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I think I have just read the coolest comic book ever.

I don't know how I missed Tom Strong when it first came out. It's written by Alan Moore and I'm a pretty big Moore fan plus it's set in a retro universe where "Millenium City" looks very bright and shiny New Yorkish (or Metropolis) except there are hovercraft and dirigibles and more of the fun stuff we were promised in all those old editions of Popular Mechanics. It's kind of a pulp perspective on the 21st century which is very fun and means a lot less superhero politics (do you hear me Batman writers???) and a lot more bad guys and good guys and running around saving the city.

Bottom line - a lot more fun.

I don't want to suggest Tom Strong is one dimensional however there are plenty of shades of grey in his stories and in the newly released Tom Strong Deluxe Edition Vol 1, we get plenty of examples of good, bad and "shifty". Jesse reviewed this volume last week at Guys Lit Wire and said a lot of what I think:

"...has given us the thrill of a pure hero who relies on his intelligence and his skill, and put him in a world of gee-whiz wonders that befits his title of "science hero." At the same time, Moore's intellectual rigor is not capable of producing a one-note narrative and, not surprisingly, Tom Strong's adventures are laced with all sorts of unexpected secrets and hidden depths (examine his origin story closely and consider carefully just who you think Tom's father really is)."

Lots of gadgets and thinking things through and also, due to his unique backstory (which is explained in full in this volume) lots of super strength too. In short Tom Strong is just a very cool superhero and that alone would make his adventures totally worth it for kids and adults but there's more. Tom Strong is joined by a supporting cast that includes his wife and a daughter, a robot and a super intelligent gorilla (the recipient of "innovative brain experiments"). And before you start thinking this sounds like another variation of the Fantastic Four (which it kind of does) you need to know that Strong's wife Dhalua is African (from the mythical island of Attabar Teru) and his daughter Tesla is thus biracial.

Yes, we are talking about a superhero with an interracial marriage and two - count them TWO - dark skinned superheroines who are smart and savvy and kick all sorts of butt.

Be still my beating heart.

When we did the What a Girl Wants feature on superheroines I had a tough time doing two things: first finding non-Caucasian superheroines (other than Storm) and second - finding any superheroine that wasn't drawn in the skimpiest outfit imaginable (you wouldn't believe what was done to poor Storm in a few covers). And now after reading Tom Strong I find both Dhalua and Tesla and they are pretty much always depicted in normal crime fighting clothing - Tesla wears hiking boots for heaven's sake!!! Can you stand it? But the best part is Dhalua. She is beautiful and tough and brave. At one point Tom finds himself captured by Ingrid Weiss and her co-horts, holdovers from WWII and big time Nazi lovers. (The whole "not aging" thing since the war is explained.) When Dhalua and crew show up she corners Ingrid big time and goes after her. As Ingrid calls her everything from a "black bug" to a "black whore" (this is a Nazi talking after all) Dhalua just keeps repeating, "I am Dhalua-Omuto-Strong, Princess of the Otu. Get up." And then she hits her again. And again. And she wins. Tom even refuses to intervene saying to Tesla, "When your mother is like this, it scares me. I suggest we keep out of it..."

So yeah, it is violent but Ingrid has tortured Tom and is all kinds of bad and Dhalua has every right to be very angry but the best part is that while Ingrid and her minions have been tossing every kind of racist bit at Tom for his wife and child, it is not Tom who ultimately teaches them a lesson - it is Dhalua. She stands up, she says you will not disrespect me, she says you will acknowledge that I, in fact, am stronger than you.

And she wins - while also showing some startling compassion to her enemy. I actually put the book down and started back on this particular story all over again so I could see Dhalua and Tesla go after Tom, see Dhalua get madder and madder and see her completely and utterly dominate everybody. She goes after her husband, she doesn't back down and she makes her point and the whole time she is wearing a cool jacket and goggles and boots and a full length suit - and very pretty earrings and she's just......

Well she's bloody awesome if you really want to know.

So, just like that, Tom Strong Deluxe Edition Vol 1 went from a collection that I thought comic book lovers would enjoy and pulp fans would get a kick out of, to the book that I think girls and women should read and love. Tom is front and center on most of the stories (there are several short Tesla Strong back-up stories that are all about her though and very fun) but there's much more from the supporting cast then you would expect and reading it from a female perspective I found a lot to love. I get my pulp action, my futuristic adventure, my brains AND brawn and I get to see a family in action that reflects - well it reflects what American families look like. (Minus the monkey and robot of course.)

You couldn't ask for better for the teen crowd for sure and that recommendation comes from someone who has been reading comics for 30+ years. I know of what I speak in other words, and I know Tom Strong & company rock. Well done!

[And yeah, I did get this from the publisher. It's actually the first comic I've ever received from DC comics and I was pretty surprised when they contacted me. I do, however, still buy a box of comics every month from my fab comics shop in FL so I'm quite capable of making a solid comparison between this one and so many others.] [And PLEASE - it's just awesome and shouldn't matter how I got the damn thing!]

[Post pics - that's Dhalua at the top and Tesla on the bottom. Don't they look spiffy?]

comments

I first read most of the Tom Strong series years ago, and even though I was not looking for it at all, I noticed the strong feminism. For me it was actually Tesla that caught my attention; it's so rare to see teenage girls portrayed as so sharp, competent and capable. It was portrayed best in how Tesla's parents treated her - never for a moment doubting her capabilities.

Becker

You sold me on this one. Having to get it through ILL, but very excited to check it out!

Yeah Bart - I love Tesla! She's a great teen hero; smart and strong and she believable screws up but her parents never treat her like an idiot.

In a just world, she would be up on the big screen right now.

And Becker...YOU will love it!

I hadn't heard of this one, but now I'll have to look for it...I'm not a huge fan of superhero comics (with some exceptions) but Alan Moore is always interesting. (To be honest, as a human being he seems to be kind of a psycho, but his work is always thought-provoking.)

Yep - he's kinda "different". Ha! But this is really straight-forward pulp style comics writing. It's just fun, plain and simple.

Ack - serious Alan Moore fan here, too, and I'd never heard of this! Time to rectify matters.

Scott "Jamus" Isaacson

Thank you for posting this article. I read the above Tom Strong story....what was it, ten years ago now? One of the best i'd ever read. I was a little saddened that the people at mags like Wizard didn't even nominate the sequence for their "best of the year", but...hey, their loss. Also, Tom Strong did sort of get lost amongst all the JLAs and Authoritys of that year, as I recall....but what can you do?
Thanks again.
"Jamus"

Thanks for stopping by Jamus - Tom Strong is awesome, isn't he? I don't understand why it was overlooked by all the copes. I hope that pointing out the excellent female characters will bring it a few more readers now though, as honestly, we can use all the cool chicks we can get in this genre!

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