I thought it’d be interesting to follow the Adam Strange concept over the years by focusing on one or two stories in each decade of his existence. Principally, I want to examine what makes him ‘tick’ as a character – what can we get from an Adam Strange story that we couldn’t quite get elsewhere?
Followers of my JLA thread may have noticed that it has paused at the end of issue #19, which was the 2nd of four consecutive fill-in issues by Mark Waid. The first two of these – comprising the tale of Julian September - was a very original self-contained little tale. Waid’s second two-parter, however, was much more ‘Waidian’. It concerned longtime DC slawart Adam Strange, and made much use of the continuity of that character. In fact, for good or ill, it was all about continuity.
I decided that I couldn’t really comment on the Adam Strange issues of JLA without having some kind of grounding on how the character has been presented over the years. I could see that such a study would be easier with Strange than with most of his early Silver Age stablemates. He has been used sparingly since his run in Mystery in Space ended with issue 102 in 1965, and his essential character hasn’t changed much since his first appearance.
Thanks everyone who answered my initial queries regarding the best stories to read. Due to reprinting gaps I wasn’t able to get my hands on all that I’d have liked to, but I think I have enough to represent each decade. Some of these stories I am really looking forward to rereading - particularly an appearance by a certain muck-encrusted Earth Elemental. Many I'll be reading for the first time. Hopefully we'll make it all the way to Planet Heist, set excitingly in the 21st Century. How futuristic is that?
(1447 - 140613)
Adam Strange in the Eighties – “It’s a dirty job, ... claab apochan masraut fao ul!”
[Before I start in on the Eighties comics, there are two posts from elsewhere on the board that may fill some of the gaps I’ve been leaving as I go. In this post Travis Herrick looks at the key JLA issue from the Seventies where Adam marries his Dream Lover, and in this post, Commander Benson gives us a quick rundown of Adam’s Zeta-Beam hopping history up to pretty much the issues under discussion now.]
Mysteries in Space / Exiles
(Swamp Thing Issues 57 & 58)
I was really looking forward to revisiting the issues of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing that take place on Rann. In fact, the thought of reading it again, armed with some hard-won understanding of Adam’s backstory, is partly what has kept the previous posts on track up to now. I wanted to arrive at this very story much as Alan Moore himself would have in 1987.
I may have acquired a good grounding in Adam Strange lore in the last few weeks, but I have to stress how accessible this two-parter was to me when I read it first. Back in the late Eighties, I had never seen or heard of Adam Strange before. I was still able to enjoy it and be entertained by it. So right off the bat, Moore was doing something right here, and avoiding one of the traps of continuity comics.
At the same time, having read so much Adam Strange recently, I have to admire how much Moore was able to deepen the subject matter of this tale while still using the ‘language’ of an Adam Strange comic; that is, he explores the same issues by using the same framework of metaphors particular to Fox’s original creation.
First the plot:
In issue 57, Swamp Thing, on his exile through space, arrives on Rann at the same time as Adam. Swamp Thing is taken for a threatening monster (a voryegger!) and the Rannians, as per usual, ask Adam to save them.
Adam manages to blow our titular ‘voryegger’ to smithereens, but realises that the more sinister foes are being feted as guests and saviours of Rann. The Rannians previous limited nuclear wars have caused the world to become barren and famine is imminent. Thanager has sent two Hawkpeople ambassadors to offer solutions to the food crisis in exchange for certain Rannian knowledge, principally, and ominously as far as Adam is concerned, the Zeta Beam.
In issue 58, Swamp Thing easily builds himself another body and continues to try to make contact with Adam. He is desperately lonely and homesick and knows Adam is from Earth. Once they start talking like civilised Earth people, Adam recognises Swamp Thing from news stories about a creature that terrorised Gotham by overwhelming it with plant life. Our ever-cunning hero realises that Swamp Thing is the stone he can ‘kill’ the two bird-people with. Stopping only to ask that Swamp Thing doesn’t bear him a grudge for ‘killing’ him the day before, Adam arranges for Swampie to tackle Rann’s fertility problem.
