Friday, November 13, 2009

Light and Dark: a Study in Strongmen and Spiders

I'm going to come right out and say it. Are you ready? Okay, here goes: I do believe that this book here is Alan Moore's finest work since Watchmen. Tom Strong is a mental and physical marvel of the old-fashioned variety. His origins owe a great deal to his direct forebears Tarzan and Doc Savage, and like them he captures a sense of awe and adventure that has by-and-large disappeared from comic book storytelling these days. The irony is that the guy who heralded that disappearance (the aforementioned Mr. Moore with the aforementioned Watchmen) 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). This gorgeous hardcover compilation, Tom Strong Deluxe Edition Volume 1 (by Moore and Sprouse) includes his origin and, among other adventures, an invasion by future “Aztechs” and Tom's meeting with a super-hero coalition from another world. All the tales feature Chris Sprouse's bright, muscular, dynamic art and breath-taking art deco designs which support Moore's wild flights of imagination stroke for stroke.

On the opposite end of the tonal spectrum is Spider-Man: Noir (by Hine, Sapolsky and Di Giandomenico), which places the webslinger in the darkest days of the Great Depression and onto the violent, morally compromised streets. Donning a darker appearance to go with his grim motives, Spider-Man contends with a ghastly array of re-imagined foes including the Vulture, Kraven and, of course, the Green Goblin (are you even allowed to re-imagine Spider-Man without the Green Goblin in tow?). At the same time, much of the supporting cast shows up here too, in slightly tweaked characterizations that feel both fresh and surprisingly deep for a fairly short book (check out the crusading and principled J. Jonah Jameson, for example). Spring for the full-sized Premiere Hardcover version over the digest-sized version if you can, as it shows off Di Giandomenico's super-detailed and expressive art to best effect.

So you caught me going on about pulp-inspired tales once again. Their influence still runs strongly through comics today. These two pull off the homage with real intelligence and style.

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