Welcome back, citizens of the cosmos! Andy Larson here, host of the most tremendous podcast that has ever existed since February of 2018, Ghosts of the Stratosphere. I’m back with another review of a book off of my never ending read pile. Seriously, you’d think at some point this stack would get to the point when I could actually see the bottom instead of constantly looking up at it, but no such luck.
People drop by, suggest books, or in some cases throw them at me, and that stack just keeps growing and growing, like the Blob at a Golden Coral restaurant. Salad bar, my ass, put some Jello pudding on top of those chicken wings, by God!
In any case, for those of you that are fans of our podcast, you may know by now that I’m not a particular fan of DC comics. Yes, I haven’t exactly hid my disdain for everything about the House that Supes Built, but I do want to go on record saying there are some small parts of that universe, I do actually enjoy. Sure one of those is the entire Batman portion of the universe, however that doesn’t count as I’ve said on multiple occasions as well that Batman should be it’s own universe separate from the DC Universe proper. But there are a couple characters I do fancy despite being tied to this company that couldn’t make a decent superhero movie to save its life. Some characters that immediately jump to mind include: the Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, Dr. Fate, Jack Kirby’s 4th World stuff, and of course the spotlight character for this week’s read pile, Adam Strange.
Adam Strange is yet another character cut from the age old trope of “Stranger in a Strange Land”, given a science fiction bent in the 20th century by first Edgar Rice Burroughs with his Barsoom saga (which more modern audiences would better know as John Carter or Princess of Mars). Other famous fictional characters of this ilk include Buck Rogers and my personal favorite, Flash Gordon, but its pretty much an fictional story in which an Earthling ends up being transported to some far off alien planet where he ends up becoming the champion of many and mixing it up with some feisty hot alien tomato (as in a nice lookin’ piece of ass, not the fruit/vegetable).
Adam is no different, a late 50s creation of legendary DC editor Julie Schwartz, when he was asked to create a new sci-fi hero that existed in the present as opposed to some future time. He came up with the notion of Adam being transported instantaneously across vast distances via the Zeta Beam to the planet Rann, where he would help protect the planet from extraterrestrial threats.
Appearing in the series, Mystery in Space, written mainly by Gardner Fox with art by Carmine Infantino, chronicled Adam Strange’s exploits on this far away planet including his frequent interactions with his alien girlfriend Alanna and her scientist father, Sardath, for about 50 some issues from #53 to #100.
Originally devised as a solo hero, it was during that period that the Flash suggested Strange as a possible new member of the JLA in any issue of that team book, which prompted the fan base to ask how the Flash could have known about Adam Strange’s exploits since they happened on a far away planet. This half assed continuity error actually birthed one of the best single stories of those early Strange books, as it forced Schwartz and Fox to write a story showing how the Justice League came to Rann and how Adam Strange saved them from Kanjar Ro. This also had the additional effect of bringing Strange into DC universe proper, which lucky for him, happened, as after his run in Mystery in Space ended, Strange quickly became more of a side character in the overall DC mythology, despite having a semi regular presence in other characters books as a guest star.
That seemed to change in the 80s, as the legendary Alan Moore somewhat retconned the character a bit in the same way he did for the Swamp Thing. the population of the planet, the majority of whom view the Earthling with contempt, is sterile, and Adam Strange is there to be a breeding stud and repopulate the planet. It’s from this addition to the Strange mythology that the particular 3 issue mini series I’m reviewing today actually gets its roots, as “The Man of Two Worlds” is an continuation of the thought process first started in those Alan Moore issues.
The first thing about this book though that I must point out is whether or not this path that Alan Moore started about this particular silver age character was the correct one and should have been continued. Now, I get why it was done. Alan Moore has had a great deal of success over his career with taking “simple” almost one dimensional comic characters and turning them on their head by just adding a couple little yet somewhat obvious twists to the backstory to hopefully flesh them out better or at the very least tell more complex stories.
He did this with Swamp Thing, he did it with all the Charlton Comics characters with Watchmen, he even did it with Superman in his famous: “Whatever happened to the Man from Tomorrow” single shot. Given what a knock off Adam Strange seemed at times of those other more famous “Earth men on Alien planet” characters I mentioned earlier, I’m sure Alan Moore was really just trying to inject this character with something that would make him stand out from the rest.
