Welcome to the Comic Archive! There have been so many amazing stories, characters, and series produced from comic book publishers for almost 100 years now; this column will serve to celebrate some of the tales you may or may not know about. Each week, we’ll take a story arc or trade paperback/collected story from a non-new comic (three years old or further back), and discuss the details with you.
One of the classic Silver Age science-fiction characters of DC Comics, Adam Strange has been a part of intergalactic travel and tribulations for over 60 years now. The character was originally conceived when then-editorial director Irwin Donenfeld asked his editors to come up with two new sci-fi heroes, one that lives in the future and one that lives in the present day. Editor Jack Schiff selected the “future man” and created the character Space Ranger; editor Julius Schwartz took the reigns on “present-day man” and created Strange, a human man living on Earth in contemporary times who gets to travel to the faraway planet Rann using a radiation-infused Zeta Beam.
Making his debut in November 1958 in Showcase #17, Strange and his back-story became a hit with readers over his three-issue introductory arc. The character was moved to the title Mystery in Space, where he headlined the book for 49 issues.
Strange is a classically-styled retro-heavy sci-fi character: he uses a jetpack for flight, he has energy-based “ray guns,” and uses special eyewear to let him see the whole electromagnetic spectrum. Through the years, he’s crossed over with several major DC heroes, and he holds the distinction of being one of the only characters who have turned down a membership invitation from the Justice League.
While Adam Strange was featured heavily in the 1960s, the character saw only sparse usage between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s. In 1998, Mark Waid featured an all-new Adam Strange story while filling in as the writer for the JLA series; this sparked enough interest in the character to keep him “floating about” the DC Universe until he was given his own 8-issue limited series, Adam Strange: Planet Heist, in 2004.
Written by Andy Diggle (best known for his previous work on DC’s Hellblazer and as an editor on the British comic 2000AD) and illustrated by Pascal Ferry (whose former credits included Action Comics and Marvel’s 2099 books, and who is currently the artist for Marvel’s Thor series for the past 9 years), “Planet Heist” is the most in-depth story given to Adam Strange in decades, perhaps ever.
The series opens with Strange preparing to leave Earth permanently and join his wife Alanna and his daughter Aleea on Rann – Alanna’s father, Rannian scientist Sardath, has found a way to make the effects of the space-faring Zeta Beam permanent, meaning that Strange will no longer have to planet-hop between the two worlds. Before Strange can make his final journey back to Rann, though, his Earth apartment building is attacked by alien creatures; he manages to evade them, but the scheduled Zeta-Beam from Rann never arrives.
Strange evades local police who want to question him for his role in the alien attack, but with the help of Superman in a brief cameo, it’s discovered that Rann appears to have been destroyed by the planet’s sun going supernova. Strange, besieged by grief over the apparent death of his wife and daughter, finally locates his iconic spacesuit (which has been “augmented” in this story to allow for interstellar travel) and journeys to Rann’s star system to see the destruction for himself.
Without giving too much away, Strange finds himself embroiled in an universe-spanning mystery that crosses his path with DC intergalactic characters such as L.E.G.I.O.N., The Omage Men, the Darkstars, and more. It’s a great sci-fi story, both visually and in the cerebral sense; credit Diggle and his story-telling abilities here (which he likely honed on Judge Dredd and pals during his time on 2000AD). Ferry’s art is effective and features just the right amount of cosmic grandiose, which can sometimes be challenging in comic form.
Due to the scarcity of Adam Strange standalone books and the likely lower print run made of this book in the post-1990s, overly-cautious comic book society, this mini-series can be a hard one to track down. DC has collected the entire saga as a trade paperback, entitled Adam Strange: Planet Heist – the original mini-series was simply titled Adam Strange, Vol. 2 (following a 3-issue self-titled mini-series in 1990) – so that may be a little easier to find, and more compactly collects the entire tale.
It’s quality sci-fi, for sure, and something I’d like to see DC continue to commit to. By comparison, many of Marvel’s characters find themselves in “cosmic” situations or story lines, but DC’s outer-space ecosystem doesn’t seem to be quite as expansive. Perhaps we will continue to get new Adam Strange tales here in the modern times, and DC can build upon the excellent base they’ve established with stories like Planet Heist.
Got a comic, character, or story arc that you’d like to see covered by the Comic Archive? Feel free to list it in the Comments below or send your recommendation directly to me at [email protected] – see you in the funny papers!