This month I have decided to have another one devoted to comics which either have women as the main characters or playing a significant role in a mixed cast of men and women, a caveat I added so I could cover Book 2 of Terra Obscura. A quick recap, this twelve issue series, split into two arcs spun out of a Tom Strong storyline which unfortunately due to cost issues I have not been able to get a hold of. The backstory is that Terra Obscura is an alternative Earth where the heroes ended up in suspended animation in the late sixties and were brought out of it thirty years later thanks to the combined efforts of Tom Strong and Tom Strange his Terra Obscura counterpart. The heroes are in fact public domain ones from the defunct Nedor comics stable that were in action during the forties and co-writers Alan Moore (plot) and Peter Hogan (script) have bought them into the 21st century with care and respect. In the first book they dealt with an attempt by the Egyption God Set to destroy all the technology of the world and turn the people into his slaves. After this was sorted out using punching and diplomacy, the heroes decided to restart their old superhero team and so the "Society for Modern American Science Heroes" was reborn. If you want to know more about the various heroes featured, their wikipedia page deals with both their Nedor and ABC era biographies and is a very interesting read. This adventure brings a new character into the fold, Princess Pantha, who was Nedor's "Jungle Girl" character and spins a cool story of mysterious time anomolies and hi-jinks in outer space. So let's continue with a second visit to Terra Obscura.
|Tom and Pantha's first adventure.|
They wander down through the house and Tom agrees that all the "souvenirs and trophies must be a little overwhelming" he didn't intend collecting them all they "just kind of washed up here". Pantha says she only started aging again a couple of years ago and then strikes a pose saying she'll only admit to being "umpteen" years old. Tom takes her down past a portrait of Tom Strong and his family, then a picture of Tom and Bob Benton - "The Terror" - when he was still human. Tom says they were quite a team back in the day:
Tom: "We were both scientists, both idealists. We thought we could perfect the world with a combination of grit and good old American know-how".
Pantha comments that the papers used to call them "the World's Best". Tom says in the end they were only human and couldn't stop the alien that killed Bob and got the others out into suspended animation. Tom said they did thanks to the Terror but now as a computer program he thinks he can still make the the world perfect and needs to be managed.
Then The Terror calls and gives Tom an update on whats happening, the most important being the something detected in space and the President wants S.M.A.S.H in the loop. Tom tells Pantha the date has to be postponed but she says she's coming with him. He decides he deserves a personal life so will drive there. But his car has changed, it was a S.U.V now it is an old two seater. "I had this monster in the late fifties...how the heck did it get here?" wonders Tom, Pantha says it's much cooler than what he usually drives, "this is to die for". And off they go.
|Diane and Carol partners in love and crime fighting.|
With the henchmen dealt with, Tim says he'd still like to be friends with Diana even though she broke up with him. He invites her to dinner as Carol drags the unconcious body of The Clock towards them. Tim leaves and when Diana tells Carol what he said, Carol is displeased.
Diana: "No, he was trying to be nice but... I dunno there was something...cold about him. Maybe he's trying to cover up how much I hurt him. You think I should go?"
Then we return to Tom Strange and Pantha meeting with Senator Tallis. They are taken to a secret place to meet a man called The Oracle. He's a man who can see into the fourth dimension and stay sane, at least until now.
|Bryant's ship returns to the solar system.|
Tom: "God only knows where he's been for the last forty-five years... but it looks like Captain Future has come back."
Then we get a TV news report about Captain Future's return into the solar system, in the years since he's been lost in space he was promoted to Colonel.
S.M.A.S.H are having a meeting about it. Tom says the ship isn't responding to hails so his robots are building him a spaceship so he can fly out and meet him. He's called the meeting to let them know he'll be off planet for a while and also time anomalies are occuring. Carol and Peggy "The Woman in Red" discuss changing names but all the ones they have thought of are have are awful. Then the Green Ghost senses something unnatural.
Then the original S.M.A.S.H from the forties appear in the doorway, including a young Diana and Carol's dad still alive. They declare the modern S.M.A.S.H to be "Japanazi Imposters" and a punch-up commences.
|Past and future meet up with fisticuffs.|
Back at S.M.A.S.H headquarters a fullscale brawl is taking place between past and present. Tom wants to sit down and talk, "so you can poison us with propaganda?" shouts Diana as she wrestles with him. Carol tries to reason with her dad, but he punches her saying she can't be his daughter. Finally The Green Ghost manages to convince his living past self that they are telling the truth, they are not enemies. The Ghost tells everyone to stop fighting. But then the past heroes just fade away.
