Strange Adventures has had the comics world hyped since its announcement. The new comic is from writer Tom King, with art from King’s long time collaborator Mitch Gerads and new art partner (and widely beloved superhero artist) Evan “Doc” Shaner, and the advance word on the book was more than enough to generate a ton of excitement. But does the first issue live up to the Eisner-bait hype?
The answer is a combination of “That’s not a fair question to ask,” and “oh my goodness yes.” Let’s start with yes.
In what is perhaps the least surprising statement of the year, the art is stupendous. Mitch Gerads and Doc Shaner each have their own strengths. Gerads excels at the mundane, making even a chat in a hotel room between a bored wife and a fried husband exciting. Shaner, by contrast, does the big, titanic superhero stuff perfectly. This is a guy who could make a Space Ghost/Jonny Quest jam comic look as iconic as the Justice League sitting around their team table for the first time. He was made for ANY Adam Strange book, and I suspect this one in particular.
But none of this is a surprise. Gerads and Shaner have been tremendous artists for a long time now. What makes their work in Strange Adventures stand out is how their panels talk to each other within the book. There’s a whiff of mimcry between the two that I didn’t expect, and was very pleasantly surprised by. There are panels where Shaner’s Adam or Alanna look scratchier than they normally would. And Gerads has pages of bright, clean Adam Strange with only hints of the muddy blacks that we usually see in his work. This is not to say that Strange Adventures is a massive deviation from either artist’s normal style; just that there are periodic points of versatile convergence that make the entire book more dynamic.
That dynamism is reflected in King’s storytelling techniques, as well. King has for some time been an evangelist for the nine-panel grid. He would use that rigid storytelling structure to frame his stories, and when the story broke out of that grid, the effect would be like a crescendo in music – everything got bigger and louder and more dramatic. Strange Adventures is his longest foray away from that grid, and the impact is noticeable (and good!).
The scale of Strange Adventures keeps opening and closing. The battles on Rann with the Pykkts feel huge, like classic adventure storytelling made modern, while the book tour scenes, interspersed throughout the story, are intimate moments. The pacing and deliberateness of information release are still there, it’s just ordered differently.
The lack of grid’s impact on the story has a bit of a meta-component to it as well. If you’re used to reading King’s other, more rigidly constructed books, the feeling you’ll get from Strange Adventures is not unlike when you get to the splash pages in those books. It’s simultaneously more laid back and alarming, like relaxing and knowing something is wrong at the same time. That the something that’s wrong conveyed by the structure is the same as the one centered in the story is a feat of technical excellence.
Which brings us to why asking if Strange Adventures lives up to the hype is an unfair question. We’re only one issue into a 12 issue story right now. All we know at the moment is that there is something that’s not right with the story we’re being told (and Earth is being told in the book) about Adam’s battle with the Pykkts. We don’t know what the divergence is, how it came about, why it exists, or what it means. The answers to those questions will determine whether Strange Adventures is worthy of the hype. So far, what we know and how we’ve come to know it all indicate that it’s going to be a special book, but we have to keep reading to see if it follows through. But you can be sure that I’ll be there.