Flea Market Fantasy – Adam Strange

Posted on 15 May 2014 by Mike Dell

A blast from DC’s glorious Silver Age past!

STRANGE ADVENTURES 224 (1970)

Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciller: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Reprinting Mystery in Space 63 (1960)

While working in Peru, archeologist Adam Strange gets hit with some kooky space ray and winds up transported to Rann, an alien planet in the Alpha Centauri System. Strange learns Rann is in desperate need of a champion and accepts the challenge, using the planet’s futuristic technology to battle extraterrestrial threats. Who are we kidding? He really just wants to impress Alanna, a blue-haired cutie who makes Earth dames seem square.

But the same Zeta-Beam technology that brought Strange and Alanna together rips them apart. Strange can only remain on Rann a short time before the ray’s effectiveness wears off and returns him to Earth. He must then scramble to reach a predetermined set of coordinates to intercept the next beam’s arrival and travel back to Rann and his beloved space lady.

Strange made his DC Comics debut in 1958, appearing in Showcase #17. The title existed as a proving ground for new characters and had previously produced the Silver Age versions of Flash and Green Lantern. An interesting bit of trivia, Adam Strange’s first name is Adam because he’s the first Earth man on Rann. And his last name is Strange because he has a proclivity for alien tail.

Strange’s initial three-issue stint in Showcase led to a regular slot in Mystery in Space, the company’s leading science fiction anthology. Strange Adventures #224 reprints Mystery in Space #63, which showcased an Adam Strange adventure called “The Weapon That Swallowed Men.” And, no, that title is not referring to Alanna.

The issue opens with a splash page depicting a block-headed alien attempting to suck Strange and Alanna into a futuristic space vacuum. I hear it also does wonders on pet stains. The story then shifts back in time to show Strange’s most recent intergalactic jaunt. He’s spending quality time with Alanna exploring the planet’s ancient ruins when they get word aliens have landed and are demanding Rann surrender or face destruction. Strange tells the alien creeps where to stick it and leads the Rann army into battle.

The block-headed space monkeys aren’t scared. They’ve got their trusty vacuumizer weapons and start sucking up Rann soldiers like potato chip crumbs. Strange watches helplessly as Alanna vanishes into oblivion. He’s about to suffer a similar demise when the Zeta-Beam expires, zapping him back to Earth. He spends nine long days pondering Alanna’s fate before he can catch the next beam back to Rann. All the planet’s cities are gone. He fears the worst until Alanna appears and tells him how the vacuumizers turned everyone and everything into gaseous material. The aliens only wanted to collect the buildings, so they restored the inhabitants to their physical forms. All things considered, that was pretty, pretty nice. Most alien overlords can be real jerks.

During his exile on Earth, Strange had realized the vacuumizers were powerless against metal. He theorizes the weapons only affect carbon-based beings, so he coats the Rann soldiers with multiple layers of metallic particles. Which, oddly enough, is the same strategy Strange uses when visiting space prostitutes.

Strange and his Rann pals overwhelm the space monkeys, giving them some five-knuckle justice. Strange forces the beaten foes to restore the Rann cities and then sends them on their way, minus their vacuumizers. But just when Alanna is about to give Strange her “personal thanks,” he teleports back to Earth. Dang.

WRITING
An industry legend, Gardner Fox scripted more than 4000 comic books during his illustrious 50-year career. He got his start in the 1930s, penning issues of Detective Comics and various other Golden Age titles. He even helped Bob Kane and Bill Finger evolve the Batman character and is responsible for introducing the utility belt. Fox returned to Batman in the 1960s, revitalizing the title and reintroducing iconic villains like Riddler and Scarecrow. He also made significant contributions to Flash, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Sandman, the Justice League of America, and the Justice Society of America.

DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz created Adam Strange in 1957 and assigned the project to Fox. The two men plotted the stories together and then Fox wrote the scripts. “The Weapon That Swallowed Men” is only nine pages and just about every panel features narration. The story is kind of like an assortment of snapshots, each panel capturing a moment but failing to create one smooth, continuous narrative.

And Fox loved himself some exclamation points! There isn’t a single period in the entire story! Every line ends in ellipses, dashes, exclamation points, or the occasional question mark! By my count, the nine pages include 81 exclamation points! Modern fiction editors usually tell novelists to keep exclamation points to about one per book! Fox would have jumped out a window!

