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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #222

What happens when I write this column while exhausted? I skip the formalities, and I talk about science heroes with jetpacks, that’s what. (Hit me with your archive– fire awayyyyy)

8/10/07

222. Adam Strange

I’m going to play around with the format tonight and open up with a mild rant, mostly because I am tired and my allergies are going nuts and my eyes are on fire and about to shoot out of my skull like meteors of doom or whatnot. Don’t worry, I’ll eventually get to a point. Anyway, the new Flash Gordon TV show debuted tonight on Sci-Fi (yes, the one that has DC’s Flash insignia in the logo for some bizarre reason– somebody’s getting sued), and I managed to watch about three minutes before completely giving up. There’s a well-coiffed and caucasian Ming the Merciless (honestly, how could you betray Ming’s concept like that? He’s Fu Manchu in space! It’s brilliant! Bah) and a dude who looks like Sloth from the Goonies. Most of this show could have been filmed in my backyard. It doesn’t look fun. You know what’s fun? Retro-futurism. That’s how it should be done.

Adam Strange has everything I want out of a crazy sci-fi adventure series. First appearing in a story by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky in Showcase #17 (1958), Adam Strange was an archaeologist who accidentally gets teleported a trillion miles away to Rann, a weird future world of weird science and mad technology. It was John Carter of Mars by way of Buck Rogers and DC’s Silver Age, and it was good. Adam fell in love with a Rannian beauty named Alanna, but he’d always have to defeat some bizarre alien menace before he got to spend some time with her, and by then, the effects of the Zeta-Beam wore off and he ended up back on Earth, waiting for the next space laser to come by so he could hitchhike back to his hot space momma. He ended up with his own series in Mystery in Space for a while, and Sekowsky, and was replaced by Carmine Infantino. Mr. Strange had great luck when it came to who was drawing him.

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Finned helmet, jetpack, raygun– yep, he was the ultimate ’50s science fiction adventure hero. Indiana Jones gets to fight Nazis and discover mystical treasures, but Adam Strange gets to be the hero of a mysterious and faraway planet where a fantastical new monster or gadget is showing up every day. Imagination lurked just around the corner with each issue.

Adam Strange has gotten a new jumpstart in popularity recently. It started with the Andy Diggle/Pasqual Ferry mini-series “Planet Heist” that segued into the Rann/Thanagar War and then into 52, where Adam had a starring role and got to hang out with Animal Man, Starfire, and Lobo. Yeah, okay, so he lost his eyes, but they grew him new ones, so it’s cool. He’s also due to appear in Countdown to Adventure.

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You know, I’d love to see a new Adam Strange ongoing, one that isn’t a tie-in to some crossover, where Adam can fight robots, space pirates, cloud monsters, and globe-headed elves, and make sweet, sweet space-love to his alien wife. There’s just so much lovely potential stored up in the concept that’s yearning to be realized. An imaginative or insane writer could cook up a fantastic series with this material. I’d buy it.

For more on comics’ favorite science hero, read a Brief History of Adam Strange, courtesy of Sequart. It delves into the sordid publishing history of our fin-headed friend. And if you’re just itching to read juicy tales of jetpacks and lasers and all that good stuff, pick up the Adam Strange Showcase volume, or perhaps the Archive editions, if you’re one of our wealthier readers.

Holy crap, I can see again! Reasons to Love Comics– saving Bill’s vision since 2007. Oh, and if the Flash Gordon show was actually good, someone should tell me so I can give it a second chance.

20 Comments

Maybe the producers didn’t want to come across as racist by not going with “Space Fu Manchu.” Besides, if Jensen Ackles can walk away from the flaming wreckage that was the fourth season of Smallville and land a juicy role in Supernatural, then there might be hope for Eric Johnson, who played Whitney in the first season.

Topic…I got the first Adam Strange hardcover from the library. It made for a nice read, even as the formula remained the same: guy putzes around Southern Hemisphere waiting for a teleportation beam, guy goes to planet, girlfriend alerts him to new danger, guy falls back on brain to defeat menance du jour, guy gets sent back to Earth.

Oh, and if the Flash Gordon show was actually good, someone should tell me so I can give it a second chance.

Honestly? It felt to me as though someone took the basic, fun Flash Gordon concept — a well-meaning heroic athletic fellow from Earth suddenly displaced to the planet Mongo who ends up fighting an evil emperor and saving the universe — and ran it through a generic WB network Supernatural/Smallville/The O.C. youth-demographic blenderizer. Any time any glimmer of Alex Raymond-type fun started to show through it was squelched under a hip 21st Century reference to something — cell phone etiquette or “hooking up” or whatever. It wants to be fun but it doesn’t know how, and they didn’t spend nearly enough time actually on Mongo.

It was really, really annoying because it was ALMOST good. That’s more irritating than just plain bad. At least Dan Jurgens did the same kind of update with a genuine sense of fun.

But let’s not hijack your cool Adam Strange stuff with annoyance at the Sci-Fi channel. Adam Strange rules. I wish DC would quit shoehorning him into the main continuity stuff though. I thought Rann-Thanagar War was awful, an incoherent story with ugly art. Just a mess. Adam and the Hawks deserved better.

“Maybe the producers didn’t want to come across as racist by not going with “Space Fu Manchu.””

Meanwhile, yet another Asian actor doesn’t get a big juicy part.

I actually thought the premiere was pretty solid…got better towards the end, and will probably get better over time.

