Strange Adventures
Medium: comic
Year: 2020
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads, Evan Shaner
Keywords: Black Label, superhero
Format: 12-issue DC Black Label series
Website category: Comics
Review date: 18 July 2023
strange adventures
I don't know if I ever warmed up to this one. It's not even trying to be likeable or easy to follow. Tom King's a good writer, though, and it ends strongly.
I should start with some history. Strange Adventures was DC's first SF series, launched in 1950 and running for 244 issues. Adam Strange appeared there, among other places, and kept popping up in the DC universe for decades afterwards despite never getting a series of his own. Alan Moore used him in Swamp Thing. This 2020 series is merely the latest in a surprisingly long list of revivals, albeit one of the chunkier ones. (It was also nominated for Best Graphic Story in the 2022 Hugo Awards.)
He doesn't have any superpowers, though. He's an ordinary Earthman who kept being teleported to and from the planet Rann by a zeta beam. He's a cross between Flash Gordon and John Carter. He has a finned helmet, a gun and a rocket pack that lets him fly. That's it. Otherwise, he's just like you and me.
And, in this book, he's had to fight an interplanetary war. The Pykkt Empire has destroyed thousands of planets, leaving nothing behind afterwards. It attacked Rann. It's going to attack Earth.
There are two interleaved timelines. There's "afterwards", with Adam Strange and his wife Alanna having come to Earth and now being accused of war crimes. And there's "before", when Adam was defending Rann and very possibly committing those war crimes, or worse.
The first few chapters are a bit unpleasant. The Stranges are living a celebrity life and doing nothing of interest, while people (usually in the media) say a mixture of fawning and shitty things about them. They're also being investigated by the second Mr Terrific (Michael Holt, created by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake in their run on The Spectre), who's actually pretty cool and at that stage a lot more engaging than anyone else in the book.
Then, in chapter 4, the authorities on Rann try to arrest Mr Terrific for... well, for being able to speak Pykkt, really. He taught it to himself so that he could read the Pykkt side of history. They don't want him to do that. At last, something for this reader to get his teeth into. The investigation continues. Things get darker. We learn that people do bad things in war and that Adam Strange will shoot prisoners in the back of the head. This is heading something big and I was quite impressed. Ultimately. But I'm not convinced that the journey to get there needed twelve issues.
Ironically, I think you could cut almost everything with Adam Strange himself. You'd keep the last two chapters, obviously, but all those "before" pages don't feel like narrative. There's no dramatic tension. It's in the past. It's happened. Over and done with. (It's what Mr Terrific is investigating, yes, but so what?) Adam Strange won't die in them and there aren't any surprises in the outcome of the war, although there might be some in the ugly details. All this is, though, more readable than celebrities appearing on TV and responding to media criticism, which is the basis of the "afterwards" timeline.
There's a secret... but I wonder if Tom King missed a twist? What if Adam Strange had planned all along for things to turn out as they ultimately do? (It's still possible to tell yourself that maybe he did anyway, but there's no evidence for this.) This would be clever and heroic, but a different kind of ending from the actual one.
Is this book fun? No. Is it exciting? Nope. Is it entertaining or likeable? Nope, neither of those either. It's flabby and overlong, but rescued by its ending and its secrets. I hadn't expected what was coming at all. It's shocking, it's demonstrating uncomfortable truths about war and it's got lots of top-notch art. I didn't enjoy this book, but I respect it.