Strange Adventures has been treated as something important in the world of superhero comics since its announcement. It reunites the creative team of the much-acclaimed Mister Miracle, writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, as they are joined by beloved co-creator Evan “Doc” Shaner to tell the story of Adam Strange—an archaeologist from Earth mysteriously transported to the planet Rann by Zeta Beams to serve as the alien world’s jetpack-wearing, space ray-shooting protector. King and his collaborators promised more than an aesthetic update to this Silver Age creation from Julius Schwartz and Murphy Anderson. This was foretold to be a story about the cost of war and difficulties of returning home, but Strange Adventures #1 fails to meet that promise—much less marketing comparisons to Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and DC: The New Frontier. The debut issue introduces its story with confidence and skill, but struggles to clearly address its thematic core or offer a clear perspective. Instead, it is a muddled entry point that attempts to cover up a lack of voice with excessive style.
Strange Adventures is a very stylish comic, though. Shaner and Gerads’ artwork function as excellent counterpoints, telling the stories of Adam’s past war on Rann and his present struggles on Earth, respectively. While Gerad’s scratchy lines and worn characters balance the buoyant figures and vivid colors of Shaner’s panels, both artists integrate their work in a three panel grid reminiscent of The New Frontier. Those three wide panels are occasionally fractured into additional segments or reassembled into (frankly, excessive) splashes, but they create a consistent rhythm for the issue that makes the constant change of focus and setting easy to comprehend. It’s not difficult to see why both artists’ names attract so much attention in 2020, even if the issue itself only serves to reiterate the solicit for this issue with a few additional details.
It’s not how this story is told that’s troublesome so much as why. Despite having multiple sequences in which Adam Strange is being interviewed, Strange Adventures #1 introduces readers to the character’s core conceit via a mid-action exposition dump that could have been pulled directly from the DC Comics of the 1950s. When first battling the Pykkt Empire, Adam goes on a multi-page monologue about where he comes from, who he is, and what drives him. It’s a ridiculous sequence when set side-by-side with the human frailty that encompasses each earthbound moment depicted by Gerads. The Adam Strange shown on Rann doesn’t appear anything like a real human being, much less the soldier readers are told they are witnessing, which indicates either a lack of consistency or an unmentioned layer of fictionalization to each moment drawn by Shaner.
What’s more troubling is how this style undermines any attempt to consider the realities of war. Strange is able to fire upon an army—exploding massive vehicles and causing unknown casualties—without a single speck of blood appearing on the page. The Pykkts are rendered in the mode of pulp novel savages with rudimentary armor and beasts of burden, along with all of the racist overtones this conjures. If there are plans to address this, they are not hinted at in Strange Adventures #1.
All focus on the costs of war are centered on the man shown causing the most carnage on the battlefield: Adam Strange. It is only on Earth that he’s allowed to express a mix of angst and frustration about his past. This is where the first issue centers the reader’s concerns as well with a murder mystery and accussations of war crimes thrown out by an unnamed character presented in such a ridiculous fashion as to be designed for dismissal. It is a mystery that will certainly guide the series as it continues, but provides little direction in these pages. Instead, it reads to be setting up a “both sides” sort of approach for war, one in which complexity ultimately makes anyone looking to cast blame or aspersions.
Strange Adventures #1 showcases the talent of both artists involved, but fails to even begin addressing the subject matter upon which it has pitched itself to readers as an important comic book. The first issue only manages to summarize its premise, often in a clunky fashion and without ever confronting the thematic problems that are clear in its text. It reads like a massive hesitation, an unpreparedness to step forward and say anything bold, so it opts instead to mumble through this introduction. That’s not only a disappointment compared to the lofty comparisons made in marketing materials—it fails to provide much reason for readers to continue regardless of context.
Published by DC Comics
On March 4, 2020
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner0comments
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner