Tom Strong is something of a throwback, a character designed to evoke Golden Age staples such as pulp stories and adventure comics, albeit filtered through the modern age. Science hero Strong fights bad guys and protects his family and the people he cares about. There’s a purity and simplicity to the concept that is refreshing in the current climate. Vertigo doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to launch a revival, but given how keen DC is to re-establish what the imprint stands for the move makes sense.
Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril #1 opens with Strong’s pregnant daughter, Tesla, in danger. The baby has inherited its father’s ability to generate fire, and these powers are triggered by stress or upset - both of which it is likely to experience during the birthing process. The doctor suggests that the outlook isn’t great for mother or child, leaving Strong trying to figure out what to do to save them. He hits upon a solution - visiting an alternate Earth named Terra Obscura, where his counterpart has invented an elixir that gives the user near-unlimited power, including invulnerability - but when he arrives there, the planet is under martial law.
In picking up a universe that last saw print seven years ago, the creative team have given themselves the difficult task of remaining true to the previous stories while gently easing new readers into the fold. They’re not entirely successful. On the one hand, the issue does a great job establishing both characters and stakes. Having created Tom Strong along with Alan Moore, drawing these characters is second nature to artist Chris Sprouse, and his clean, unfussy work helps impart personality quickly and effectively, aided by letterer Todd Klein rendering each character’s speech in a different style. And there’s an admirable economy to Peter Hogan’s dialogue, with not a word wasted and every exchange selling motivation.
On the other hand, there’s no particular sense of the world these characters live in, with a succession of scenes set in fairly generic interiors that belie the advanced technology supposedly at play; the reader is asked to take talking apes and robot butlers in their stride, yet on the surface the world doesn’t appear too different to our own. In this sense, it’s taken for granted that we know the setting and how it shapes the lives of those who inhabit it. The issue ultimately feels more like the continuation of an ongoing story rather than an ideal jumping on point.
There’s plenty to recommend about this book. The art is beautiful, managing to feel timely while evoking a bygone era, with Jordie Bellaire keeping the color palette simple yet bold and Karl Story keeping the linework tight. And there’s a delightful meta scene toward the end of the issue, which allows Hogan to muse on changing tastes within the industry and ask whether the character has a place in 2013. Those familiar with the Tom Strong mythos will no doubt find much to love. Whether this issue is the best place to start for new readers is another matter.