Tom Strong's Rogues' Gallery
Tom Strong's Rogues' Gallery(pop culture)
T om Strong, created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse, served as the flagship title of Moore's America's Best Comics (ABC)—a line launched in 1999 as an imprint of WildStorm Comics. With a strong emphasis on solid storytelling and art, ABC was intended to reinvigorate mainstream superhero comics after a decade rife with grim-and-gritty anti-heroes and marketing gimmicks. As Moore asked in a 2000 Comics Journal interview, “Would it be possible to come up with a company that looks like mainstream comics, but was in fact filled with all this quite radical stuff?” Moore initially wrote all of the ABC books, each of which reflected a different aspect of superhero comics. Tom Strong is ABC's action-adventure book, though (as is the case with all of ABC's books) it is innovative and stretches the boundaries and expectations of its genre. Tom Strong pulls from a broad historical context and spectrum of fictional types. Accordingly, his rogues' gallery reflects the wide range of the book itself. With an origin story that recalls Doc Savage and Tarzan, Tom Strong's title character is rooted firmly in the pulp fiction of the 1930s. Tom is born and raised on an island in the West Indies and lives among the island's natives for many years. Reminiscent of Philip Wylie's 1930 novel Gladiator, Tom develops superhuman strength and near invulnerability through morally questionable experiments conducted by his father. He later emigrates to Millennium City, a futuristic fictional metropolis, and becomes Earth's greatest “science hero.” Characters in Tom Strong are not known as superheroes or supervillains. Rather, indicative of the book's Victorian and pulp influences, characters are called “science heroes” and “science villains.” Born in 1899, Tom embodies the shift from the Victorian to the modern age. Whereas the heroes in Tom Strong reflect Victorian optimism toward science and industry, the villains generally reflect modern fears and anxieties. The book's first major storyline (#2–#7) introduces and ties together the core of Tom Strong's rogues' gallery: the Aztechs, Ingrid Weiss, the Modular Man, the Pangaean, and Paul Saveen. Saveen, Tom's arch-nemesis and “Earth's deadliest science- villain,” is the most archetypal supervillain in the book. Like Superman's Lex Luthor and Sherlock Holmes' Moriarty, Saveen is the lead hero's doppelgänger—the brilliant, gifted, but often jealous double who is instinctively compelled to choose evil over good. Whereas Moore uses many of Tom's villains to cement the book's pulp and science- fiction genres, he uses Saveen to emphasize the book's epic scope. In issue #13 (2001), Saveen recruits several hundred incarnations of himself from across the space-time continuum to challenge only a few incarnations of Tom. Even after his death, Saveen plagues Tom in one form or another throughout time and space. While Tom continually looks forward, embracing many aspects of modernity, many of his villains seem intent on stopping or turning back time. In issue #5, Tom encounters the Pangaean, a supernatural spirit of Earth's first supercontinent dating back 300 million years. When the Pangaean realizes that Tom is the modern age's greatest hero, it tries to destroy him so that the future will devolve back into primordial chaos. A similar backwardness is seen in a superpowered Nazi femme fatale named Ingrid Weiss, whom Tom fights in Germany during World War II. Ingrid's fervent fascism and racism suggest the Nazi determination to freeze and control history and culture. The Aztechs, a group of South American cyber-terrorists from an alternate Earth, merge ancient culture and futuristic technology in an attempt to seize control of modern-day Earth. Tom's battle against the Aztechs underlines the modern fear of technology out of control. A similar threat is presented by the Modular Man, a self-replicating sentient machine who threatens to overtake Millennium City before Tom transplants him to Venus. Collectively, Tom's villains represent the extremes of chaos and totalitarianism— a tension that Tom constantly tries to mediate and balance. In his last story arc for Tom Strong (#20–#22, 2003), Moore wrote a three-part story based loosely on DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths. In one of Tom's many alternate realities, Tom “Stone” actually reforms all the villains who plague Tom Strong in the book's core continuity. Saveen becomes Tom Stone's crime-fighting partner, and several familiar reformed villains form a heroic league called the Strongmen of America. Moore uses this alternate reality both to explore many of the basic motivations of villains and to expose superheroes' roles in creating them. Eventually, Tom Stone and Saveen revert to bitter enemies, suggesting an inherent, invariable quality of both heroism and villainy in superhero comics. Since Moore's departure from Tom Strong, the book has focused more on Tom and his supporting cast than on his villains. A few minor villains, such as Permafrost, have been fleshed out, and a few new villains, such as Zodiac and Tengri Khan, have been introduced. But overall, the villains have been less iconic and less coordinated than they were during Moore's tenure on the book.