Strange Adventures by writer Tom King and artists Evan “Doc” Shaner and Mitch Gerads follows a trend that has served its writer well in the past with his previous efforts in exploring the psychological weight of a hero driven by love and duty. In some of his earlier DC books, like Mister Miracle, Batman and Heroes in Crisis, King energizes his protagonists with powerful emotional urges that embolden their determination to protect their loved ones while also moving them down dark paths because of those urges. Adam Strange, one of the more classic Silver Age characters in DC’s long history, has rarely been given the spotlight, let alone one that has peered into the heart of darkness that both reifies and deconstructs the very idea of him. With Tom King’s conspiracy laden plot, and Doc Shaner’s bright, optimistic artwork of the past juxtaposed with Mitch Gerards grizzled illustrations of the modern present, the team redefines the space explorer in moving and surprising ways which will prove to be a bedrock in the character’s history for years to come.
Part of what makes Adam Strange such a classic character is how dated in essence his storyline is. Transported across billions of light years to the planet Rann, the young archeologist became the hero of the planet by leading the successful victory over the invading aliens, the Pykkts. Gaining the trust of the planet’s leading scientist and marrying his lovely daughter Alanna, Strange became the “Hero of Two Worlds” and returned home in glory. Fighting alongside the Justice League and launching a book tour with a bestselling memoir, Strange’s life story is almost too good to be true.
This is made clear in the story’s opening details, with scenes of Strange’s tour peppered with recognizable tropes of celebrity, from daytime TV show interviews, to constant schedule booking by his wife, to political commentary done in-universe by mass media. The storytellers present a world in which such an archetypical tale of sci-fi-infused colonialism would play happily back home.
It’s this theme of colonialism by King and Co. that really gets their creative juices flowing. That Adam Strange would travel to an alien planet with superior technology, fight a war on alien terms and not only survive but lead the planet to victory is a bit much, even for modern comic book standards. What effect does war have on a person? How did the love that Adam and Alanna once had for each other come about? What were the natures of the victories and defeats that allowed Rann to ultimately survive the Pykkts, a race which is pointed out to have conquered thousands of planets—and what does that mean for the Justice League when that threat rears its head on Earth?
Within these twelve chapters, tropes are flipped on their heads and truths once taken for granted are called into question. These moments only grow as time passes between the past tense war of Rann and the post-war celebration-turned-scandal and conspiracy of the present. It’s a slick work that speaks to the larger history of the DC Universe, a classic world of heroes and champions repeatedly tested by our times of growing cynicism and moral quandaries that question what it means to be a hero. Fighting wars requires killing, so how does that fact distinguish Adam Strange from Superman or Batman or Mr. Terrific?
It’s Mr. Terrific who embarks on solving the mystery of Strange’s time on Rann, and that’s where the detective angle of the book truly shines. As the famous “Third Smartest Man on the Planet,” Michael Holt’s investigation shows both the differing sides of interplanetary politics and the impressive capabilities of the Justice League. While Strange’s specialty is combat, Holt’s is his sheer intelligence, and watching him piece things together is particularly thrilling.
Any time the classic pantheon of the DC Universe is listed, Mr. Terrific is often left out of the head count. With Strange Adventures, while it serves as a potentially definitive Adam Strange story, it’s also an excellent showcase for the Justice League/Justice Society member, as well as a good introduction for those less familiar with him.
Strange Adventures is an emotionally weighty work, one that increases in its intensity with every new chapter. The ending is deeply surprising and will likely leave you stunned, particularly if you’re not accustomed to King’s willingness to shake up DC’s status quo. But stripping all of this aside, Strange Adventures is an enduring work of heroism, one that both believes in it and works to affirm that belief, even if the book’s heroes might not be whom you expected at the start. It’s a tale of war and sacrifice, and how casualties and trauma often hide from those around them. It’s a reminder that getting out of a war alive and surviving it are two different things. Strange Adventures shows us that our heroes are still very much human behind all the glamour and attention. It’s truly understanding this that may just be the strangest and most wonderful adventure of all.
Strange Adventures by Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.