Time and Tom Strong

Before he walked away from mainstream comics, Alan Moore seemed to be having a tremendous amount of fun at the end of the last century.  He had brokered a deal (he thought) to give him freedom and autonomy away from the big two to publish his own universe– and what a universe he set out to create under the moniker ABC (America’s Best Comics). Titles like Promethea, Top Ten, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Terra Obscura; all of these represented the kind of fun sci-fi and fantasy the comics world can offer, and Moore stood as the madman behind the curtain making it happen. While Promethea represented his meditation on spirituality and humanity, Tom Strong was the pure escapist fun of introducing the sensibility of adventure comics of the Golden and Silver Age era.

Tom Strong gave Moore a vehicle to investigate his usual philosophical queries in a more accessible form for a mass audience (Promethea initially did have a greater accessibility but the concepts got very large and the art more adventurous as Moore got deeper into his quest to investigate the spiritual questions related to his study of magic and reality). That accessibility in the pages of Tom Strong covered all the great serial science hero motifs: monsters, destruction, arch nemesis, and of course SCIENCE! Wrapped up in some of that science Moore confronted the idea of time travel in a few different ways, but it is the unique perspective in issue ten with the introduction of the “Necro-Gyro” that intrigues me still. Using the Necro-Gyro Moore challenges the reader to reconsider time travel by poking at ideas about perception and reality. Moore’s exploration in issue ten poses the following question: Is time travel merely a moving through of images of the past?

The things we leave behind
Moore sets up his time travel tale by positioning Tom Strong  trying out a new invention built by the recently deceased Foster Parallax. Parallax had built what his son explains is a Necro-Gyro, which has a singular function of “penetrating the half-dimension of the Dead itself”.  Bravery intact, Strong fires it up and off he goes. Moore next describes the action the machine takes in flight as:

“ …its cryptic engine stirred into an echolaic drone, the jungle-reared adventurer felt his peculiar craft begin to move, not up or forward into the material space surrounding him, but somehow deeper, further, in amongst the onion layers of reality”.

The machine is thus, according to the narration and image, moving the traveler through time, but through time in a  non-linear way. We must consider (as I am sure Moore did of the bulk of the audience), that we accept normed representation of the spatial and the temporal based on enlightenment rationality (or scientific reasoning).  Moore envisions the Necro-Gyro time traveling by moving through layers to show the small imprints of time, much like a photograph with many elements that get peeled away one tiny layer at a time, subtracting a person here, or a building there—each element is a piece of the whole, although the whole is only in the end represented as a moment of now, and then now and then now. Strong questions this “land of the dead” he believes he is seeing as the gyro continues to spin him through this space as time  cycles constantly, folding and unfolding all around him representing all those who have been born and died along the shadowy routes of the city the machine travels. Strong (acting as Moore’s mouthpiece) questions what perhaps the afterlife then is, what it can be, what is the space it inhabits on its own (if any).  Finally upon reaching the place he decided in his travel that he wished to see most, he cannot deny his thoughts:

“Tom Strong wondered […] if all he saw about him might not be impressions, after-images left on an astral plane as silvery, as sensitive as photographic plates”.

So is time travel merely a moving through of images of the past? Based on what is presented in the text I am willing to say Moore believes so thus making us think about the definition of what time travel can actually be in our fictions, and perhaps in our own reality (or whatever that may be what we wish to define). Moore is challenging not only the convention of time travel in a traditional sense, but also expanding the argument around ideas about what happens to us after death, as death is envisioned by him as just making a trip from one reality to another, a trip between the layers of time and space in order to inhabit a timeless other. I don’t think I can really reprimand such a thought has anything less than optimistic.