Strange Adventures #1
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Black Label
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
From the very beginning of his brush with death, Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle was a character in search of meaning. But as this Eisner-winning duo adds Evan “Doc” Shaner to the fold with Strange Adventures #1, their latest hero feels like one in search of direction. While Gerads and Shaner’s tag-team artwork is impeccable, there’s something a bit unsavory about King’s central mystery and metaphor, making at least this initial launch feel more like his destructively bleak Heroes in Crisis rather than his thoughtful, acclaimed work on Mister Miracle or The Vision.
They say one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter — but when you’re on the winning side against an alien invasion, one man’s hero might just also be another man’s war criminal. Given his much-publicized background as a CIA officer, it’s hard not to see this as King reflecting on some of the more toxic corners of fandom - but at the same time, his setup winds up feeling almost as questionable as some of the comments that have attacked his own military record. In the first issue of Mister Miracle, Scott Free and Big Barda immediately endeared themselves thanks to their loving connection - Adam and Alanna Strange, however, comes at us from more of a remove, all-business as they juggle a book tour and deflect a growing PR crisis about Adam’s battles against the Pykkt empire. While this might make some sense, given the murder mystery elements that King injects into the book - again, perhaps uncomfortably evoking Heroes in Crisis - it hurts our engagement with the characters. They come across as cold, stiff, at times even unlikable.
But ultimately, that feels secondary compared to the central themes King presents here - when war is about life and death, is there any way to protect your country without crossing the line? King has already reflected on his time in Iraq in his breakout series The Sheriff of Baghdad, but those characters were down-to-Earth, were flesh and blood - it’s hard to avoid the metaphor of the faceless, alien Pykkts being a stand-in for the people in Iraq, whose country was turned inside-out during the War on Terror. When someone calls Adam out for Pykkts being tortured and imprisoned while he’s being called a war hero, seeing Alanna refer to them as “the &#@#ing Pykkts” can’t help but raise an eyebrow. Even if King is able to pivot into something deeper in future issues, at first blush it becomes the same sort of hard-line, dehumanizing speech that’s fueled Islamophobic violence for the better part of two decades.
The structure of the issue also feels a bit wonky, and this is what winds up minimizing the combined forces of Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner despite their immense artistic talents. King bounces between Adam’s present as a superstar author, interstellar war hero, and possible murder suspect with Gerads, while Shaner provides all the heroic-looking flashbacks of Adam’s battles with the Pykkts on the planet Raan. For now, it’s a strong counterpoint — Shaner portrays the world cleanly with his cartoonier style, showing everything through rose-colored glasses, while Gerads’ rougher, more realistic style shows that no matter how Adam jetpacks his way onto The Today Show, the world will never match the luster of your memories. But King spends so much time belaboring that point that he’s never able to get to the punchline — everything feels so decompressed and without a twist that these two superstar artists wind up jogging in place. And given the last-minute introduction of King’s second protagonist - a man who may or may not exonerate Adam’s innocence - you can’t help but wish he’d have seeded that character in more, rather than wait for a second issue.
As someone who has always admired Tom King’s willingness to inject literary devices and structural tricks into his storytelling - not to mention someone who thinks Mitch Gerads and Evan Shaner are two of the most talented artists of our generation - it brings me no pleasure to deliver such an ambivalent review for Strange Adventures #1. But unlike Mister Miracle and The Vision, which had such distinct and engaging points of view from their very first issue, Adam Strange’s story seems to falter on the launchpad. Some of this may be because of decompression, and some of this may be because King is tackling some of his murkiest morality yet — and in that latter regard, it’s unclear if he’ll ever stick the landing. Given the artistic talents behind Strange Adventures, I wouldn’t count this book out just yet, but King and company will have to cover a lot more ground with a lot more flourish to catch up to their critically acclaimed earlier works.