Tom Strong Deluxe Edition

We spend way too much time talking about what Alan Moore says than we do look at his work, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone.  So, let’s turn the spotlight on some of the actual work, shall we?

I can only imagine how excited they were in the late 90’s at Wildstorm, when Alan Moore agreed to publish an entire line of comics, written by himself.  The industry was in the doldrums back then, and Alan Moore was about the biggest name you could get in a writer.  Actually, he probably still is.  

That imagining is dwarfed in size to the scenario that must have occurred when only shortly thereafter, when someone, I imagine Jim Lee, had to make the world’s most uncomfortable phone call, to tell Moore that Wildstorm went and sold itself to DC Comics, with whom the sorcerer had vowed to never work again.  But, magically it seems, things worked out for a short time longer, and Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics was published indirectly by DC Comics.  All was rosy until he got upset and pulled the plug once and for all.  It had something to do with Marvel Douche I believe…

Back then, I was newly returned to comics, and had very little context to the machinations going on behind the scenes, and was just excited to get some great comics.  To this day, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Top 10 are some of my favorite titles of all time.  I bought 2 or 3 issues of Tom Strong, but decided I didn’t like it all that much.  But recently, having a decade more experience with comics, some different tastes and expectations, I decided to give the title another try.  This was made easier by a deluxe hardcover release from the hated DC Comics, of the first 12 issues of Tom Strong, written by Alan Moore, with art by Chris Sprouse, and various other really incredible, yet rarely seen artists, like Art Adams, Dave Gibbons, Gary Frank, and Paul Chadwick.

Tom Strong is, in short, the story of a science hero (never superheroes in the ABC world), who is 100 years old, and his family as they battle threats of all shapes and sizes.  It’s done in an older pulp serial context, and feels noticeably lighter than the stuff Moore is most well known for.  It’s a retro romp, that seems almost childish in parts, but every once in a while throws you for a loop with an adult theme.  The book plays with all sorts of the tropes of a futuristic man in a futuristic world, more closely resembling the future as we’d have seen it 40 or 50 years ago.  Fighting alongside him is his family; his wife Dhalua, his daughter Tesla, his old-timey pneumatic robot Pneuman, and a talking British gorilla, Solomon.  

When I tried to read it the first time, I didn’t like the hokey throwback feel.  The first issue is bookended by Timmy, a fan of the hero, who speaks in sickly sweet, childish phrases, like a kid out of a caricature of the 50’s, and it annoyed me.  It still does, to be honest.  But re-reading it, I was missing a lot of things that I very much liked.  Since the story starts in 1899, and quickly jumps to 1999, Moore spends a lot of time hopping backwards in time to tell adventures in the Strong past.  In those stories, he employs the help of some amazing artists to give the flashbacks a different quality than the current stories, as drawn by Chris Sprouse.  There is some fantastic artwork here, by some of the masters named above.  Almost more interesting is the fact that this is a technique being used recently and with more frequency by a lot of Marvel and DC books, like Iron Fist and Captain America.  And even those scenes with the kids have a place, as we see the characters pop up over and over again throughout the stories.

However, I’d go so far as to say that the real star of this book is Chris Sprouse.  I’d never heard of him prior to Tom Strong, and haven’t seen much from him since, but he has these elegant, clean pages, just edging the border of cartoony, as opposed to illustrative.  He draws these big silly, science hero ideas and situations with a jaw dropping skill, played with just the right amount of humor.  His work on the second issue, with the Modular Man, who takes over the city with his little, enveloping pieces is extraordinary, and at that point, he’s just getting started.  Sprouse just sells it over and over again, managing to eek out every bit of big fun and adventure, starting with Tom Strong’s Heli-Pack to the silly Nazi Fraulein Weiss and her helicarrier (In this case, I think Marvel definitely did it first).  Every page Sprouse draws is a joy, throughout the whole series.

