Peter Hogan, one of the writers to take over the character of Tom Strong after co-creator Alan Moore, takes the pulpy, old-fashioned sci-fi tale of the surrogate Superman and doesn’t waste one single moment immediately making the stakes apparent. Tesla, Tomas Strong’s daughter, pregnant with the child of the flame powered teammate Val Var Garm, is experiencing birthing pains unlike any other as her child is responding to external stress by manifesting its father's fiery powers. Tom and Val must return to the strange and backward planet of Terra Obscura, a world very much like Earth, but far more superpowered which exists on Strong's Earth in the form of graphic novels that chronicle the ACTUAL goings-on of Terra Obscura, to find a potion that grants the drinker incredible powers of durability. But as they draw in close, it becomes suddenly clear that something has gone horribly awry. I’m not being terribly familiar with any of these characters, but Hogan establishes them very quickly and with incredible economy, introducing us to an entire team, and even some backstory from our protagonist in the form of rapid flashbacks. The proper, upright gorilla gentleman Solomon is especially of note, if for no other reason than the juxtaposition. He is VERY proper and well-read for a great ape.
Series co-creator Chris Sprouse returns on pencils and Karl Story on inks are reminiscent of Terry and Rachel Dodson, their characters having a “classical” comics look, but also very smooth edges as well as being a great deal more detailed and shaded than their older counterparts. Jordie Bellaire handles colors and does a good job making even mundane panels pop with colorful life and verve, as well as doing a perfect job of defining flashbacks with a blurry, intentionally muddy look. This book, panel-to-panel, looks absolutely great.
Peter Hogan may have a bit too much familiarity with the characters, as I have none of that familiarity and found this book almost impenetrable. I know I’ve previously praised books that are written “for” insiders or people already familiar with the cast before, but none of those books had a #1 on them and that’s exactly the problem with this book: it’s got #1 on it, but if you’re not already intimately familiar with this strange (and wonderful) cast of characters, you will be completely lost. There’s no recap page, the characters never engage in expository dialog, there are numerous references to previous characters and adventures that aren’t expounded upon, and the entire thing is, ultimately, completely mystifying to a newcomer. A lot of basic things are taken for granted, the relationships that exist between all the characters, for instance, which are extremely varied, particularly as the art makes it difficult to gauge how old some characters are. Tom’s wife Dhalua appears not much older than their daughter (which may be explained away by their powers, but I wouldn’t know), the flashbacks of Tom’s childhood paint a strange picture, but it’s one that’s also completely esoteric without already knowing what’s going on.
The art looks great from panel-to-panel, but taken as a whole, it tends to skip around and be extremely stiff. This could be an intentional throwback style, but that sort of style needs to be used very, very cautiously and as it is characters look like they assume poses between panels rather than the panels capturing frozen moments of movement. The flashbacks, as I said, are well drawn, but also take up too much of the issue. Again, this seems almost intentional, like the book is trying to fill you in somewhat on who these people are and where they’ve come from, but since no exposition accompanies the flashbacks, it remains a obfuscated.
With a classic team tackling it, I have to assume this book is intended for fans of Tom Strong, of which I do not count myself. I’ve never intentionally avoided the series, just never got around to it and at this point I wish I had because this seems like it’d be an amazing homecoming for die-hard fans. I wish I counted myself among their number, as I would very much LIKE to love this book, but even without the background, it introduces so many varied characters and immediate, emotional plotting that even an outsider like me can identify with.