Bookmarked: ‘Strange Adventures’ is a Space-Age Self-Examination

“Strange Adventures” is an intergalactically mature comic that gives “Guardians of The Galaxy” a run for its money.

An emotional satire of science fiction, “Strange Adventures” grounds a high-flying hero with heavy self-reflection.

Released across 12 issues between 2020 and 2021, “Strange Adventures” by writer Tom King and illustrators Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner follows the historic war between alien planet Rann and its rival species the Pykkts.

Focusing on Rann’s champion Adam Strange, the comic tells the parallel stories of how Rann won its war in the past and its ramifications felt in the present.

Created by Julius Schwartz and Murphy Anderson in 1957, Adam Strange originated as an archeologist of Earth until being interrupted by an extraterrestrial ray known as a “Zeta-Beam.” 

Transporting Adam to the alien planet, Adam’s original tales follow him earning asylum with the planet’s advanced civilization. Sporting a ray-gun and jetpack, Adam became a defender to the planet and one of their own after befriending head scientist Sardath and marrying his daughter Alanna.

With the Zeta-Beam wearing off at random, Adam transported between Earth and Rann with ease, becoming “The Man of Two Worlds” as his heroics gave him a home on both planets.

Over the decades, Adam has fought everything from hawk-like alien empires to run-of-the-mill monsters of varying species. Adam protects both planets from every shape of enemy, wearing a smile throughout.

Adam is a zany invention encompassing all-American archetypes and outlandish adventures from the 1950s and ‘60s. The character has hardly had mainstream appeal compared to his contemporaries Green Lantern or The Flash but still regularly appeared in DC Comics and media over the decades, with special emphasis in King’s tragic epic “Strange Adventures.”

Depicted between art styles by Shaner (“The Terrifics,” “ The New Champion of Shazam!”) and Gerads (“Mister Miracle,” “Sheriff of Babylon”), each timeline has a distinct look conveying its own tone. 

Despite jumps in time and presentation, the thematic throughlines of sacrifice and love help the pages compliment one-another instead of clash.

The main story, set in the present, follows Adam and his wife Alanna living on Earth. Capitalizing on his heroism, Adam lives a comfortable life, publishing a memoir on his exploits with the Pykkts and going on press tours. 

This lavish lifestyle begins to crumble when Adam’s do-good character is called into question. Being publicly labeled a liar and war criminal, Adam’s past is unearthed — revealing the truth behind his bright smile and friendly demeanor.

This section of the story is painted in mystery and murky morality with intricate art by Mitch Gerads to match. With purposefully sketchy features, each panel seems like a foggy painting. It’s a technique that makes many scenes feel as if there’s something just out of sight that could reveal everything.

The secondary story of “Strange Adventures” shows the flashbacks of Rann fighting the Pykkts. Uniting the planet’s forces to fight the enigmatic invaders, Adam ventures all over the word to gather allies while facing hardship.

As Adam’s actions are revisited in the modern day, the brutal effects of war on his family are uncovered in the past. Adam endured torture, starvation, gladitor-like combat and even the mysterious death of his daughter.

It’s a sober interpretation of Adam’s campy adventures from the ‘50s. Doc Shaner’s bright colors and dynamic designs juxtapose the morose actions on display. The purposeful disconnect emphasizes the uncanny romanticization of war-time heroics.

While the parallel storylines focus on Adam’s actions, his wife Alanna is just as much of a main character. Sticking by Adam through the war and aftermath, Alanna is a fierce fighter and cunning defender to her people. 

By the end of both stories it becomes apparent that while Adam took the credit, Alanna was Rann’s true hero. It’s a flip on the colonialistic concept set when Adam first took the page. 

The idea that a random Earthling could save an advanced foreign species is a topic “Strange Adventures” addresses from all angles, with the last twist killing the trope altogether.

King, (“Vision,” “Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow”) riddles each scene in “Strange Adventures” with brash dialogue and thematic dimension. 

Ideas of heroics and war are touched on with a gravity only a former CIA officer would understand. The cost of losing yourself in bloodshed to protect the ones you love is at the core of “Strange Adventures.” 

King also parodies the way the public addresses armed conflict. Mr. Terrific, a superhero and supergenius, enters the book to investigate Adam. Being a relatively unknown character inside and outside the comics, King plays on the notion that people reject what they don’t know to hold onto what they do.

Mr. Terrific is lambasted for even daring to look into Adam’s past. Despite his public charges of wrongdoing, both the people and the media latch onto a binary idea of good and evil to justify Adam’s charges.

“Strange Adventures” is a dense revisit to an eccentric oddity from the Silver Age of Comics. It’s a commentary on war, loss and perception through the lens of an intergalactic alien invasion. It’s a beautifully illustrated graphic novel with an engaging narrative to match.

King’s “Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow” is currently in development for a live-action film. With King working with James Gunn for DC’s future, there may be a day when “The Man of Two Worlds” is known both on and off the page.

“Strange Adventures” is available for purchase online and in comic shops and bookstores now.

Featured image courtesy of DC Comics

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr