Strange Adventures #2 by writer Tom King and artists Mitch Gerards and Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner seems to be in keeping with King’s previous prominent themes as explored on both his Batman run and his award-winning writing on Mister Miracle. That is the exploration of the male psyche and identity and what it means to be a hero in our contemporary times. And, as with his other series; behind this great man is a great woman. But, that isn’t enough of an exploration for a certain Dark Knight who’s keen for Mister Terrific to investigate further.
I mentioned in my previous review of the first issue of this maxi-series that from a distance it would seem that America is in the process of mythologising and re-frame their recent military history in their TV shows, films and other media, with American Sniper being an excellent example of this an relevant to this review, as you’ll see.
King’s Mister Terrific is a man always testing and pushing himself. He leaves Batman in the dust for this level of commitment to training his body, mind and spirit at all times, day or night. Although the T-spheres that constantly quiz him do come across as a persistent parent testing their kid before an important exam. Which isn’t a bad thing. Reminder kids, always listen to your parents!
Often the cut from Rann to Earth and the here and now is done in the most cinematic of ways, as we segue from one scene to another with a visual connect between the two. Like when Adam goes down on on knee and takes her by the hand to offer his reassurances to Alanna only to cut to a close-up of Mister Terrific’s web hand in another, but being bandaged upon for a boxing session.
Evan ‘Doc’ Shaner’s portrayal of the heroic, active Adam Strange on the desert vistas of Rann, all evoke classic sci-fi newspaper strips of yesteryear, as I’ve noted previously, but it is worth mentioning again as Shaner’s involvement, and his specific classic comic book art look were clearly an integral part in this unfolding story of a retired superhero. Although his design sense is anything but old school as he shows in the layouts of each page he hands in. For example, when Adam and Alanna are wandering hand-in-hand through this far away sandy setting, pull back and you’ll notice the full page is one large splash, but divided through clever use of guttering allowing Alanna and Adam the sense of moving through the space and continuing in their conversation. But then, you only need to look at the covers for this series to recognise that all involved are trying to push the boundaries of the printed page and readers’ expectations.
Whether intentional or not, another element that, for me, harkens back to a lost era of comic strip publishing is the billowing bedouin-like clothes the married couple adopt while on Rann. Often in these older strips when not portraying foreign cultures in overtly racist and ignorant ways (Ming the Merciless, anyone?) Such elements can come across as otherworldly and exotic when out into the context of science fiction, as it is here. Plus, they would make cool looking collectables if anyone from DC is reading this.
Now, of course Shaner’s involvement is not unintentional, but I do wonder whether his art style doesn’t add something even more to this series? While the two parallel storyline running through this series seem totally detached unto the last page, it seems as though the adventures in space that are regaled here could well be the events Mister Terrific is reading after picking up a copy of Strange’s memoirs. Shaner’s artwork, even when portraying a dishevelled Adam Strange, still come across as classically cleaner-cut compared to Gerards’ more intentionally down-and-dirty, real-world art. And so we get a version of a hero as seen from his own point of view. Just as we did in America Sniper. See, I told you we’d get there eventually. In Navy Seal Chris Kyle’s memoirs we clearly get a bias view, but one that created an all-American hero for many. But, Kyle was a man who, on closer inspection, was far, far from the perfect all-star hero he portrays himself to be in his book. The reality was very far from the truth.
Now, I’m in no way saying this is King’s take on Adam. After all, we know Adam Strange to be a hero. But this is a DC Black Label book, and so it’s free of the constraints of continuity. Anything goes. Still, it’s an interesting take, given King’s position of Adam as, effectively, an ex-military leader in decline and in retirement. And, a bold new tale on the crusty character who may be more hype than hero.
What is also worth noting in this issue is Mister Terrific’s reason to Batman’s request he investigate Adam Strange further. As an African-American, whether a superhero or not, he is all too aware of his place in modern America and even more aware of the action he will get from some quarters if he does point the finger at this Great White Hope. This isn’t, as may will see it, prescient, but rather a realisation – and months ago when he would have written this – of the institutionalised racism in contemporary society. This isn’t new, but it’s not a discussion I see sep into comics often. But then, unlike some, I don’t shy away from political content in comics.
Only the second issue, and one that has given this reader a lot to lardy consider. Another book that doesn’t dismiss the reader or their intelligence. And all done through one fo DC Comics more goofy, derivative sci-fi characters too. Who’d have thunk it, right?
Strange Adventures #2 is available now from DC Comics/DC Black Label