The Hawkpeople aren’t happy to have their negotiating leverage taken away like this and attack Swamp Thing when he is alone in the desert, and almost manage to kill him. Adam has to take on the Thanagerians himself. With his usual cunning he dispatches them, winning the day, but it’s a close call.
As Swamp Thing’s visit to Rann winds up, Alanna discovers she is pregnant, and Swamp Thing asks Adam to look Abby up for him next time he is on Earth. Swamp Thing leaves for a distant planet, and Adam himself dematerialises from Alanna’s arms before the last frame.
Written like this, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to the plot for two whole issues. Of course, one of the reasons Moore’s run on Swamp Thing is so highly praised is because there is a lot more going on than just the plot. Using a variety of techniques, Moore manages to make this classic pulp sci-fi tale actually be about something; quite a few important somethings actually.
Moore doesn’t just use the alien environment of Rann to tell any old science fiction tale, but the issues he raises and the areas he explores are all facets of the original Adam Strange story set up, including hidden facets, or unspoken aspects of the mythos. I’d have to declare that the great Alan Moore (of 1987 at any rate) and myself seem to think along the same lines, at least when it comes to what Adam Strange is ‘about’. He has isolated many of the themes that I have already pointed out, and developed them further. For example, he has amplified the role of Alanna as Adam’s ‘Dream Lover’, showing us through Adam’s internal monologue that Adam’s love for her is very physical. It would have to be, given what he goes through for her. (There is a wry glancing reference to how Alanna may just be a masturbatory fantasy, as Adam recalls all those lonely nights in his tent on Earth between visits - swee the scan further down the post!) The central theme of Moore’s 1987 story deals with Rann as exotic ‘Other’ culture, and how different cultures relate to each other. The other angle Moore brings to this is in how Rann treats cultures external to itself. I’ve already mentioned how homogenous, isolationist and fearful Rann seems to be as a society, and Moore develops this too.
I was fascinated by the Rannian language used when we see Sardath and Alanna speaking in the very first story, before they bring Adam up to speed with the mentaciser, (it’s one of the frames I scanned in an early post). Moore actually fills almost half the pages of these two issues with that language! The theme of difference and exoticism and being an outsider is served by putting the reader in the awkward position of eavesdropping on Rannian conversations, but only being able to weakly grasp what they are actually saying! Here is an example of this, with some Thanagerian clicking and tweeting thrown in for good measure!
Moore has also picked little plot point points from Adam Strange stories that were alluded to in the few stories I picked as worthy of comment. Swamp Thing is able to confirm that Adam is from Earth before he meets him from the inscription on the statue that we’ve already seen on the cover of Mysteries in Space no.79.
The artist, Rick Veitch, like me, has noticed that Adam’s capability and grace under pressure is best conveyed by showing Adam flying gracefully through the air in combat with his whole figure shown well inside the frames. Check out Adam’s first encounter with Swamp Thing:
Later in this fight sequence, Adam loses his cool and his temper after Swamp Thing blasts him with cactus spines. The art correspondingly becomes much more ‘Neal Adams’, with extreme close ups of our hero bursting out of the frames. Adam lands on the ground to blow Swamp Thing's head off. He’s not embodying our loftier, more enlightened selves at that precise point.
As I have already stated, Moore used this story especially to examine how cultures relate to each other. Fox depicted Rann simply as a fantasy otherworld that Adam escapes to, where he is a great hero and lover. Like all places of escape, Rann, the exotic ‘there’ was defined chiefly as ‘not here’. Moore questions this false dichotomy in a very ‘Eighties’ way, by showing how the two seeming opposites can be collapsed down and shown to be two sides of the same coin. Moore shows us that relationships between cultures are never so simple, and how the power balance between the two is always in play. This is a very ‘Post-Imperialist’ analysis.
