"The Unfairest of Them All"
Writer: Alan Moore; Steven Moore
Artists: Peter Bagge,Jeromy Cox(c); Chris Weston,James Rochelle(c); Alan Weiss, Darlene Royer & Cox(c)
Let me get my bias out of the way. I like Tom Strong and not just because he's a throwback to the time when heroes actually did amazing things, fought evil and won against that evil. I also like the versatility in the character that allows for all sorts of stories whether they be straightforward or metaphorical to be crafted.
I don't like Peter Bagge's style of artwork. Based upon underground sensibilities, Bagge's artwork is an ugly anathema to me. That said, if it were perhaps in a different story that didn't denigrate super-heroes and plumett into the terrain of postmodern deconstruction, I may have appreciated the artist more. As the story stands, I don't. Tom Strong has a paunch. He's unhappily married. His daughter is a bong-smoking delinquent. There's a heroin-injecting floozy after his bones, and he considers cheating. To top off the juvenile exercise, there's a poop joke. If I want to read this kind of story, I can throw a dart at the comic book racks to find something similar. Once you have Gwen Stacy doing the 69 watusi with Norman Osborn it's very difficult for comic books to decay to an even lower level of hell, and any send-up will have to be better than this. The only thing I found mildly amusing was Fred Flintstone tending bar.
Chris Weston is a spectacular artist, and Jonni Future atones for what the opening Tom Strong tale lacked in aesthetic quality. Weston's artwork appreciates proportion and an ornate quality that was integral to the pulp art from which Jonni Future descended. The story however is slight and flawed. If Jonni Future's duplicate wanted to live out her life peacefully there was no reason for their fight--as tastefully as a girl/girl catfight can possibly be drawn--to occur. It would be different if the villain Mirror Master had laid out some ground rules like the duplicate can only live if the original dies, but that's not a given.
Lastly, the Young Tom Strong story bears the same problem that nearly every Young Tom Strong story bears. We know what's going to happen to his young bride and the young dolt. Thus, any poignancy is lost to the reader. This is a pity because Alan Weiss' artwork really tries to set the mood of pain and lost love.
The theme to these Young Tom Strong stories is unlike Smallville which maintains its own continuity. You think Lex Luthor and the future Superman will be enemies. You think he will end up with Lois Lane, but you really can't bet your fortune on it. Likewise, these Young Tom Strong stories are not like the adventures of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Superboy--Superman when he was a boy-- shouldn't be able to be killed in those stories, and yet there are moments when the Fatal Five come into the picture that you wonder if Superboy will make it out alive. Superboy's relationship with Lana Lang in his own tales also added groundwork for a deeper relationship that the adult Lana Lang had for a time with the adult Clark Kent. The marriage of Lois and Clark was a post-Crisis invention. Clark Kent had not made up his mind yet in the pre-Crisis.
Overall, this issue of Tom Strong's Terrific Tales fails to live up to its title. It's not worth the price on the cover, and the only way I can recommend it is if the book lands in the quarter box and you happen to be a huge fan of Chris Weston or Alan Weiss.
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