As far as the story is concerned, I’m definitely a different reader now than I was back then.  For example, recently I’ve been watching the current Doctor Who series.  The thing that strikes me most is that the writers aren’t really held back by anything but their imaginations.  Within the framework of the Doctor’s story, they can basically do anything with their stories.  With Tom Strong, and likely in the same spirit of British storytelling, Moore has set up the same sort of rules.  Anything can happen in this Tom Strong world, and we have the idea of Tom, stuck in the middle, but supremely confident and competent.  Whether he’s dealing with alternate dimension versions of himself, or techno-empire building Aztecs, anything is possible in this world, and Tom Strong and his family are the constants.  As a writer, that complete freedom is both invigorating and terrifying, but it allows for some really fun stories to be told.  Moore revels in it, and while not all the stories are perfect, there are plenty that come close to it.  My favorite stretch of the book features Tom against his Nazi nemesis, Ingrid Weiss, his arch-enemy Saveen, and the Pangaean, which ends in a shocking pulpy reveal in issues 4-8.  

I definitely had a better experience with Tom Strong ten years later, and if you’re interested in seeing Moore play around with light, wacky superhero ideas, in numerous styles from throughout the last century, this is a great place to have some fun.  Check out the trades or the Deluxe Edition, in the same style as DC’s other Deluxe Edition hardcovers, with big colorful pages and slightly oversized.  It’s fairly safe to say that these comics did have a shot at being America’s best comics when they were originally released, and I’m glad I went back to find out.

If you want to pick it up, check out Amazon or InStockTrades.


  1. I was just talking about this on the twitterverse last night, so it seems great minds think alike. 😉

     I was reading the first trade and it really hadn’t hooked me as quickly as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Top Ten.  That being said, I got to the end of issue #6 last night and am starting to warm up to the book.  Glad to hear you enjoyed it and I’ll keep an open mind about the series.

  2. I remember seeing the ads for this when it first came out and being curious. And then I forgot all about it.

    I might need to go find this collection…

  3. Eerie. I just read this two days ago at my work and now you have an article on it. A very well written article to be more accurate.

    This was one of the few Alan Moore comics I haven’t read (MiracleMan now the sole representative of that list) and I enjoyed it. I don’t certainly think this is one of his best peices of writing. Oh it has the aspects of an Alan Moore story. Crazy old timey references, bizarre situations, more bizarre enemies. That whole sequences of futuristic Mayans confused the hell out of me. But seeing Moore do a bit more of a lighter tone is something I had to get used to. Cause otuside of LoEG I haven’t read a lighter tone book of his in awhile.

    I don’t think it’s one of his best because the stories didn’t interest me as much. It does have a great vibe to old, pulpy comics; but it just got tiring after awhile reading the same type of story in this trade. By the time I got to the section where Moore was splitting up the stories, telling a Tom Strong and the daughter’s story into two, I was just flipping threw the book for the art.

    Chris Sprouse is a very talented artist and I wish I saw more of his work in comics lately. He does ‘The Authority’ comic for Wildstorm but his work on like a Batman or Captain America comic would be really great. It’s not my first introduction to him though. I read Warren Ellis’s ‘Ocean’ trade a while back and that had some more amazing artwork by Sprouse. In fact that is a great trade, I need to go read it again cause I loved it so much.

    So yeah, I certainly think this is more good work by Moore. But if I would put it on a scale of his other work it’s certainly not up there as part of my favorites. Any ‘just good’ stories by Moore is better then most comics out there today though that’s for sure.

  4. No idea why I haven’t read this three times by now. 

  5. You had Paul at Cockney gorilla.

    I believe I read this in issues for awhile and then dropped it. Can’t remember why. I think he started bringing in other writers at some point in the series. That may have been it.

    Sprouse is awesome. I think there’s something he did earlier, but my first big exposure to him was on The Legion of Super-Heroes — he did a great job on that series in the 90’s.


