Tom Strong, Compelling Coasean Comics Character
By Bryan Caplan
With The Watchman movie coming out in March, you’re going to be hearing an awful lot about the writing of Alan Moore. Despite all the publicity, though, his lesser-known Tom Strong series won’t be getting much attention. And that’s a shame – not only is this a well-written and well-drawn book; it’s also one of the finest illustrations of creative Coasean thinking out there.
With a lead character named Tom Strong, you’d expect stories about a classic brick clobberin’ bad guys. But this is Alan Moore! At least half the time, Strong ends a story by crafting a clever Coasean bargain that leaves all the key characters better off.
For example, in issue #2, Tom has to rush back from a visit to Venus to face a sentient computer virus known as the Modular Man. The back story: Tom’s eradicated this virus several times before, but every few years someone opens the wrong attachment and the Modular Man is once again unleashed. So Tom explains to the Modular Man that he’ll never succeed using his current strategy. Tom’s Coasean offer: Tom gives the Modular Man his spaceship and suggests that he settle on Venus. No tricks, no fast talk – just a wise Pareto improvement.
Unfortunately, I’m no Alan Moore. You have to be immersed in the stories to truly appreciate Tom’s Coasean epiphanies. Just when you’re expecting a cage match, you get a contract. Even if you’ve never cracked an econ textbook, it’s great story-telling. But if you’ve got a background in econ, Tom Strong’s mastery of the art of the deal is nothing short of superhuman.
P.S. If you want to introduce your kids to the genius of Alan Moore, Tom Strong is a great place to start. My five-year-olds love it as much as I do… though I do a little light editing along the way.