"The Terrible Life of Tom Strong" Part Two
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Duncan Fegredo, Michelle Madsen(c)
Without a reference I can trace the virtual reality supplanting reality plot all the way back to "Living in Harmony" from The Prisoner. In this story He Who Is Not Number Six awakens to find himself not in the Village but the nineteenth century western town of Harmony. John Byrne of course created "Terror in Tiny Town" for his run of The Fantastic Four where Doom unleashes one of his most inspired plans. On Batman the Animated Series the Mad Hatter gave Batman his fondest wishes so he wouldn't interfere with his own.
Ed Brubaker in Tom Strong injects some novelty to the still frisky plot. The virtual reality here is meant to torture Tom, and Brubaker doubles the fiction with in the fiction for an added twist.
Tom naturally throws off the shackles of illusion. Would you have it any other way? He does so however through plausible means. Brubaker's comprehension of Tom Strong's intellect creates the opportunity for some clever deductions and investigations worthy of the more "realistic" science hero. This stems any thoughts of deconstruction or as I like to call it padding.
The final revelation intrigues not because of the poignancy or insight but does so due to the author making the point. I have always considered Brubaker a dark writer. His work on Batman and Catwoman may have begun snappy but quickly traveled down really bleak paths. I have to give Brubaker credit for fully accepting the shiny world of Tom Strong and not straying down the scorched earth. Indeed the Brubaker fueled joyous reaction Tom issues at the discovery that his belief in the world is true makes for a pleasant read. It's a shame Brubaker does not out of choice or through lack of opportunity do more stories like this because he exhibits a deft handling of these optimistic emotions.
Duncan Fegredo and Michelle Madsen render illusion and reality equally well. Illusion is a grimy place where every age-line becomes emphasized and not a single, bright cheerful color blazes. Tom Strong's reality though increases color intensity by several degrees of shade, and an artistic razor shaves the stubble plaguing the imagined residents of Tom Strong's virtual hell.
"The Terrible Life of Tom Strong" is the most cheerful story Mr. Brubaker has ever written, and it's a complete antithesis to the nasty, so-called super-hero comic books polluting the racks. Nobody dies. Nobody gets raped. Nobody gets crippled. Nobody's seriously dead girlfriend has an affair with a seriously dead villain. Tom Strong still however entertains and captures the reader's interest. Go figure.
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