Connected to this examination of Rann as ‘Other’, Adam himself learns that relationships are never just one way. Previously the story was that Adam wanted to escape into a world of exotic adventure so Rann and Alanna were the simple answer to that. Adam learns that the transaction in fact worked two ways. He got something from his visits to Rann, but they were getting something from him: mainly his fertility. In an interesting twist, the story doesn’t deny that the Rannians genuinely needed Adam to keep them safe from all those threats he neutralised, but it seems the Rannians interpreted his cunning and fighting ability as proof that he was a lower, more primitive order of life than they! This ‘confirmation’ of their own superiority was one of the surprising benefits of Adam’s visits for them! It is Keela Roo, the aggressive Hawkwoman villainess of the piece, who presents Adam and us with a new way to look at the elements of Adam Strange lore. She tries to explain to him how transactional his romanticised visits have actually been:
This post-Imperialist analysis of how the different cultures relate to each other in a transactional way is what Moore brought to the Adam Strange mythos. But then so many old Adam Strange comics turned on despots external or internal to Rann using their power advantage as a means to conquer the planet, so this particularly Post-Imperialist angle on the stories only develops the themes that were already there. Moore does use his Adam Strange tale to suggest how meetings of cultures may be resolved more positively than in the old Imperialist model. I’ll look more closely at how he does this in my next post.
I read these books in 1987 but not recently. What I remember was the Ranagarians' mocking of Adam behind his back and, as I recall, the slightest implications that all the menaces were "created" for Adam's benefit. Did you get that feeling too, Figs?
But one thing was very real and that was Adam and Alanna's love. It was a nice parallel to Swamp Thing and Abbie's.
The Thanagarians being the villains was seen in the under-rated Shadow War of Hawkman and expanded on in Invasion! and Hawkworld. But the 1985-1988 period was an awkward time as we still had the Earth-One Hawkman and Hawkwoman (Katar and Shayera Hol) with their history intact but then came the success of Hawkworld and suddenly they were replaced by the Post-Crisis Hawkman III and Hawkwoman II. That severely altered the JLA's history, even though the Silver Age Hawks appeared in the Justice League International series. Then that required a convoluted explaination and more and more revisions until no one wanted to use Hawkman again. I feel that there is still a lot of Hawk-confusion out there!
And that's sad because the Hawks were Adam's closest super-hero allies!
Plus that was one brilliant run on Swamp Thing!
BTW, it looks like Swampy turned RED twenty years earlier than The Hulk! :-P
I've read these 2 comics very closely a few times over the last week or so, but I didn't get the implication that the threats were just for Adam's benefit. The whole story is about Adam being forced to reassess where he stands in relation to these different cultures and how they relate to each other. So everything is up for grabs. I want to look at the revelations a bit more closely in the next post, but I will say that Moore avoids being definitive, which is another reason he was a great writer. The story he's telling is about the seed of doubt in Adam's mind - a healthy reassessment - not a drastic changing of the status quo.
I have come to the conclusion that it's a great story, and a great Adam Strange story at that. I knew I liked it all those years ago, and I knew it was well-written, but I hadn't realised how it focussed so much on a Post-Imperialist and transactionally-based analysis of how cultures interract. Moore has decided that Adam Strange gives him the material he needs to talk abotu certain issues and the whole story circles those themes. Good art is funny like that. On some level we realised that we were getting a very considered argument in the form of a superhero story, but 20 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to put my finger on the themes and techniques being used as I've tried to in the post above.
Adam Strange in the Eighties (cont)
In my last main post, I tried to show how Moore had updated the Adam Strange mythos by showing us there was more going on with Adam’s visits than simply a journey from a dull ‘here’, to an exciting and exotic ‘there’. No matter how far the Zeta Beam has taken Adam, he can’t escape the same rapacious ways and power imbalances that make up much of the interaction between cultures here on Earth. He has to learn that far from being an outside element that arrives, does some good, and leaves, he himself has become part of the complex interaction of factors within Rannian society and beyond.
