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)
Bah. I guess Grim and Gritty had something to do with Fear and Loathing, Reagan and Thatcher, Vietnam and Watergate, as well as Moore and Miller.
Anyway, before you leave off the staggeringly unpopular Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds mini-series, the obvious question is how come Bruning’s take on Adam Strange gets such a bad rap from you when Moore’s Swamp Thing visit to Rann got nothing but sweet words of praise? After all, both did much the same thing, with Bruning continuing what Moore had begun. Bruning didn’t take it from the trees you know!
I’m glad you asked me that, Plain People! On the face of it, Bruning is only continuing what Moore did in Swamp Thing 57-58. Both stories show Adam learning that there was more going on behind the scenes of his innocent 4-colour world of his 60’s adventures than he suspected a the time. In both of them we see that Adam is actually sneered at behind his back, and even his visits to Rann would seem to be part of a plan of Sardath’s of which Adam was kept in the dark.
The big difference is how each story stacks up AS A STORY. In Moore’s two issues, he took the starting point of Adam’s Silver Age status quo, and moved it forward. The Silver Age stories were about the exotic dreams we dream, finding the true love that brings out the best in us, and using the old noggin to solve our problems.
Moore took the central themes of Fox's Adam Strange to the next level. Dreaming our dreams and finding true love is all very well, but then you have to see where you can productively move on from there. I’ve posited that almost no children appeared in the stories because there isn’t room for kids when you are being carried away in a whirlwind romance that’s complicated (and intensified) by long and distant partings.
Young love is all very well, but sooner or later it has to go somewhere. In the case of Adam’s story, Moore made that next step the miraculous addition of children to their union. Adam and Alanna wil now have more to think about than just their love and desire for each other, going forward. Moore dovetailed this with his questioning of the unthinking exoticism that characterised the meeting of cultures in the old Adam Strange stories. Adam has to learn that often there is a powerplay at work when cultures meet, which the old stories ignored. Moore showed us how the conception of Adam and Alanna’s child symbolised a true union of cultures that produces something new and valuable where nothing like it existed before.
And then his use of his comicbook Fertility God, Swamp Thing to make it all happen, expanded the themes and symbolism of that long series he was starting to bring to a close also.
All in all, it is a masterful use of the raw materials of the Adam Strange mythos to explore important and universal human concerns. Further, the story resolves Adam’s problems fitting into the society he doesn’t quite belong to and the problem of Rann’s sterile culture in a very upbeat and positive way.
The lesson of Brunings story, whoever seems to be "Life is crap and then you(r pregnant wife) die(s)". Ranagar’s society is sterile and its people cosseted and decadent, but none of the actors in the story are able to change it. Even the rebels find out that they have only been helping Ranagar’s enemies all along.
We find out the details of Adam’s background that explain why he has chosen a career path wandering around the world pretty much on his own, and losing himself in the long lost worlds of archaeology. But as Philip commented earlier on, we knew that he had his reasons for being who he was from his earliest appearances. The "whys" aren't needed to make Adam Strange stories more effective. Central to the Adam Strange mythos is the cosmos-spanning love between Adam and Alanna, but Adam betrays Alanna while he is on Earth. During the story, Adam never applies his famous intelligence to the problems he finds and ends up a single dad. There aren't any in-story justifications for these 'infidelities' to previous stories.
“Life is crap and then you die” isn’t a bad theme for art. Jimmy Corrigan is a pretty good comic. But I cannot see why the Adam Strange mythos had to be dismantled to display the lesson!
Ultimately Bruning doesn’t weave his plotlines together towards a single message as Moore does. He doesn’t use the dissonance readers might have between the old Adam Strange stories and the new ones the way Moore does to make the reader really experience the positive mature worthwhile lessons in life, the way the Swamp Thing two-parter did.
Philip compared how Sardath is portrayed in Brunings 3-part mini-series to how the Chief’s character was so utterly undermined in Morrison’s Doom Patrol. The comparison is a good one, and leads to the same conclusion. The Chief being portrayed as a manipulative abuser of the trust his teammates put in him worked hand-in-glove with the themes Morrison was exploring. The abuse that damaged people live through at the hands of those in authority or those entrusted with their care was a central theme of the series. The best way for the readers to experience that from the inside was to reveal the Chief as the betrayer. If it had been anyone else, the work of art that is Morrison’s run of Doom Patrol would be diminished in effect.
