Fictionality in Comics
Tom Strong, Storyworlds, and the Imagination
On one of his missions in Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales (2004), the superhero Tom Strong enters an arctic cave and chances upon a secret Nazi science project which involves the theory that the earth is hollow as well as flying saucers. As it turns out, however, the fantastic subterranean world is not real. Tom Strong and his companions only found what they expected to find and are eventually entrapped by an alien who feeds on human emotions. When Strong defeats the alien, the subterranean world disappears and the arctic plain returns to its original state. This story is one of the many instances in which Alan Moore’s Tom Strong series addresses issues of fictionality: the world the alien creates does not register on Tom’s instruments, meaning that it does not exist in any sense independently of his mind. When Tom and his team enter the cave, they realize that it corresponds exactly to their expectations. The alien feeds on the emotions raised by this imagination, and Tom Strong concludes the encounter with the statement: “we must not blame mankind’s dark … our wars and genocides … on some external influence, some alien or devil—That is not where the darkness comes from. It is inside” (1:1:12).
Since the 1980s, with comics such as Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986– 87), Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns (1986), and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man (1988–90), the superhero genre seems to have become disenchanted with itself, scrutinizing its ideological involvements and escapism as well as reflecting on its nature as fiction. Geoff Klock (2002) has read the Tom Strong series as a “revisionary superhero narrative” that enacts the political seduction of the genre criticized in these earlier narratives. Rather than just exposing superheroes as figments of the imagination and as feeding off human emotions, as in the arctic story, it seems to me that, taken as a whole, Tom Strong develops a more positive assessment of the genre’s fictionality and uses genre-specific means to explore the workings of the human imagination.