For most of this two-parter, the transactions between the parties have been ones where nothing can be won without cost of some sort. The Rannians can’t solve their encroaching famine without surrendering their Zeta Beam technology to Thanagar, Adam wouldn’t have kept returning to pull the Rannians fat out of the fire without the enticement of their beautiful science-princess, Adam can’t display his cunning and fighting ability without being jeered at as an ape-man throwback. Of course the most significant transaction is that Adam only gets to come to Rann and spend time with Alanna because the snobbish and isolationist Rannians need someone capable of fathering more of their children.
And don’t tell me Alanna isn’t getting something very special from having a unique superfit alien gladiator husband:
The pointed references to Africa is especially telling. It is evoked at the same time as we see the vulture-like Thanagarians hovering ‘in the wings’ to take advantage of the misfortunes of a weakened Rann. It’s impossible not to see a parallel with how the West has sacked Africa, using its power advantage at every turn to make themselves richer as Africa deteriorated further.
So when cultures meet and each tries to gain from the encounter, the one with the stronger hand will gain at the expense of the weaker one. Adam of course has much to offer Rann and they him, but an unwillingness to let go their differences and understand the other side has left them largely unsympathetic to each other.
Moore’s great craft in this story is to tie these themes into Swamp Thing’s arrival and make Swamp Thing himself the key to resolving the problem. On a strictly plot level, Swamp Thing has the power to encourage plant-life to grow quickly and thus solve Rann’s food shortage. This is the plot device which allows the two very different heroes of this team-up to get together and it provokes the final conflict with the baddies before the satisfying wrap-up.
The clever part is that Moore suggests that Swamp Thing’s gift of fertility to Rann is what touches off Alanna’s pregnancy this time. All through the series, Swamp Thing has been becoming closer and closer to the fertility gods of ancient religions, not least in how he was continually killed, only to rise again during the course of the series. His use of his power here is a culmination of that thread of the whole series.
The new life in Alanna’s belly here is an example of a transaction that leaves neither party any less well off. Of course neither Adam nor Alanna have lost anything, but both have gained something infinitely precious that didn’t exist before.
As you read the issues, it’s possible to gather that the Rannian language Moore has made up for them seems to make sense, and you can vaguely start to gather what different phrases mean. It would be possible to cross-reference the different situations and see when words are used repeatedly what they might mean. Luckily for us, someone has done that!
Most pertinent to Moore’s theme are the phrases Alanna uses when talking to Adam before Swamp Thing works his mojo. She is using a scanner to check if she is pregnant yet, as she reassures Adam that their time together won’t be interrupted on this visit.
The translation goes "No battles, no cactus-creatures. Only me and you." Her words seem romantic and positive, but of course the two in ‘only me and you’ is a sad number when you are trying for a baby.
With Swamp Thing’s help, the binary pairing of ‘Me and You’ has produced a whole new element that wasn’t there before. This new life – something that wasn’t there before but is now a source of hope and joy – is the way out of the transactional binary trap that the story has explored. Expanding this out to when cultures meet, it’s obviously an argument for cultures sharing and growing together and producing something new, something more valuable and enriching than what either side could have or gain before. Most importantly, it's a way of going forward where neither side needs to be the loser in a zero sum equation.
Everything has come together beautifully leading to this point. Adam’s backstory, Swamp Thing’s long arc, the long romance, in each of its phases, between Adam and Alanna, and the pregnancy resolves the various thematic conflicts of the present storyline.
Moore has even given thematic weight to Adam’s very name as he is about to become the new Adam, to Alanna’s Eve, of a new combined race of people.
As I say, it’s a remarkable story that is about something while it also teases out some of the contradictions and hidden truths of previous Adam Strange tales.