Present day S.M.A.S.H nurse their wounds and wonder if this was an experiment with time travel they forgot. The Green Ghost doesn't think so, saying Captain Future never spoke during the battle, and he disappears to try and get to the bottom of it. Carol is feeling about fed up, "I just had a fight with my dad and girlfriend... and neither of them even recognised me. It's kind of depressing". Her jaw hurts and she just wants to go home.
Tom leaves and meets Pantha, his car has regressed again, Pantha comments "If this keeps up you'll be driving a Model T soon". They get inside and he grins that he will soon be driving a brand new spaceship. "Cool. When do we leave?" asks Pantha. A short time skip and they are at the spaceship, Tom is telling Pantha "no" she can't come.
|Seduction of the Tom.|
Carol returns home and tells Diana about the time travel fight, she tells Diana she looked cute as a teenager. Diana says she looks cute now. Then Carol spots Diana's bags and thinks she's leaving her. But Diana reassures her she is only going to visit Invertica City and maybe see Tim for dinner, to make sure he's OK.
Then we cut to Tim sitting in a chair surrounded by operating tools. The top of his head is sawn off and reveals he's mechanical inside, and as he is operated on by the machines he orders flowers for his forthcoming dinner with Diana.
|The real Tim revealed.|
Back with Tom he is up and very cheerful after a night of nookie with Pantha. She finds him packing for the spaceflight and they embrace:
Tom: "I'd forgotten how good life can be... but having you here the last few days... I've remembered".
Then he hears a commotion from his dead friend Mike's old quarters. More faces from the past are there including Mike and Tim all youthful and enthusiastic about helping Tom with this time twisting mystery, as they discuss possible causes a bad guy called "Baron Nacht" appears and fires a green ray. Tom blocks it and punches the Baron out. Then he and the youth fade away. Pantha asks Tom if he is OK, but Tom is a little sad at having seen the youths, all bar Tim are dead now.
Speaking of Tim, robo-zombie Tim is sharing a drink in front of a roaring fire with Diana. They start to kiss... meanwhile we get one side of a conversation between Carol and her dead father. She admits to being jealous and goes to phone the woman Diana is staying with. Tipper, the woman in queston is having her own time twisting troubles, Tommy, Buzz and Pudge have appeared at different ages, she along with them was part of "The Four Comrades" back in the past.
Back with Tom and Pantha, they are ready to jet off into space, for a treat, Pantha has put on her furry leopardprint bikini, Tom doesn't object but notes, "it could be a little distracting that's all." Pantha grins at him, "that's the general idea you big galoot." And off they fly.
|Who says space travel can't be sexy?|
She smashes a wine bottle over his head and runs. She says they were never lovers, just a one night stand. Bob accuses her of doing it with everyone, "Lance, Lewis, and Tim, and that slut Carol... but I forgive you." He says all he needs to make her love him is time "and we'll soon have plenty of that". He tells the fleeing Diana that he thinks Andrew Bryants ship is causing the timeslips so he's going to steal it and learn to control time, "and then I'll be able to put things right again".
In Hawaii, Senator Challis is discussing Bryant's ship when people start running. In the sky is the "Tsunami Squad", superpowered Japanese men who "sank the fleet in 1941". Fortunately S.M.A.S.H come to the rescue fast and get into a punch up with them before the Tsunami Squad vanish though they managed to kill quite a few people on the ground before S.M.A.S.H got to them.
|The Tsunami Squad attack.|
Pantha: "Hey, saving the Earth at the last minute is what you're good at, remember. But afterwards you're mine. And we're taking a vacation or else."
Tom, tempting fate, says at least they only have Bryant's ship to deal with and "there won't be any mysterious villains appearing out of nowhere to complicate things".
|A somewhat incovenienced Diana.|
On Tom and Pantha's ship she wakes after a nap and Tom tells her they are now in the asteroid belt and there is a ship following them which he has identified as "The Terroriser...the Terror's old ship". He can't raise him on radio. Pantha says she thought he coudln't leave Invertica, but Tom thinks it might just be Tim with some help. He reminisces about an encounter with some aliens who had modelled themselves on the Terror via TV transmissions, they were attacked by aliens modeled on one of the Terror's villians and it was left to Tom to save the day.
"You've really lived, haven't you?" grins Pantha. Tom admits Bob saved him several times in the past so he wants to believe the best of him. But he won't respond to hails. Then The Terrorizer fires on their ship. They loses a stabiliserr and Tom says they are heading into the asteroids and that Pantha needs to get into a space suit fast.
