Strange Adventures #1
“Chapter 1: They floated above the ground”
Writer: Tom King
Artists/Colors/Cover artists: Mitch Gerads & Evan “Doc” Shaner
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US
When people find out I’m into comics, they inevitably ask me who my favorite super-hero is. After I note that I’m into all sorts of genres in the medium, I add that I don’t really follow characters anymore, but creators. One of the creators whose work I follow intently these days is writer Tom King. I’m inclined to say he can do no wrong in my eyes, but that’s not entirely true (Heroes in Crisis, while rife with potential, was awkwardly executed). Nevertheless, after the thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking Mr. Miracle series, I was eager to see what King would do with another second-tier DC character. His take on Adam Strange boasts a lot of the qualities that made Mr. Miracle so compelling… in fact, it almost features too much of what made that prior project so good. The beats, plot and structure here elicit far-too-easy comparisons, and while King offers a novel interpretation of Strange, it doesn’t feel all that distinct from his exploration of Scott Free.
After years zooming around the planet Rann as its greatest champion, former archaeologist Adam Strange is back home on Earth, along with his alien wife Alanna, immersed in a new kind of lifestyle: fame. He’s just published a memoir and is on the TV talk-show circuit promoting it, basking in people’s adulation. But the spotlight on the celebrated hero brings with it questions and allegations… suggestions that maybe Adam’s not the paragon of virtue and righteousness his exploits make him out to be.
Gerads is a frequent King collaborator, so it was no surprise when he was announced as a contributing artist to this new project, but to get Evan Shaner participating as well really made this title stand out creatively. Shaner’s job here is to depict the traditional Adam Strange scenes, the flashbacks that harken back to the camp and adventure of the Silver Age of comics that spawned him, while Gerads delves into the darker drama and more everyday moments of the protagonist’s life. Both Shaner and Gerads are spectacularly talented artists, and they don’t disappoint here. But they did surprise me. The flow between the two different art styles is seamless; the visual consistency throughout the comic wasn’t something I expected to find. The shift in setting and tone is more than enough to differentiate between the two “modes” in the story, though I was surprised there wasn’t a greater differentiation in the color schemes between them.
One of the most clever elements of this book is the depiction of Adam’s extra-terrestrial exploits — specifically, his use of his ray gun. Cowles punctuates every blast with a cute “Pew! Pew!” in glowing blue, and that’s clearly meant to disguise the inherent violence of pointing a gun at another living being and pulling the trigger. The representation is an effort to fool oneself about the horror that’s actually being unleashed.
King hasn’t copied his work from Mr. Miracle here at all, but my hesitation with this new book is how familiar it feels with that previous title as its backdrop. The contrasts between the mundane and the fantastic, the importance of a child looming over the main character’s existence, the erosion of the protagonist’s mental well-being — these elements are key in both projects. That a writer would explore similar motifs or themes in different stories is to be expected; Neil Gaiman’s work is almost exclusively about hidden worlds of magic, wonder and danger layered over or under the “real” world, for example. But the pacing, structure and dichotomies of regular life and otherworldly war make Strange Adventures and Mr. Miracle feel far too similar — not identical twins, really, but fraternal ones at least.
Mind you, being similar to something as strong as King’s examination of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters isn’t really a bad thing. Mr. Miracle was justifiably lauded and successful, meaning Strange Adventures stands out as a strong bit of storytelling as well. The potential for Adam Strange’s post-traumatic stress and possible war crimes feel a little too strongly telegraphed here, though perhaps King is just trying to make things seem obvious so as to pull off a twist later on. I’m definitely interested enough to see how it all plays out.
I think the elements I found most intriguing here are King’s examinations of media culture and politics. We see Adam profiting from his war experiences – sure, it was doing battle with aliens across the galaxy, but it’s still about war. His nonchalant attitude is a little unsettling, but it’s likely the emotional cast he’s had to build up around a broken psyche. We also see the media and partisan forces propose our supposed war hero as a potential political power. The equating of military experience with political prospects is a thoroughly American attitude, and I’ll be interested to see if King explores this concept further as the plot and characterization grow darker. 7/10