  6. OK, I finished up the first trade and quite enjoyed issue #7.  I’ll be reading the 3 other trades for sure now.

  7. Tom Strong reminds me of Jonas Venture Sr. from ‘The Venture Bros.’

    I was so hoping for him to say "Hello Rusty!" in such a happy tone when I kept reading it.

  8. I’ve read 3 or 4 Tom Strong trades.  I love them,  good action packed heroic fun.

  9. I feel Moore has made more of a name for himself by being "cranky and cooky" than writing.  As a result, I look at his better than average books and, generally, think "this isn’t nearly as good as he wants us to think it is".  And that’s a shame.

    About a week ago, someone came into the store and sold us a complete set of Tom Strong trade paperbacks, and I flipped through them with a certain amount of contempt.  But, holy socks, did I like it.  The first two trades, in particular, do a great job of framing stories that I might not have given a chance had they started at the silver age points.  I ended up buying all six.

  10. Kanye West wrote this?

    For his self titled "America’s Best Comics."  As in "Best comics in America of all time!"

  11. I never felt this was uncle Alan’s strongest work, but it was always enjoyable. Alan Moore has used similar storytelling techniques (aping different styles based on when the story was) in Supreme but I feel he really did it best here.  

    The real stand out for me was Chris Sprouse’s art. You have it spot on when you write about his ability to draw "big silly, science hero ideas and situations with a jaw dropping skill" what is he currently doing anyone know?


  12. I’ll have to check this out. I’m pretty busy catching up on all the Alan Moore stuff (just read V for Vendetta, starting From Hell today), I’ll have to add this to my list of his books I need to buy.

  13. @ThePunisherMAX enjoy, to read From Hell for the first time agains would be real treat.

    By the way I’d have to check but I don’t think Solomon was a cockney.  

  14. So glad to see you highlight this.  I’ve become a huge fan of Tom Strong over the last year or so.  It’s one of my most favorite books.  I’m glad to see you enjoyed this time around.  I’m actually looking forward to meeting Sprouse (and maybe getting a sketch in a copy of this HC) at the Mid Ohio Con this weekend.

  15. @pompster – well, he’s something, and he says eh wot all the time.  I read it that way.  Still, he wears a vest.

  16. no superheros in the ABC world???!!!!!

  17. oh, also, holy socks!

  18. no way, that gorilla is cockney. it was more of a upper class english style of speaking. he didn’t sound like Jamie Oliver or Lily allan. (ps, i know they’re not proper cockneys but they made themselve sound like that)

  19. My two cents:  If it looks like a gorilla, walks like a gorilla, smells like a gorilla, and speaks cockneyed, it’s definitely a gorilla.

  20. @Neb: Or just Chris Farley acting British.

  21. There, I changed it.  I dare you to find fault with me now!

    I’ll probably ignore you if you do, but there you are.

  22. Folks that was today’s episode of:

    "Baiting Josh Flanagan!"

  23. someone put on the humidifier. it’s so dry in here

  24. Yes, it took me a little while to get use to Tom Strong. But the Modular Man story really sold me, and I thought the ending was quite refreshing.  

    Same goes for an issue (trying not to spoil) in which "villians" are threatening to use the Future Viewing machine, and Tom goes "Hey, sure, let’s see what happens," resulting in a interesting side-stepping of the original crisis point.

  25.  WHOA WHOA WHOA…. I wasn’t aware of the existence of "Marvel Douche"… and I KNOW MY SCANDALS… why wasn’t I informed about this sooner? Who should I blog about this time???

    Kidding kidding, but seriously I just finished the first trade of top ten and listened to an episode on Around comics about it and I still don’t know why Conor wouldn’t pick up the spin offs, they sound like they continue the story… were they bad?

    By the way "Swamp Thing" is sitting on my desk but I’m way to chicken shit to read it around October. I’ll wait a month because I’m a superstitious bastard.