Adam Strange in the Eighties. (Cont)
Perhaps it's just as well that I have already discussed Buzz Lightyear. There is something in this Space Hero template that tempts a comedic interpretation. It leads through Commander Rann, overwhelmed by the huge tasks one hero is supposed to face, and onwards to the hapless Buzz. Buzz's own design illustrates some aspects of the Flash Gordon template that needed updating.
Flash Gordon saved the universe in just a sports jersey, Adam Strange saves Rann with just a jetpack and ray-gun, but Buzz needs a big, clunky suit that incorporates its own life-support system. As time has gone on, we've learned that humans are very fragile in space and need all kinds of hardware to survive up there. (Buzz's look was based on the Apollo 11 astronauts, remember, who couldn't make the short trip to the moon without huge cost and a small army of back-up personnel.)
I think the expectation that the space hero has to do so much on his own, with a minimum of back-up and hardware is one of the assumptions that make the concept so antiquated and ripe for humour.
Moore’s Adam Strange gets a few jabs with the humour-stick too. The first page, showing Adam slowly approaching the reader’s position as he makes his way to the next Zeta Beam, isn’t a million miles from this:
Adam’s desperation to get to Alanna has become something of a joke, and he even has to argue with an Aussie bloke (natch!) in a toilet to ensure he hitches the Zeta Beam this time.
There is more humour later in the first part, when we see that Adam’s cool Infantino-esque exterior conceals a roiling sea of animalistic urges. His thoughts are driven by sex, death, violence and self-gratification. It’s a cutting commentary on Fifties cool in general, and the all-American athletic type in particular.
Adam’s seeming bloody-mindedness in this sequence probably disturbed a lot of long-time readers. However, I think Adam did tend to shoot first and ask questions later in many of the previous comics, confident that he was on the side of the angels. It was just that his foes usually had a way to neutralise his weapons from the outset.
The single element of the story that seemed to go against the grain of all the previous Adam Strange stories up to this point is probably the revelation that Adam has been a dupe in Ranagar’s infertility-busting breeding programme. Moore shows so much respect for continuity in this story, in different ways, and there is a way to look at this in a good light too.
Just as some continuity-busting bad news was brought to Superman by the mean nasty version of Mr Mxyzptlk in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, here the new interpretation of Adam’s role on Rann is brought to him by the villain of the piece, Keela Roo. She uses it in particular to disorientate him while they are engaged in a life or death struggle, so she’d have good reasons to make her comments as shocking and bewildering as possible.
It is just an interpretation though, and an interpretation by a rather mean-minded fascist enemy of Rann, at that. Nothing else in the story really confirms what she says, and as Philip states above, there can be no doubting the real love between Alanna and Adam. How could anyone doubt it? Sure, we’re shown that children are very rare on Rann, that Alanna loves that Adam is a ‘primitive’ warrior alpha male, and that Alanna really wants a baby, but they are still a couple very much in love. Love is complicated, and what drives people in relationships is open to all kinds of interpretations.
Moore's respect for continuity works in two ways. Looking backwards he invokes a lot of elements of past stories, as I've noted. Not just little specific details either. Having a vague memory of Moore's story when I started reading my Adam Strange Showcase, I kept a lookout for children anywhere in any of the stories from 1958 to 1965. There weren't any! One story depicts a classroom of kids, but it's set in the future. (It's probably a roomful of Adam's descendents!) Another story has life-size Adam dolls that presumably are for kids, but we don't see them.
The only child I spotted was in the 1970 text story. Even that kid could have been a result of his 'mum' just wishing for him when the 'Magic Rainbow' allowed her to do this. Obviously a child would have been high on the wishlist of a lot of Rannians during that episode.
So Moore even works this quirky little ongoing textual omission into the backstory of this adventure. Actually, the absence of children in the stories ties right into the original run’s themes of young love and thwarted desire. Hot young couples in their twenties don't give a lot of thought to the future and children and all that.
