FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: DC’S ADAM STRANGE: THE SILVER AGE
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by Robert Greenberger
Imagine, if you will, that you’re an archeologist working on a dig when you feel tingly all over. You blink and suddenly you’re no longer on earth but somewhere alien, with similar atmosphere and gravity but technology beyond anything you recognize. In short order, you are informed you are now residing on the planet Rann, 25 trillion miles from Earth. Your host is a famous scientist named Sardath who explains this happened because he was tinkering with a new transportation device, dubbed the Zeta-Beam. then you meet his gorgeous daughter, Alanna, and you no longer care about going home. Alas, it was all too good to be true as the beam’s effects proved temporary and you are returned to Earth.
The 1950s was a decade where science fiction was very much in vogue so it was no surprise that in 1957, DC Comics’ editorial director Irwin Donenfeld asked editors Julie Schwartz and Jack Schiff to each create a new SF series, one set in the present, one in the future. given first choice, Schiff grabbed the future and went off to create space Ranger. Schwartz, an SF fan since childhood, an agent for SF writers, and one of DC’s strongest editors, felt readers would more readily identify with a hero from the present.
Schwartz set to work on creating a new hero, working with writer Gardner Fox, who was one of his steadiest scripters. They came up with Adam Strange, who would find himself transported to another world and have adventures. Donenfeld approved the concept and scheduled Adventures on other Worlds for issues #17-19 of Showcase, following Schiff’s two issue trial for space Ranger.
Adam Strange: The Silver Age volume One
While both characters sold well enough to each earn the heroes berths in the DC line, it is Adam strange who has endured in fans’ minds, largely thanks to Fox’s imaginative stories and Carmine Infanitno’s glimpse of life around the galaxy. The initial run of stories are being repackaged in Adam Strange: The Silver Age volume One, collecting showcase #17-19 and mystery in space #53-74.
Over time, Sardath and strange worked out the precise calculations so strange knew where he had to be, somewhere in the southern hemisphere, for the next beam to find him and bring him back to Rann and Alanna. Each visit, though, seemed well-timed since a new threat to life on the world or in neighboring space required attention and strange proved to have a keen intellect, able to determine the best way to save the day.
It was resourceful while formulaic, heavy on plot as was Schwartz’s hallmark approach to storytelling. another signature Schwartz move was to make Alanna his partner in adventure, a strong female role model as opposed to the more stereotypical damsel in distress.
Carmine Infantino was initially tapped for the project but the artist had committed to a global tour with the national Cartoonists society so Schwartz promised, should it go to series, he was getting the job. Meantime, he commissioned a cover from Murphy Anderson who first designed the red and white outfit but the art was rejected and the assignment went to Gil Kane, who gave strange short sleeves. Mike Sekowsky, Frank Giacoia, Joe Giella, Bernard Sachs, and Sy Barry handled the pencils and inks for the stories.
Mystery in space #53
Sales were strong enough that soon after showcase #19 (March-April 1959), Adam took up residence as the cover feature to mystery in space beginning with issue #53 (August 1959). Infantino took up the art chores, hated the short sleeves and got approval to make them longer but otherwise the design remained intact. Not long before, Infantino had been a solid artist working across all genres and was one of Schwartz’s most prolific artists. Dissatisfied with his efforts, Infantino attended the Art students league for two years and the work under William C. McNulty prompted a major evolution in his style.
While glimpses of this can be seen in his contemporaneous work on The Flash, he really explored design and composition here. As he grew, Schwartz disapproved of the changing style, feeling it deviated from the cleaner house style he was accustomed to. It could explain why he was saddled with relatively heavy-handed inkers, which didn’t please Infantino.
While most associate Adam strange with Infantino and Anderson, you will see Bernard Sachs (#53-55, 58-62) and Joe Giella (71, 73) draw quite a few of these stories before Anderson (#56-57, 63-70, 72, 74) settled in as the permanent inker.
In Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur, he told Jim Amash the inkers used to complain about working on his evolving pencils. “They felt they had to fix my drawing. I was very pissed about that. but Murphy, later on, came to understand what I had been doing and has said so. Murphy’s inks gave my worka commercial look that fans liked. I have to admit, as a team, Murphy and I grew popular. We gave DC a good, solid look that turned fans on.”
Adam strange was popular enough to gain pages during his run in MIS and was even considered for membership in the Justice league of America (they met in a classic story that will open volume two). Visually, all the credit goes to Infantino but Fox’s creative dilemmas and interesting alien races deserve notice.
Mystery in space #68
With very few exceptions, Fox didn’t repeat his races or foes. It fell to others to reuse the tornado Tyrant from issue #61 (who wound up animating the android Red Tornado) but Fox liked his dust Devils from #68 so they began recurring beginning with issue #70. and in issue #73, Fox sends strange 100,000 years into the future, a precursor to what Schiff would do to the series when he was assigned it as Schwartz and Infantino were given Batman to resuscitate.
Adam strange is most definitely a product of his time, but also a man of tomorrow, and his earliest exploits bring a simple joy that should be experienced in this economical volume.
Adam Strange: The Silver Age volume One
Classic covers from the Grand Comics Database.