Bob doesn't attack further and resumes course to Bryant's ship. Tom tells Pantha to hold the ship steady and he heads outside to start fixing the damage. As he does so Pantha says to herself with a smile, "So now I'm going to die in space. Well done, Pantha". But Tom gets the ship fixed fast and they head off to Bryant's ship only at one-quarter speed.
|The Terroriser attached to Bryant's ship.|
The US President orders a missile strike on Bryant's spaceship as they can't risk more Pearl Harbours. The Green Ghost goes to visit Set and Thoth who are playing a chess like game and tells them he needs their help to stop the Enola Gay dropping the bomb over Hiroshima, they travel there via his cloak.
|Thoth and Set to the rescue.|
Reality fractures and then we see Diana being pulled out of a "Dream Machine" by The Liberator. Tom is pulled out as well as the Terror, now they have to stop Futuro who did this to them. There is an explosion, then there is just Pantha, Diana, Tom and the Terror. Tom says he can feel reality shifting, but Bob denies this. Then Tom and Bob end up fighting:
Tom: "...This isn't Bob Benton. Bob Benton is dead. This is just some kind of robot".
And he punches it's head off. Now reality resets, with just Pantha, Diana, Tom and Tim/Bob. Diana tells Tom that Terror Bob has taken over Tim's body.
Thoth manages to grab the bomb and hold it in a bubble, he asks for Set to lend him his strength as the bomb explodes and they contain it. They keep holding it until the explosion disappates back to where the other time anomolies went. Meanwhile Tom is battling Bob's Terrorbots and says Tim/Bob is nothing like the Bob he knew:
Bob: "I am Benton's legacy. I am the future... and as soon as I gain control of this ship, all of time will be mine to restructure".
Then chaos ensues as heroes and villains from the past come through the time tube. This includes past Bob Benton and Tim. There is a big fight and the Terrorbots are destroyed. Tom says to Evil Bob "It's just you and me now".
Back with the two women, Pantha is fangirling over Andrew a bit, "I mean this is the guy who killed Hitler and arrested Joe McCarthy... not to mention being the first astronaut. It's like coming face to face with a legend". Diana says that's as maybe, he's still fast asleep. Pantha says they could go with "the Fairytale solution". Diana says with her reputation she should be the one to kiss him awake and lands a big smooch on Bryant's lips.
|And lo, the prince awakens.|
Tom shakes past Bob's hand and says Tom needed him and he came. As they fade he says "remember us this way... as your friends". And then they are gone. Diana and Pantha arrive with Andrew in tow. Tom greets him as Colonel Bryant as he was promoted in his abscence. Then Andrew senses the bomb fired from Earth and they all escape on Tom's ship and watch the ship explode.
|Past Bob deals with his insane future self.|
Tom: "Maybe that made it act like some kind of psychic amplifier, affecting events as far away as it's point of origin. Or else everything we saw was real and the ship was really a quantum gateway to other dimensions. I guess we'll never know".
Diana says it's blown up so good riddance. Tom tells Pantha to call Washington, they'll have quite the reception for Andrew when he returns.
And he gets a tickertape parade. Carol and Diana are there having a fond laugh at Andrew's face when Diana introduced Carol as her girlfriend. Diana thought he was sweet about it. She also apologises for being an ass over Tim and is glad Carol is still her girlfriend. They decide to get the flypast over with so they can be alone again.
|And they all live happily ever after.|
Pantha: "Happiness, dummy... and nothing's going to spoil it".
And that was pretty much it for Terra Obscura. There was a single issue of Terra Obscura & Splash Brannigan then ABC folded as an imprint as Moore decided to cut all ties with DC comics and the series he didn't directly write suffered big drops in sales which is likely what happened with Terra Obscura. Which is a terrible shame, they are a great group of characters, a modern update of a bunch of pulp superheroes with the women being just as strong and interesting as the men. These characters could have been fertile ground for many more adventures and it's a terrible shame we didn't get more of them fleshed out the way Diana, Carol, Tom, Pantha, Bob and Tim were. The central plot of this book, a man dreaming and his dreams becoming reality on Earth is a fantastic sci-fi idea and being solved with just a kiss while the punching is confined to the secondary plotline is something I like. I always prefer stories where people use their brains to figure out solutions like Pantha did rather than it be solved with a punch-up (although a good punch up is fun to read undeniably so). Still it was poetically satisfying that the real Bob Benton took down his corrupted, maddened future self. I hope one day Tom Strong gets the rerelease treatment and I can finally cover their first appearence in the 21st century. After two books I feel very attached to the characters, thanks to Moore and Hogan's deft scripts and the chunky, Kirbyesque artwork by Yanick Panquette and Karl Story. Both books are availiable seperately or as one omnibus "Terra Obscura: The S.M.A.S.H of Two Worlds" which is what I've taken these images from.