As with other aspects of this story, and with his other DC stories around this time, Moore is concerned to evolve the characters, make them grow and show them that the world isn't as simple a place as it seems at first. With Adam and Alanna, DC's iconic young lovers, he makes them mature a little and presents them with new, less selfish and self-gratifying, responsibilities.
Looking forwards, Moore deliberately tries to steer future continuity with a very light hand. As I say, Keela Roo's revelation needn't be the whole truth, even if it contains some truth. Adam doesn't get to question anyone about his 'true history' on Rann before the Zeta Beam wears off. Moore leaves a field of options open to future writers.
Similarly, the episode in Rann-Thanagar relations Swamp Thing became involved in was only a minor one in a long relationship. Moore only hints at the new seeming fascistic regime on Thanagar, and he doesn't go into what Thanagar might have needed the Zeta Beam for.
Some of these elements were used in the Invasion crossover a year or so later, but its hard to say how much was agreed with other writers, what Moore cherry-picked from prospective plots he knew about, and what the later writers took from this story. Any which way, its all good tending of the continuity garden.
The problem of course, is that so many comics readers are so literal! If someone says something in a comic it must be gospel truth. Why followers of such an absurd and fantastical (and utterly allegorical, at that) parallel universe fictional world should be so literal, I've no idea.
Normally I'd simply ignore any continuity incongruities in a story as good as this. It's clear Moore has a complete story to tell, with consistent themes and a strong worthwhile message. The story is the thing. But here, Moore works very hard to align what he's written with what has gone before, so I don't have to excuse anything.
For whatever reason, future writers found it hard to continue Adam's adventures from this point, for over a decade at least, but after producing such a fine tale, I find it hard to blame Alan Moore for their shortcomings.
Moore's interpretation that the Ranagarians consider Adam to be their trained monkey, their guard dog, confronting evil, monsters and invasions so they don't have to get their hands dirty does fit in with the Silver Age stories when you realize how little the Ranagarians seem to care about their own safety. They appear to give up or are quickly beaten in practically every issue of Mystery In Space with only Alanna showing any real strength. They have the attitude of an elite society who degrade the lower classes yet need them to maintain their own status quo. (See Hawkworld).
The fact that Adam knows this and continues to fight for them either makes him a fool or a bigger hero, though, as I said before, he saves Rann to save Alanna, which is his true motivation. I think in the Adam Strange prestige mini it was Sardath's motivations that came into question much like the Chief's in the newer versions of The Doom Patrol.
As an aside, the restroom scene had me wish that I could convert the bathroom where I worked at the time into a transporter/escape hatch!
Possibly but it took until Justice League of America #121 (1976) for Adam and Alanna to wed and she didn't get pregnant until 1987!! So Adam wasn't as potent as they thought or the Zeta-beam affected his virality! ;-)
Also Hawkman's world Thangar circled Polaris the North Star and that's three times further than Alpha Centauri. So if the Thanagarians have faster than light technology why would they need or want the Zeta-Beam?
Moore also highlighted Adam's emotional differences from the Rannians, particularly his passion and aggression, feelings apparently lacking in them. He was more like the Thanagarians, ruthless and cunning but with the Terran advantage of compassion and adaptability, which is also a common thread in the "Earth-Man on an Alien World" scenario.
I hope that you get to read JLA #120-121 and #138-139 soon as they are both great Adam Strange stories.
Did anyone else imagine Adam Strange and Stephen Strange as brothers? Both brillant, gifted and lonely men in love with women from other worlds?
I won't get to read them soon - they aren't collected anywhere as far as I can tell - but I'd love to see them included in a 2nd Adam Strange Showcase, and I'd love to read the GL back-ups too, even if they are more duff than fudd.
BTW I think the idea of Adam being looked down on by the Rannians seems to have preceded Moore's tale. I got that impression.
