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An image of Adam Strange in a heroic pose, his space helmet tucked under his arm. It has been defaced with hand written accusations, “Stranger danger!,” “Space liar!” and a word balloon coming out of his mouth that says “I kill.” Cover art from Strange Adventures #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Mitch Gerads/DC Comics

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Strange Adventures #1 tries to recapture the magic of a comic book masterpiece

But Strange Adventures needs to be stranger

Tom King and Mitch Gerads, the team that brought you DC Comics’ sublime Mister Miracle series, is back — and they’ve brought one more team member with them this time. Strange Adventures is DC’s latest highbrow-lowbrow mashing comic book epic, and it’s first issue hit stands this week.

Who’s working on Strange Adventures?

King and Gerads are a well-oiled team. King has a long pedigree of blockbuster superhero character studies, including Marvel’s Vision and DC’s Batman. And the two have partnered up numerous times before, with Gerads lending his inventive colors and realistic visuals to issues of King’s Batman, as well as The Sheriff of Babylon miniseries and — most famously — Mister Miracle.

For Strange Adventures, the duo has become a trio with the help of Evan “Doc” Shaner. Shaner is known for deploying his clear, retro style in retro-styled projects like Convergence: Shazam, The Terrifics, and Future Quest; and in Strange Adventures he’s drawing the part of the comic that takes place in the past, while Gerads draws the panels set in the present.

It’s especially fitting for Gerads and Shaner to split art duties, because the story of Adam Strange is all about being split between two places.

Who is Adam Strange?

Created in 1958 by Julius Schwartz and Murphy Anderson, sporting a jet pack, a ray gun, and a dorsal finned helmet that he still uses today, Adam Strange is one of the clearest, pulp sci-fi throwbacks still bouncing around in modern comics. He’s a little bit John Carter of Mars and a little bit Flash Gordon.

Adam Strange and Alanna confer with the Great Council of Rann on what to do about some bird-men who have learned the power of mind control, in Mystery in Space #75, DC Comics (1962).
Adam and Alanna back in 1962.
Image: Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino/DC Comics

Adam splits his life between Earth and the planet Rann, travelling between the two by use of Zeta-Beam teleportation, which is a rather inconvenient form of travel that periodically appears at a random point on Earth for only a short moment. And sure, Adam has learned the science of predicting Zeta-Beams, but even then the effect eventually wears off and he is teleported back to Earth, usually at exactly the right point to ramp up narrative tension.

But Adam always rushes back to Rann as soon as he can — he’s the planet’s own beloved superhero, and he’s also found a deep mutual romance with Alanna, a Rannian woman.

What is Strange Adventures about?

Strange Adventures is a venerable title at DC Comics, dating back to the days when comics shelves could support a whole swath of anthology science fiction titles without a superhero in sight. But this time, the 12-issue story is all about Adam Strange. (Ironically, Adam Strange did not debut in Strange Adventures, but it does make for a punny use of a classic title.)

After he single handedly lead Rann to victory in an interplanetary war, Adam and his wife Alanna have retired to Earth to bask in fame and peace. But Adam’s past comes back to haunt him, and he calls on another obscure DC superhero to clear his name: Mister Terrific, the third-smartest man in the world. According to DC’s official synopsis, Mister Terrific’s investigation will force him to choose between “saving Adam Strange and saving the world.”

Is there any required reading?

Nope! This one’s totally standalone.

Is Strange Adventures #1 good?

The idea to have Gerads and Shaner split art duties in Strange Adventures is matched by how well the two are delivering that art. Gerads has always balanced the realism of his style with a knack for comedy and character expression, and placed alongside Shaner’s cleaner lines and poppier colors — used primarily to show events on Rann — just draws out the contrast. It has an effect like juxtaposing live action footage with animation, and it’s perfect for the nature of Strange Adventures’ story.

Adam Strange lies on a hotel bed in his costume and discusses an imminent talk show appearance with his wife, Alanna, drawn by Mitch Gerads. In the second panel, drawn by Evan “Doc” Shaner, he arrives on a ivy-grown balcony on Rann in the blur of a Zeta-Beam, Alanna dashing up to him shouting “Oh, Adam! All is lost!” in Strange Adventures #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner/DC Comics

But so far, the story of Strange Adventures #1 feels like a lot like Mister Miracle — classic but obscure DC superhero navigates fame, trauma, family, and high adventure in an ironically mundane setting — and that could either be really great, or not. The issue frames Adam’s battles on Rann as him participating in war in a foreign place, actions that he believed were helping Rann’s people, and for Earth’s, who would have been threatened if Rann hadn’t won. And now the morality of his actions is being called into question.

Strange Adventures will be far from the first time Tom King has written a hero questions his participation or complicity in a war (or mission-analogous-to-war); this was a major theme of Omega Men, that first put him on the map, Sheriff of Babylon, Grayson, Mister Miracle, and even parts of his run on Batman.

And while I’d call many of those titles electrifying successes, I’d hoped to be reading a new King story that didn’t feel so familiar. Especially so soon after Heroes in Crisis, his last big 12-issue tale which, while promisingly ambitious, ultimately seemed to bite off more heady subjects than it could handle. The eventual appearance of Mister Terrific, an outside observer looking for an external truth, could be the beginning of that unfamiliarity.

King has said that Strange Adventures isn’t a story about “one man’s angst,” but “the nature of truth and how our assumptions about that nature can tear us apart.” And I hope to see more of how that plays out in coming installments.

One panel that popped

On a rooftop on a starry night, Adam Strange hands tries to hand his ray gun to Batman, saying “The think I did it. I didn’t. None of it,” in Strange Adventures #1, DC Comics (2020). Image: Tom King, Mitch Gerads/DC Comics