MEMORABLE QUOTES

“What do we want? We want you to surrender, of course! Ordinarily, we’d simply take what we’re after, but from experience we’ve learned you humans feel you must fight for your homes!” — Block-Headed Space Monkey

“Let’s see how tough these aliens are without their deadly weapons!” — Adam Strange

“We owe all this to you, Adam! It’s time I gave you my — personal thanks…” — Alanna

ARTWORK
Carmine Infantino broke into comics as a teenager in the 1940s and became famous for introducing the Silver Age Flash in Showcase #4, the success of which brought the superhero back to prominence. Infantino would work his way up to DC Comics editorial director during the 1960s and became the company’s publisher in the early 1970s. After leaving DC, he resumed working as a freelance penciler for Marvel, drawing such titles as Nova, Spider-Woman, and Star Wars.

Infantino’s work here is very early Silver Age, featuring static panel layouts, straightforward compositions, and stiff posing. There isn’t too much excitement. But that Alanna sure fills out her space sweater.

OTHER TALES
Strange Adventures #224 also includes two additional stories. First up is “The Planet That Advanced Backward,” a six-page yarn from writer Bill Finger and artist Sid Greene. In the year 3000, a fella named Janos loads up the space car and takes his family on a space holiday. But some engine trouble forces an emergency landing on Tyro, an obscure little planet first colonized fifty years ago. Janos and his family discover Tyro’s inhabitants have forsaken technology and have chosen to live like primitive cavemen. “Here we live simply, close to nature!” the Tyro leader says. “We would never want to return to the complicated nerve-wracking world we once left — a world of tension and constant threat of atomic war…” By the end of the story, Janos is ready to join them.

The issue closes with an Atomic Knights adventure from the creative team of John Broome and Murphy Anderson. After World War III has extinguished all plant and animal life, six pals band together to survive the lawless world. They don suits of armor clipped from a museum and dub themselves the Atomic Knights because, well, it was 1960. Knights were cool. This particular story is called “The Attack of the Giant Dogs” and sees the Knights adopt two humongous, radioactive Dalmatians that managed to avoid extinction. They ride the dogs like horses and drive off the marauding hordes. The Pentagon has already invested $2 billion in a radioactive puppy program. Can’t let the Russians produce the first uranium-enriched Chihuahua.

But it is interesting that both stories involve atomic war. Kind of shows how prominent the fear was in 1960. A similar anthology today would probably feature stories about the Kardashians.

LETTERS PAGE
Titled “Spotlight on Strange Adventures,” the letters page apparently doubles as a victims support group. The fans of Strange Adventures weren’t scared to drop the hammer. Here’s a sampling of their kind words:

“‘Nuts! Let’s wipe ’em out!’ is a completely out-of-character utterance for our calm-minded hero . . . Simmer down, spaceman!”

“I’m sick of gimmicky barbarians!”

“Murph’s inking is getting too fussy and loose.”

— Scott Dickerson, Los Alamitos, CA

“Fandom has been awaiting the return of Adam Strange for too many years, and I must admit that I was a member of the group of believers that felt he could and would return. But after seeing the first new Adam Strange, I have to say I’m disappointed.”

— Lon Wolff, Rochester, NY

“It was great to see Adam Strange in action again, but this latest version left some things to be desired. . .”

“[The cover] was atrocious!”

“Murphy Anderson’s inks were too loose in most places.”

— Carl Gafford, New Milford, CT

“And yet, only nine or ten pages per issue frequently means (1) a lack of character development, (2) a lack of large panels, (3) formulated plots. . .”

— Brian Mahoney, Salem, OR

Mr. Mahoney ended his letter wishing Strange Adventures would become a monthly title. The mysterious “Editor” responded by saying, “Oh, how we’d love to put Strange Adventures on the monthly schedule of the good old days! But that would take a big boost in sales; so you Strange Adventures boosters, get to it!”

Uh, yeah. Good luck with that.

BEST ADVERTISEMENT
The issue contains some coupons to Palisades Amusement Park. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman hype the coupons, including one for free admission, one for a free carousel ride, and one for a free ride on the whip. Good times.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I’m a Marvel guy, so I had never even heard of Adam Strange until pulling this issue from the magic long box. I dig the premise. But don’t expect an engrossing narrative or eye-popping art. This issue works best as a musty time capsule, reminding us what it was like to live with the nightmare of impending atomic war… and the dreams of stacked alien broads who think nerdy dudes are hot.

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