There is much that a good writer could have explored about Adam and Rann after Alan Moore and Swamp Thing moved on, but everyone seems to have taken what he wrote as the final word, even though, as I say, Moore deliberately left a lot of things vague. <UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY>But then not all writers are as good as Moore</UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY>
These little gaps in the mythos that we are laughing at are precisely the raw materials that good writers use to develop stories in a shared universe. What Moore did was work some of the gaps as he saw them, from the margins of 'Rannian studies' into the text.
If Thanagar is near the North Star and Rann is near the Southern Cross, then by definition, the Thanagarians would pass right by Earth every time they visited Rann! That's cool that they are literally polar opposites! See what I mean by 'purely allegorical tales'?
By the way, this is the opening page of Swamp Thing #57, that reminded me of the "It's ..." Man:
The final thing I wanted to comment on is the length Moore goes to in these two issues to make the Rannian setting truly alien. First of all we have the painstakingly thought through Rannian language and cultural trappings, and then the efforts the artist puts in to make everything seem strange, such as the Mushroom-themed headgear that Alanna and her entourage are wearing when they come to meet Strange in the desert.
The Rannians and the Hawk-people had been around for quite a few decades by the time Moore and Veitch whipped up this little adventure, and it was a very good thing to make eveything seem strange and alien again. It's true that the Rannians and Hawk-people were originally just WASPs in space in the 50's, but even then, the very idea of societies and cultures out in space was still relatively fresh, and the few differences with suburban America were enough to establish their strangeness. After having these people around for a few decades, it was a good thing to reintroduce the sense of wonder, difference and excitement the early appearances of Alanna's and Katar Hol's peoples must have evoked.
In regard to current comics, there is a tension between the potential of superhero comics to present us with wonders and miracles and make us see the world with new eyes, and the urge to catalogue and contain everything in superhero universes, making them comforting and depressingly predictable.
The most glaring example of this difference in approach to superhero comics is how Moore filled the Green Lantern Corps, in particular, with profoundly alien beings that made us question much that we'd normally take for granted. The portrayal of the Lanterns in recent GL comics have made this collection of supposed aliens seem as mundane as a barrack full of squabbling US Marines who happen to have garishly coloured skin and sometimes cartoonish features. That's selling the potential of these comics very short.
Next up, I'll be looking at the Man of Two Worlds prestige miniseries, by Richard Brunning and the Kubert brothers. It's a lot more reading for a bit less return than the Moore/Veitch issues we've just looked at.
Adam Strange in the Nineties – Adam’s Fall...
Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds.
3-issue Prestige format series. 1990
By Richard Bruner and Andy & Adam Kubert
It’s as if the creators had never read an Adam Strange comic, and if they had, hadn’t understood a single thing about how they worked.
Let’s recap: In his earliest appearances, Adam was an everyman who gets a chance to leave his quiet, lonely life on Earth behind and live for brief periods as a hero on a fantastic world where he has the love of a beautiful exotic princess and defends everyone from alien threats using his sharp scientific mind and a newly discovered expertise in jet-pack flying and fighting skill.
In this series we learn the details of Adam’s unhappy homelife and childhood and we see him cheating on his pregnant wife while on Earth. Far from seeing him use any scientific know-how or fighting skill, we see him remain utterly unaware of an impending invasion of Ranagar and see him run and hide when it occurs. The only real fighting we see him do is a brutal hallucination-inspired attack on Alanna’s father Sardath.
That’s about the story in a nutshell. It doesn’t look like much for three 48-page issues because a good deal of story time is spent with other characters, most of whom don’t even meet Adam, and whose stories don’t lead anywhere. We see rebel groups in Ranagar trying to revolt against Sardath’s political control, and we see the ruling council of Sardath clones embark on a spree of going crazy and killing each other.
See Adam Run!
At least Adam actually meets Banteirr, the leader of an environmentally-friendly faction of exiled Ranagarians living in the wilds. He finds out that she is Alanna’s mother, exiled by Sardath for disagreeing with him. No marriage counsellors on Rann.