Oi! You forgot his small but fantastically written role in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Treated as a person rather than as a character, we see how heartbreaking his predicament might be.

I really liked his role in Starman too. It was a clever use of his Zeta Beam that he was able to return to Earth before Jack.

I suspect your average Asian actor is probably not exactly crying in his beer at missing out on playing their cliche-collection equivalent of Stepin Fetchit.

Seriously, I never could quite understand the appeal of the Yellow Peril trope myself. I mean, doesn’t ‘Ooh, they’re smarter than we are! They must want to take over the world!!’ make us Ocidentals look pretty stupid, as a corollary?

Anyway, regardless, thanks for the effort Bill – great entry.

I love that Adam Strange. Terrific stuff there. I’ve been meaning to look for more Adam Strange comics.

I always figured that one could avoid making Ming the Merciless a racist image by simply presenting him as his own man, and getting across the point that he isn’t representative of his race, and that being Chinese isn’t what makes him evil. Making him a white guy (or green-skinned, as they did in the 1980s Defenders of the Earth cartoon) was a lousy idea from where I sit.

OK, but if his villainy is as neutral as you suggest, how does it follow that he then has to be Asian? If the idea is that he’s got to be exotic and/or mysterious, why *not* just make him green-skinned?

Not trying to start anything here (at least, not more than has already bee started), just curious.

You make a valid point there, fella. I suppose the fact that they made him young and muscular rather than skinny and old was more of a problem than the green skin. And now that I think about it, the Ming of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, played by Swedish actor Max von Sydow, felt as “right” for the character to me as anything.

Bill, you gotta read more comics. Or at least more Wikipedia.

Your description of Adam Strange completely missed discussing the fact that Alan Moore tried to completely retcon all that retro-futurism in Swamp Thing, basically stating that Adam’s adventures on Rann were all contrived in order to make him a breeding stud with Alanna. Which I think was one of the worst examples of comics revisionism in the ’80s (and perpetrated by the author of some of the best of them no less) and I think cuts to the very point you’re trying to make: the retro-futurism central to the character is also the part that embarrasses many. And that’s not only true of Adam Strange but Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and any other of that type of character. The responses these days are to disavow it (like the Sci-Fi Flash Gordon series or Moore) or to fully embrace it, like Waid did in JLA or in 52.

Anyway, for me, there is only one Flash Gordon and that’s the one with Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Topol and Max Von Sydow. It’s like Valley of the Dolls as a sci-fi movie and it’s all I ever want.

I thought it was fine pilot. It wasn’t great, but it picked up when they got to Mongo. Whoever thinks the characters were hip and cool doens’t know what hip and cool is. THey were almost downright hokey. The only complaint I had was that the two female characters were kind of annoying. But they redeemed themselves in the end by letting the bounty hunter chick escape.

“Oi! You forgot his small but fantastically written role in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Treated as a person rather than as a character, we see how heartbreaking his predicament might be. ”

That two-part story is among my favorites of Moore’s run on Swamp Thing. I also loved his take on the nasty Hawkworld folks in that same story.

Moore’s changes to Adam followed up in the early 90′s mini by Brunning and the Kuberts (Bill used the cover to #2) were just products of the de-constructive time. Back then I thought it was a brilliant turn, and it kind of was. But now, as an adult, I can see how harmful that approach can be to these continuing properties.

It would still be possible to tell good stories with these elements today, but most probably the best way to go for a fun, long-lived ongoing would just be to ignore it.

Your description of Adam Strange completely missed discussing the fact that Alan Moore tried to completely retcon all that retro-futurism in Swamp Thing, basically stating that Adam’s adventures on Rann were all contrived in order to make him a breeding stud with Alanna.

I knew about that and didn’t include it in the post. I hope I don’t need to include every single detail about a character’s publishing history. I try to talk about the best parts, and what works. If something’s lame, I tend to gloss over it. This is a series about love.

I hope I don’t need to include every single detail about a character’s publishing history. I try to talk about the best parts, and what works. If something’s lame, I tend to gloss over it. This is a series about love.

For the most part I agree, Bill, but that one is really quite a major change to the character (in fact THE major change). This isn’t the character wore a black costume for two issues. This is the plot development that prevented anyone from touching the character after the late ’80s mini for almost a decade.

And when your whole piece is about how retro-futurism-and-jet-packs is neat, I think talking about those kind of changes in the light of that was a totally missed opportunity. Not only that, I think it’s one of Alan Moore’s greatest failures in reconstructing DC characters– precisely the sort of thing he was repenting of when he created Tom Strong.

I agree it’s about love, but love is also about understanding. But, hey, you’re the guy doing this every day for a year. I’m just the guy complaining about the free ice cream :)

You know, they made the Mandarin green in the 90s Ironman cartoon. It never occured to me but that was probably to circumvent stereotypes as well.

I didn’t watch the new Flash Gordon series. It seemed, to me, that the producers at Sci-Fi were trying to replicate the “ligntning in a bottle” that they had with the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Naturally, if it worked for THAT, it should work for THIS, right?

As we’ve all seen before (Birds of Prey, anyone?) that doesn’t usually work out. So, I passed, and apparently I was justified in doing so.

Also, Adam Strange is ridiculously fantastic.

-M

I love Adam Strange. On Earth he’s just a guy, on Rann he’s a cool superhero with a hot wife. What could be better than that?

Adam Strange Showcase volume came out last week. This is good timing!

Adam Stange + Retro-futurism is good.

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