Underground Film Journal

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Terra Obscura

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 10, 2006

Terra Obscura

It seems most of the comics I read these days come from my local library where they have a fairly decent size graphic novel (GN) collection and it feels like they keep getting new ones all the time. Borrowing GNs definitely beats the piling up of even more comics in my apartment than I have from my nearly 20+ years of collecting.

So far, I haven’t reviewed any of these library GNs I’ve read, mostly because they’re somewhat older and most aren’t worth writing about. Terra Obscura, though, isn’t that old (published June 2004) and it’s inspired me to comment certain things about comic books in general, so I’ve decided to go ahead and review it here.

First of all is the fact that I don’t buy that many comics anymore, even though I’ve been reading them since I was a little kid and I do still love ’em a lot. However, there’s a lot of articles on the ‘net these days speculating about why there are people like me and why the comic industry can’t pull in new readers so easily anymore.

A sampling of what I’m talking about can be found on Steven Grant’s always entertaining Permanent Damage, Tony Isabella’s excellent Online Tips column and the Make Comics Forever blog (via Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat) to name a few.

As for my own situation, I’ve written a couple times about the difficulties of following regular series as I get older. I also just mentioned above that I’m a little tired of having comics continue to pile up in the house. And I do feel a little bit that the industry is passing me by somewhat. I was in a shop just recently and felt a wave of depression that the store was crammed floor to ceiling and wall to wall with comics none of which I felt like buying.

I don’t know if it’s my own age that’s a factor or if it’s the industry regurgitating the same kind of stories since I was a teenager that has induced this malaise. I do read a lot about comics on the web, much more than I read actual comics, and most of what I read makes my head spin. They’re actually re-doing or un-doing Crisis on Infinite Earths? Who could possibly care about that? I find it baffling.

So now we come to Terra Obscura, a relatively recent (originally published in 2003) superhero comic without that 70 or 40 year backstory that comes with reading DC and Marvel comics. However, the book is a spin-off of another comic called Tom Strong, which has only been around since 1999.But reading the first page of the book, which was an introductory text page, sent my head spinning.

The idea of a Counter-Earth, an almost exact replica of our planet that orbits the sun on exactly the opposite side, is an old sci-fi conceit, but I’m mostly familiar with it from Marvel‘s old Squadron Supreme series. Terra Obscura, though, is a Counter-Earth in Tom Strong’s “universe” and originally appeared in that series. Apparently there was a story about an alien entrapping all of Terra Obscura’s superheroes for 30 years who were then freed and are trying to get their lives back together in this graphic novel. Confusing? Hell yeah, especially when you add in a good two dozen characters I needed to keep track of.

The only need for a Counter-Earth in this book is to keep it apart from Tom Strong’s world. But since I’ve never read Tom Strong, nor do I care if I do or not, this entire detail was completely superfluous to me. Also, the entire backstory with the alien and the heroes being freed was relatively moot except the characters reference it all throughout the book. None of it held any meaning or interest to me.

Now here’s the real problem: Other than this stupid backstory crap, Terra Obscura is a great book. It’s co-plotted by Alan Moore and features many of his great trademarks–wonderful pastiches of superhero archetypes, a story that starts with simple character relationship stuff then ends with an “oh no, the entire universe is coming to an end” kind of grand finale. The art, while not wowing me, had the big, bold design that the story demanded. I was particularly taken with the skeleton hologram of The Terror, which is obviously the centerpiece of the entire book.

So, while I certainly recommend the book, I don’t know how many other people who aren’t into Tom Strong are going to want to wade through all the stuff tying the two series together. It seems like it would almost be worth it to produce a re-edited version of the GN with no reference to the other series at all. I think it’s things like that that help prevent non-comic readers from getting into comics. There’s too much baggage that comes with reading the damn things, even for books that are just two years old.

Buy Terra Obsucra from Amazon.com!