None of this ties together or goes anywhere in a narrative sense. The political machinations in Ranagar are negated by a sudden violent invasion of the city by rival city-state Zared. It's a kind of Diavolos Ex Machina, in fact, in how it dispenses with any relation between what we’ve seen leading up to it and the final apocalyptic invasion. Following this, Sardath’s rigging of a scientific doodlewhacky to lift Ranagar into orbit resolves the invasion, but that too comes out of nowhere.
I embarked on this long study of Adam’s adventures because I knew that his career illustrated so many phases of comics’ history since the 1950s. I wanted to trace them and learn more about each phase. So here we are in grim’n’gritty, but now that we’re here, I don’t feel like saying much about it. Where's the fun here?
See Adam Hide!
Bruner is clearly making the point that Adam’s adventures as previously presented were nothing but childish wish-fulfilment fantasies. He wants to show that the idea of one man being able to defend a world or a city from unbeatable threats can’t be taken seriously. He takes Alan Moore’s little twists and makes them the be-all and end-all of Adam’s story. Literally the end-all, as Adam in this series is a much diminished figure from the guy that so impressed me in my earliest posts on this thread. His wife, the other half of the great universe-spanning love at the centre of the Adam Strange mythos, dies in child-birth. Her father, the wise patriarch of the old stories, is presented first as a cold and manipulative despot and then a giggling madman. Far from being a hero of Rann, we don’t meet one Rannian in the story, apart from Alanna, who appreciates anything Adam ever did for them. Adam himself would have to have been pretty thick not to realise this in all his visits to Rann previously.
Like Mantlo and friends did with Commander Rann of the Micronauts in the 80s, and the creators of Buzz Lightyear did in Toy Story, Bruner found the space-hero archetype profoundly wanting in the late 20th Century. Again, the point is driven home that one man can’t make much of a difference, that the very idea of one man being so effective with nothing but a jetpack and a raygun is simply preposterous.
I'll leave the final words to Adam as he runs away from the Zared invasion of Ranagar:
The space hero has indeed fallen far by this point.
Adam gets grim, and gritty too!
I don't think anyone would argue that we are seeing the effect of the Grim'n'Gritty approach to superhero comics in evidence in this mini-series. Some of the hallmarks are: the way the hero is rudely awakened to the fact that his world is no longer running according to the 4-colour simplicities of his previous adventures; the intrusion of elements of sexual perversion and sexual violence into the narrative; and the replacement of elaborate schemes by the villains with the use of brute force and violence to acheive their ends.
We've seen this in Alan Moore's Watchmen, Marvelman and Killing Joke, in Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil, in Mike Grell's Green Arrow and in Tim Truman's Hawkman re-imagining, which appeared in the identical format to Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds, but differs from it by actually being quite good.
Man of Two Worlds is obviously trying to take its place amongst these works, but differs in one important respect. In all of the above, the heroes could still cut the mustard when it came to foiling the villains, and giving as good as they got when it came to brute force and violence. Adam is utterly ineffectual here in standing up to the elements of Ranagar society that oppose him and in defending his people from the Zared invasion. It's a notable difference, and may have to do with how diametrically opposed Adam's shiny, optimistic Silver Age adventures were to the Grim'n'Gritty attitude. The thuggish Hawkman, and street vigilantes like Batman, Daredevil and Green Arrow already had something of Grim'n'Gritty-lite about them anyway.
Grim'n'Gritty, as a comics movement, is now something we take for granted. It bloomed in the 80's, was partially reversed in the mid-nineties Neo-Silver Age reconstruction, but is now pretty much a part of the fabric of modern superhero comics. Just to throw things open to the floor, I wonder is there much more we can say about why this dark violent 'realism' made its mark n the late 80's especially. Why in that particular moment? And outside comics culture, what was in the air in the wider world that made it such a good time for these comics?