If the revelation of Sardath’s manipulations in Adam’s past was development of a theme of some kind (apart from just “life is crap”) then I’d accept it. Crisis on Infinite Earths was in the past at this point, and even the most hardcore continuity buff would have to allow that a new past for Adam, Alanna and Sardath, different to teh early great adventures, is possible. Alas, Sardath’s fall from clever technocrat mentor to insanely giggling deus-ex-machina doesn’t seem to be in any way justified thematically. Perhaps the mere fact of him being an authority figure means that he has to be distrusted and belittled without any artistic purpose.
So Man of Two Worlds doesn’t justify or get away with any of its revisionism, whereas Moore’s Swamp Thing 57-58 justifies all the tweaking in it, thanks to a superlative story.
I can cut Man of Two Worlds just a little slack however, in one respect. It would seem that this 3-part mini-series was intended as a ‘pilot’ for an ongoing series, much as Timothy Truman’s Hawkworld 3-parter led into Ostrander’s monthly series. In this case, it can be argued that the three issues here aren’t the full story. They merely set up what would be developed in future issues. So Adam would get his mojo back, he’d get closer to Eve (Adam and Eve...get it?) and he’d become a better man and a better hero.
Still, anyone who paid the prestige price for 3 bookshelf volumes would be pretty unhappy with an incomplete story. Even though Moore used links to ongoing continuity in all sorts of ways that could be used by future writers however they wished, his story has a real completeness. It could even be seen as a ‘final’ Adam Strange story, addressing many of the issues and tensions that the earlier adventures skirted around.
Of course, longtime Adam Strange fans and those who’d only discovered Adam in Moore’s comics would both have been disappointed with Man of Two Worlds, and there was no support for a continuing series.
At the end of the 3 issues, Adam is a not-very-heroic widower with a baby to raise. His adopted city of Ranagar is now in orbit around Rann. Instead of the wondrous Alanna, who was just as important to earlier stories as Adam, he is now stuck there with an Earthwoman he’s had a one-night stand with, and his dead wife’s parents, one a New Age hippy and the other a gibbering loon.
Is it any wonder no-one in DC was interested in taking up Adam’s story for another 8 years?
Great summary for a not-so-great mini series, Figs. The way I saw it, Moore's Adam may have been manipulated and mocked but he was still Rann's champion. Alanna was his world, his reason for fighting and winning.
Bruning's Adam was weak, depressing and indecisive. Losing Alanna, while dramatically striking, was thematically wrong. Adam the Cheater of Two Worlds just does not fit with the devotion and dedication he had to simply getting to where he can get zapped by the Zeta-Beam. If this happened before he got married, then there might be some weird justification but after!! Unless it was because his world-image of Rann and his place in it was thrown into disarray from the events of Swamp Thing. Combined with the added responsibility of impending fatherhood, Adam could be having a mid-life crisis! He has been around since the late 50s, y'know!
Tim Truman stated (on his website, if I'm remembering where I read it) that Hawkworld was intended to be a stand-alone story. DC editorial decides halfway through to make it into continuity.
I bought the Adam mini-series and didn't like it, mostly for what Figs has stated.
Combined with the added responsibility of impending fatherhood, Adam could be having a mid-life crisis! He has been around since the late 50s, y'know!
As bad as Man of Two Worlds was, if we allow that the interconnectivity of these stories means anything, then we also have to allow that the events here 'happened'. I don't know why they couldn't just pretend that they were out of continuity, as they did with Barr's Batman: Son of the Demon for all those years. That would have been the simple solution. Ironically, considering the credulity-busting lengths DC goes to to negate the events of Man of Two Worlds, the later stories confirm that it is very much in continuity.
My views on the uses and abuses of continuity are complex, obviously, but if they are going to say it's in, then it's in, and we have to accept it. (I don't have an Earth-F that I can retreat to!) Given that, your mid-life crisis explanation will have to do for Adam's many lapses in Bruning's story.
I remember not liking the Adam Strange miniseries either. It seemed to follow an unwelcome trend that equates making a hero "edgy" with removing their heroic qualities.
I spent a lot of verbiage on the JLA thread discussing the sea-change in approach DC underwent in the year or so prior to JLA hitting the shelves in 1996. I eventually boiled it down to a sentence, but the change itself was significant and I'd argue allowed those on the shelf like myself and yourself, Philip, and who knows how many others, to really get on board the DCU again, and care about it.
