Adam Strange is the quintessential 1950s pulp science hero. On Earth, he was an archaeologist with a boring life (at least relative to the Nazi hunting peaks that we know archaeology professors can hit thanks to the Indiana Jones franchise). He was hit by a mysterious beam of light while on a dig in Peru, and zapped to a faraway planet where he was immediately attacked by the fauna. After solving that problem, he met Sardath, lead scientist of Rann, the planet Strange found himself on. From there, he fell in love with Sardath’s daughter, Alanna, and adventured around the planet with his girlfriend, his jetpack, and his ray gun. But when the effects of the zeta beam that brought him to Rann wore off, he was transported back to Earth and had to chase beam firings around his home planet to make his way back to his new family.
Strange’s existence is like balancing bits of regular person and superhero in no particular order on either tray of a scale – on Earth he’s a professor, globetrotting to jump in mysterious beams of light, while on Rann, he’s a family man with a jetpack. He is the ideal character for a morality tour of the DC Universe, both as the point of view character looking in at the absurdity and glory of superheroics, and, as it looks like Strange Adventues might do, an unreliable narrator setting up a story about what those two lives might really mean.
When the book was first announced, King almost immediately likened Adam Strange to Tarzan or Flash Gordon – two other pulp heroes whose origins were heavily influenced by colonialist thinking. That was the first cue not to completely trust what we were seeing on the page, and the second you’ll notice in the preview pages. King is deliberate and immaculately efficient with his dialogue – if a character can say something in four words rather than six, they say it in four unless there’s a compelling reason to say it in six. But Strange’s dialogue on Rann is almost campy compared to his casual voice at the book signing. The story we tell ourselves may not line up with reality.
So far, Strange Adventures makes a ton of sense as the next step of King’s career. He works in thematic threes – Omega Men, The Vision, and The Sheriff of Babylon were the “Trilogy of Good Intentions,” about protagonists walking into situations they didn’t fully understand, being overwhelmed by them, and losing a piece of themselves in the process. Batman, Heroes in Crisis, and Mister Miracle were the Trauma Trilogy, about the toll superheroing takes and how the heroes process that damage. And part of processing any trauma is examining it from multiple angles – hence Strange Adventures’ focus on the possible unreliability of the title character.
Expectations were high for the art team on Strange Adventures from the drop, and yet Shaner and Gerads still manage to exceed them. This is a staggeringly gorgeous comic, in ways that are surprising. Gerads is known for his gritty, dusty realism – his worlds look lived in, his people scruffy and put upon, his colors muted. Shaner’s reputation is almost the opposite. Everything he does is bright and clean and crisp and delightfully fun. What makes the art in Strange Adventures so effective is how, by putting these two artists in the same book, sometimes on the same page, you can see strengths of each that were always there (like the way Gerads uses brushy, scraped-looking inks in the hotel room to make fabric feel like it’s absorbing light, or the way Shaner can frame a heroic pose), and you can watch them start to work towards each other, showing faint hints of style mimicry that makes the drawn story so much more fun.Check out these exclusive preview pages to get an idea of what you’re getting into…
And if this isn’t enough of an incentive to check out Strange Adventures, you should probably be aware that there’s an HBO Max series with the same title in development courtesy of Greg Berlanti. The TV series is apparently a one hour drama presenting a series of morality plays about the intersecting lives of regular people and DC superheroes. It might not become immediately clear how these two projects relate to each other (and on a story level they don’t), but by King’s account, the Strange Adventures comic is about the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell other people, and the gap between the two. Adam Strange by his very concept is quite literally that intersection where regular people and superheroes cross, and his entire story is him trying to connect two halves of a disparate existence.
Strange Adventures #1 hits stores on March 4th.