Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


Adam Strange: The Man of Two Worlds

2003 - available in soft cover

Written by Richard Bruning. Illustrated by Andy Kubert.
Colour: Adam Kubert. Letters: Todd Klein. Editor: Mike Carlin.

Reprinting: The three issue prestige format mini-series, Adam Strange (1990)

Mildly suggested for mature readers

160 pages

Published by DC Comics

Additional notes: intro by the author

Cover price: $19.95 USA

In the 1950s and 1960s, Adam Strange appeared in DC Comics' science fiction comic, Mystery in Space. A throwback to pulp and comic strip heroes such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, Adam was an earthman transported to the planet Rann -- a world of scientific marvels...and plenty of menaces such as monsters, giant robots, and would-be conquerors that he tackled with his wits, a rocket pack, a spiffy red spaceman's suit, and his beautiful Rannian wife, Alannah, at his side.

But Adam's popularity waned and he was reduced to an occasional guest star status in other comics (appearances few and far between since he did, after all, have his adventures on a distant planet).

In 1990, with DC in the midst of its, at times, indiscriminate re-writing and re-working of its characters, came this attempt to re-ignite the character.

Adam, whose visits to Rann are only temporary (he gets zapped by a Rannian-sent Zeta Beam which transports him to Rann, but only until the energy wears off, then he reappears back on earth) is told that a new beam will whisk him to Rann, permanently. He returns to earth one last time, to set his things in order, and to visit his ailing father in hospital. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing on Rann. Seems the planet isn't quite the idyllic world it appears. There's social strife, people bitter at the undemocratic ruling council that is comprised of clones of, and answerable to, Sardath (Alannah's seeming nice guy father). Trouble ensues, things blow up, Adam spends time as a fugitive and, by the end, a considerable amount of the basic premise of the series is altered.

There are two ways to write a story -- character-driven (where plot and actions are secondary to the personalities) and story-driven (where the action-adventure of the plot is paramount). Here writer Richard Bruning seems to be trying a third style: attitude-driven. This was during the dark n' gritty phase comics went through in the late '80s/early '90s (a phase that has become increasingly mocked...even by its chief practitioners). Indeed, this three part, prestige format, slightly mature readers mini-series followed on the heels of Mike Grell's commercially successful three part, prestige format, mature readers mini-series Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, which was a gritty re-invention of Green Arrow wherein, like Adam, even his costume was changed. Bruning seems to have gone into this, less with a vision of character, or of plot, and more with a vision of making his mark by kicking the franchise in the teeth and seeing what got spat out.

For example, Adam goes temporarily insane in one scene, a plot device leading to his becoming a fugitive. But why does his madness manifest in violence? How does it stem logically from the character and the situation? If he's going to go temporarily crazy, why doesn't he, I don't know, don a dress and think he's Eleanor Roosevelt? The answer, I guess, is just that that wouldn't be gritty n' edgy. And that seems to be so much at the heart of the changes Bruning envisions...that they stem not from a logical extrapolation of the characters and the established reality, but from a desire to prove how gritty the book can be.

The underlying concept (at least, what may be an underlying concept) is that Adam doesn't really know his adopted world half as well as he thinks he does -- and it could be interesting. But too much of it seems to come out of nowhere (not that I'm enough of an expert on Adam Strange that I can say that with impunity). Adam was the so-called Champion of Rann...yet in Bruning's version, no one except Alannah and Sardath seems to even like the guy, let alone regard him as their champion. Much of their animosity stems for old fashioned bigotry (Adam being an alien). But, come on, don't you think Adam would've had some inkling of that if true? For that matter, wouldn't you realistically expect public opinion to be, at least, divided, with Adam still having some supporters?

Bruning seems to follow the lead established by Alan Moore in the seminal revisionist super hero saga, The Watchmen, by regarding old fashioned heroes with a kind of contempt. Here, Adam is portrayed as kind of pathetic, whose Rannian adventures are simply an adolescent fantasy made flesh, where Adam, as everything falls apart, childishly rants "this is the place where I'm the hero and everyone respects me" while on earth he shucks his responsibilities to his ailing father and his sister and cheats on Alannah. Adam barely seems like the protagonist, let alone the hero (in the middle book, he only appears on about 13 of 46 pages!) -- he's ineffectual, not accomplishing anything. If Adam had been removed from the story entirely after the first book, things probably would've transpired exactly the same way! Instead, much of the story concerns various Rannian characters and an earth lady doctor who, inadvertently, follows Adam to Rann. All that might be forgiven if Bruning had woven a complex saga of twists and turns and machinations, peopled by subtly shaded supporting characters. And, to be fair, he's trying. He just doesn't succeed all that well.

And because Bruning focuses on brooding character introspection (not that I felt he realized his characters especially well) and political machinations, the book doesn't even function on the basic level of the original series...as an adventure.

The art is by Andy Kubert, an artist with a style reminiscent of his dad, Joe Kubert. At first blush, it's a good choice, because Joe Kubert's scratchy, brooding art is associated with 1960s DC characters like Hawkman...but Adam Strange was the purview of Carmine Infantino, who lent a brighter, more clean-cut look to the series. Andy Kubert's art is brooding and atmospheric, but maybe Bruning's re-invention of the series would've resonated better if contrasted with bright art and clean lines. Still, the art is certainly decent enough.

Ultimately, The Man of Two Worlds seems too much like someone decided to shake up the character...precisely because no one at DC cared about him (making the dedication at the end seeming a touch insincere). And all they succeeded in doing is stripping the character and the comic of the things that made him interesting (if only as a nostalgic icon) and replacing it with, well, very little. And the experiment was, one assumes, pretty much a failure, as there was no follow-up monthly series, and Strange's occasional appearances since this mini-series have generally ignored it (often being retroactive appearances, set before this mini-series). Nor does it entirely succeed as just a stand alone, sci-fi saga since, as noted, the heroes accomplish very little. It feels too much like the main point is simply to set it up for a new series...a series that, then, never materialized.

The most curious question is why DC Comics decided to collect it as a TPB now...some 13 years after it first saw print?

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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