Ravers and Darkstars sadly weren't part of the winning formula, but perhaps there was a place for Adam and the powerful meanings in his original incarnation.
Adam Strange in the Nineties - Paradise Regain'd.
JLA #20-21 Mystery in Space / Strange New World.
(Jul – Aug 1998)
Written by Mark Waid. Art by Arnie Jorgensen and David Meikis.
It would seem that the story avenues embarked on by Moore and brought to their most cynical and reductive conclusion by Bruning left us with a retooled character and a concept that no-one was interested in writing or reading. A footnote in JLA # 20 remarks that Green Lantern had visited Rann in the meantime, to find it ravaged by war and devastation.
In Mark Waid’s story, spliced into Morrison’s run of JLA, a seemingly crazy and heartbroken Adam forces the population of Rann and the JLA to help him rebuild Rann just like it was. He seems to be thinking that 'if we build it, my dead wife will come'.
Adam's desperate project to turn back the clock and make everything like it was in the good old days would seem to mirror Waid's own wish to bring the Silver Age back. The JLA can see that it takes more than just rebuilding the trappings of the past to make it live again, but luckily Waid is driving a nice writer's Fiat, and it turns out that Alanna is indeed alive and well and making her way back to Rann as a captive of a race of would-be conquerors.
Waid's project here is to bring back the Silver Age Adam Strange, and so we witness Adam's elaborate plan to foil this huge invasion by his wits alone, just like the good old days. Waid even has the JLA as co-stars, revisiting one of Adam's sixties high-points, the award-winning Mystery in Space #75 where they helped him foil Kanjar Ro's attempted conquest of Rann. Here, it turns out that the structures he has been rebuilding align in such a way as to focus the Mega-Zeta radiation in Adam's body and beam it at the entire invasion fleet. This has the happy consequence for Waid that, drained of the Mega-Zeta Beam, Adam is no longer stuck on Rann permanently, but must now wait on Earth for intermittent Zeta Beams. It would seem they kept firing them at Earth all the time Adam was on Rann 'permanently', even though there would have been no point.
The story ends on a fine wordless page where the ever-empathetic J’onn J’onnz tries to console Adam, who’s now stranded on Earth, trillions of miles from those he loves.
Adam stares dolefully at the moon, for some reason, rather than the constellation of stars that includes the Southern Cross and Alpha Centauri. Perhaps the Cheater of Two Worlds has fallen in love with Wonder Woman in the meantime, who Adam will know is in the JLA moonbase...! Facetiousness aside, it’s too bad that as well as being Earth-centric, Anglocentric, and America-centric, DC Comics have to be Northern Hemispherist as well! While on Earth, Adam would definitely spend a lot of time staring at the group of stars around the Southern Cross. His world would pretty much revolve around them. Too bad his custodians don’t realise that essential fact about Adam Strange...
I’d like to say a little more about what Waid set out to do with this story. As much as I hated what Bruning did, I can’t approve of the way Waid just waves a magic wand to restore a previous status quo. It looks like cheating to me. But these arguments are probably better discussed in relation to this story’s late-nineties context than Adam Strange’s long history. What Waid did here is very relevant to what Morrison was trying to do with his JLA series, but not necessarily sympathetic to Morrison’s approach. So I will add some more thoughts over on the JLA Revisited thread.
I thought about adding some scans to this review, but really, all that matters here is how things are set up at the end, with the status quo reset as far as Waid is able to reset it. Perhaps that fact alone explains my misgivings about this tale.
(Waid also gets a demerit for filching Moore’s use of ‘Mystery in Space’ as a title for one of his own Adam Strange issues.)
Hi, folks. New here.
I came across this fantastic discussion while looking through the interwebs for info for a recent Adam Strange project I'm working on. Yes, Adam Strange is my all-time favorie comic book character.
In fact, I am compiling a spreadsheet which enumerates all his significant appearances. I feel like it has several holes in it, and it would be great to have feedback from the folks on this board regarding any improvements I might make.
Ideas on how I might do that??? (I've tried to upload the spreadsheet here, but the file seems to be too big.)
Welcome, Joe... we're glad you're here!
I don't know how you'd go about loading a spreadsheet onto this site, but I'm sure if you can figure it out, you'll get plenty of feedback.