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Heroic Aplomb and the Atrocities of War: Tom King’s Strange Adventures Launches in Fine Style

So I was going to continue looking at the comics that came out while I was on blog vacation last month, but then something came out just last week that begged commentary first…

Strange Adventures 1
by Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan “Doc” Shaner 

It’s always a pleasure when Tom King’s doing “serious” work. Which is to say, NOT an on-going monthly or Event ™ comic that forces him to play within the rules of modern corporate spandex storytelling. Not many people can turn out great work under those circumstances, mind you, so I don’t necessarily fault King for not churning out a few years’ worth of instant classics two times a month on Batman. But I figured out pretty fast that I just needed to skip that stuff, and hold out for his next 12-issue novel.

Because those books ARE instant classics, worthwhile additions to the super hero canon that actually have something interesting to say. Each of them takes moribund corporate-owned characters and reinterprets them through a modern lens. Omega Men, for example, examines the fine line between freedom fighters and terrorists. Vision explores the lengths to which some people will go to pursue a quiet normal life. And Mister Miracle delves into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And that brings us to Strange Adventures. This time around, King’s tackling Silver Age sci-fi hero Adam Strange, an Earth man who gets whisked off to the planet Rann, a science paradise under constant threat from various monsters and invaders, all of which Adam fights off with heroic aplomb.

PEW! PEW!

He becomes a planetary hero, romancing and eventually marrying Alanna, the science-princess daughter of Rann’s leader. More than one writer (Alan Moore included) has commented on the uneasy subtext of this set-up, and King’s using it to deal with issues of colonialism and the atrocities of war.

You’ll notice the… rather stark contrast between the two realities at play here. The flashback sequences, depicting Adam fighting for Rann in the idealized style of his Silver Age adventures, are drawn by Evan “Doc” Shaner, an artist with a penchant for just that sort of funnybook heroism. The sequences set on Earth, where Adam and Alanna seem to have retired so that Adam can go on a book tour signing his published memoirs, are drawn by frequent King collaborator Mitch Gerads, who’s known more for gritty realism than anything else.

(An Aside: Gerads was also the artist on Sheriff of Babylon, King’s other 12-issue novel, based in part on his experiences as a civilian contractor for the CIA. That’s original fiction, not based on a preexisting corporate property, and so I didn’t discuss it above. But it, and King’s past, inform pretty much every comic he’s ever written. He saw some terrible things, and knows a lot of people who were scarred by them, himself included. The struggles of his protagonists are often mythologized versions of things he and other veterans have had to live through, and that gives all this stuff a verisimilitude most comics of this nature lack.)

But we were talking about the art…

The dichotomy of Shaner and Gerads’ styles is one of the book’s selling points, mentioned in pretty much every bit of pre-release press I saw for it. But what surprises me is how well those styles mesh. Shaner’s stuff is simpler, cleaner, and more open, while Gerads is grimier, and uses more obvious digital effects (check the motion blur on that Gerads panel above, for instance). But when you dig down to the underpinnings of the two men’s basic styles… They’re really not that far apart. Their anatomy and facial structure are actually pretty similar, and they both have a fascination with interesting camera angles. So by the end of this first issue… I won’t say that I had stopped noticing when the art changed. But it was far less jarring than I expected.

Getting back to the story, the big question is whether or not Adam Strange did the things he’s being accused of. Without SPOILING too much, I’ll just say that I kind of doubt it. He definitely killed some people. Maybe a lot of people. I mean, we already saw him blow up a manned laser tank in that first flashback up above. But it was war. Killing happens in war, and we don’t generally accuse the troops of murder. But as for the atrocities Angry Bro up above is accusing him of… Some or all of that may have happened. From what we see in this issue’s flashbacks, the war raged on after the Zeta Beam wore off and Adam was returned to Earth. Thing may have gotten rough in his absence, and the Rannians may have treated the Pykkts very badly indeed in the aftermath. We don’t know the details yet. But I kind of doubt Adam had a hand in the worst of it.

I mean, it’s possible. We find out on page one that he and Alanna lost their daughter. We don’t know how yet, but depending on the circumstances, I could see him snapping and doing some things he now regrets. I have a feeling her death was pretty ugly, anyway. See that last page I posted above? Take a close look at that shiny thing lying on the table in the bottom two panels. I believe that’s Adam’s laser pistol, and reflected in it is Alanna, talking on the phone, alongside a framed picture of their family. Now look closer at the picture. Does it look splotchy? That’s because this is how it looks when you see it in full a few pages later:

So, yeah. Something bad happened. I’m not even sure why Adam and Alanna would keep that thing at all, much less keep it in a frame beside their bed. Whoosh.

So it’s possible that Adam was involved in whatever atrocities happened, but at the same time it just doesn’t feel right for the character as King’s writing him so far. We’ve yet to see how much the Rann flashbacks are idealized rose-colored memories. Some of the dialogue is pretty corny. Cornier, even, than I remember the original Adam Strange stories being. That could just be King doing that thing I hate where he over-states the ridiculousness of old funnybook stories to make his own writing look better. Or it could be a squeaky-clean history that Adam’s trying to sell the world in his book. We don’t know yet. But the Adam we’re seeing on Earth in the present just seems too… earnest? …to be a war criminal. I mean, he goes to Batman, for god’s sake, and asks him to investigate in hope of clearing his name. And you don’t do that unless you’re pretty damn sure you’re innocent.

So, again, I don’t think Adam’s directly responsible.

Unless he was in the conflict so deep that he genuinely doesn’t see anything wrong with what happened.

But I kinda doubt that, too.

I mean… He and Alanna have moved to Earth for SOME reason, right?

Hmm…

I do have more theories here. I think the placement of Adam’s laser gun in that reflecting shot up above may be significant, for instance. But there’s a couple of plot points I don’t want to spoil, so I’ll save those suppositions for another time. For now, I’ll just say that this was a great first issue. King, Gerads and Shaner have set up an intriguing premise, chosen an interesting narrative structure, and packed the issue full of little details that make me want to re-read it. Again. Because I’ve already re-read it once, and that run through made me notice things I had missed the first time. So I figure there might be more. That’s the kind of comic I like best. Feels like I’m getting a good return on that five-dollar investment…

A Post-Script:

I was just playing around with my image software, and decided to try laying Shaner’s cover over Gerads’ as a transparency. I thought the result was kind of interesting…

About Mark Brett (556 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

1 Comment on Heroic Aplomb and the Atrocities of War: Tom King’s Strange Adventures Launches in Fine Style

  1. Dale Bagwell // March 12, 2020 at 10:07 am // Reply

    I read it, and despite my enormous distaste for King’s work lately, this one was a pretty good read. It’ll be an interesting ride that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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