Shiny Shelf

Terra Obscura #1

By Eddie Robson on 25 June 2003

Word on the street says that Alan Moore is planning another ‘retirement’ from comics, so the likes of ‘Promethea’ are currently being wound up. The question is, will his imprint – America’s Best Comics – carry on without him? ‘Terra Obscura’ is the latest evidence to suggest that it absolutely should.

A number of ABC titles written by people other than Moore have now been spun-off from the original core of five, and all have been of a very high standard. ‘Greyshirt’ artist Rick Veitch took over writing duties for a mini-series based around the character, effortlessly picking up the style Moore had defined to the extent that you’d barely notice any change. Al’s old cohort Steve writes the bulk of ‘Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales’, including ‘Jonni Future’ – which should logically be the cheap filler strip but is actually the most compelling reason to pick up the book.

And now we have ‘Terra Obscura’, another spin-off from ‘Tom Strong’. If you have issues 11 and 12 of ‘Tom Strong’ then it’s worth pulling them out and reading them again, since this series features the characters who were introduced in that storyline. It was established (for those of you who speak fluent DC continuity) that Terra Obscura was the ABC equivalent of Earth-Two. Moore has always enjoyed retro-fitting his superheroes with a glorious history, writing them as though they have been around as long as the likes of Superman and Batman.

Just as the Silver Age Flash discovered his Golden Age predecessor on a parallel Earth, so Tom Strong had a counterpart in the form of Tom Strange, part of a super-team called S.M.A.S.H. At the end of issue 12, S.M.A.S.H. were released from the limbo in which they had been held for thirty years and returned to Terra Obscura: this mini-series, co-plotted by Moore but scripted by Peter Hogan, relates what happened next.

For sure, this is familiar territory. It’s set in a world which, save for the existence of superheroes and a number of technological innovations, is recognisable as our own, and superheroes have fallen out of favour with the public and are on the verge of being made obsolete. Sound like ‘Watchmen’? It is like ‘Watchmen’, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We see a slightly different situation from that in Moore’s seminal superhero work, a new version of Earth and a group of very promising characters: it’s like ‘Watchmen’ rewritten from scratch.

Hogan has harnessed perhaps the best aspect of Moore’s writing, which is the depth: almost every panel contains some telling clue to the nature of this world, whether it’s a line of dialogue or a background detail. Yanick Parquette’s art is sharp and hints at a developing ‘house style’ for ABC, since it recalls both Veitch’s ‘Greyshirt’ work and J.H. Williams’ stuff for ‘Promethea’.

‘Terra Obscura’ has been announced as a six-part miniseries and it seems that Moore and Hogan have a structure for those issues, but I’d say that there could be potential for an ongoing book here. It would certainly help to cover for the loss of ‘Promethea’. Moore has done a lot of good groundwork in creating an ABC universe and it would be sad to see this go to waste, especially since one of the few things that he has never done as a comics writer is to create characters and concepts that are designed to exist without him.

If Moore is serious about improving the general standards of mainstream action-based comics then this is something he should try, and if John Constantine is anything to go by he could be quite good at it. So, whilst ‘Tomorrow Stories’ is almost certainly dead I’d love to see him hand over the reins of both ‘Tom Strong’ titles to other writers. There’s also plenty more mileage in ‘Top 10′ and we still haven’t seen the previous incarnations of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: all projects which could be great in the right hands.

Many comics companies have tried and failed to create superhero ‘universes’ to rival DC and Marvel’s. The ABC one contains a refreshing blend of originality and blatant steals from the classics in the grand Alan Moore tradition, but would its titles sell without the name of the man himself on the front? If the comics are good enough, one would hope so.

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By Eddie Robson

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