In adding this element it does tackle some pretty serious discussion points such as the disdain for the “great white hope” character and the anger around cultural appropriation through Adam coming to Rann and becoming the “savior”. But it also adds layers to Strange himself as he goes from being someone he thinks is the hero of millions to a simple sperm donor, kept around for no other reason than a drone is kept in a beehive.
And I guess if Alan Moore had followed up this original concept of Adam that he introduced in issues of Swamp Thing in this book as well, it might have worked better. But despite his best efforts, the true writer of “Man of Two Worlds“, Richard Bruning, is simply no Alan Moore, and the entire concept falls apart smashed by heavy handedness under his watch.
Yes, you see whether you like him or not, Alan Moore has a deft touch with his writing so that when he introduces things that could be considered “dark” and “gritty” its balanced by heart and genuine care for the characters he’s changing. He views them as human beings with both good and bad traits, flawed, but capable of great things. Mr. Bruning, on the other hand at times, seems like he could have cared less about the characters or their previous backstories and was more about writing things for shock value.
For example, he takes the typically heroic and faithful Adam Strange, who has never shown anything but fidelity to Alanna, and immediately makes him nearly commit adultery in the first issue. If that’s not bad enough, he takes away most of the self sacrificing nobility and confidence of the character and instead portrays him as a whiny, self absorbed wanker with a severe inferior complex. It’s like Richard immediately saw where the Adam was going in settling down becoming a respectable father and husband, and said “Nope, this is the time for Adam to have his mid life crisis instead. Dye his hair, give him a Camero and a 21 year old sorority girlfriend”. Yep, that’s supposed to be the hero of our story, and you wonder why the entire series is so uneven.
He then takes the intelligent fair minded father figure of Sarath turns him into a insane dictator like wackadoodle who is willing to whore out his only child to every alien Tom, Dick, and Tentacle that comes along all to free his snobbish race from genetic obliteration. Sure, that is only really implied as a part of Mega Zeta Beam charged hallucination by Adam Strange, but it’s still one of the creepiest parts of this entire story.
The character that gets it the worst is that of Alanna, not because they do something terrible with her, but that they don’t DO ANYTHING with her at all. Yup, Adam’s main partner in all his previous adventures is given absolutely nothing of value to do in the entire series except to pine over Adam despite what a douche he’s being for most of the story like some 50s housewife. Oh yeah, and she also gives birth to Adam’s daughter, which would be something worthwhile if not for the fact that she immediately dies following childbirth in a scene they don’t even bother to show you. Yeah, that’s one of the three main characters of the original series, folks. Her only job, dying off screen, so that Adam Strange can mix it up with some brand new Earth chick named Evelyn that they introduce just in this story so that the Man of Two Worlds can have an emotional romantic arc with someone other than his friggin’ wife.
I know that I say it all the time on the podcast, but there’s almost a conspiracy out there that the moment any comic book hero has gotten to the point in his story where he is settled in a decent relationship and is going to have a child, that’s the point when you gotta come in and wreck some shite up! Instead of exploring the hero’s dynamic and how it’s changed with these new life events, nope, take the easy way out and raze it to the ground. It’s like an old soap opera mentality, where the marriage and children equal the end of the dramatic arc, instead of the beginning of a new one, so the moment your hero gets to that point, you gotta introduce some new love interest and immediately dump the old one as to keep the audience interested. Call it resisting the “aging of the character” or whatever you want, I just call it lazy outdated writing.
Finally, there’s the actual inhabitants of Rann, who were changed from grateful and pleasant citizens of a highly advanced civilization to somewhat ungrateful sycophants under Alan Moore’s 2 issue retcon. But Mr. Bruning turns that up to 11 in his three issue arc, making them seem entirely racist and near xenophobic as they denounce Adam Strange despite all the good he’s done for them over the years, and openly rebel against Sarath plans to make Strange a member of their society and even give him a seat on their high council.
I feel like with a more deft hand, this conflict about trusting an outsider with the affairs of their state could have been handled better, but in this book, everyone on the damn planet just comes off as sex starved and consumed with petty jealousy. And it ends up getting everyone in trouble as the whole society breaks down into civil war as rival citystates on Rann fight over whether in essence its a good idea to let an alien settle down here. This results in a massive space egg being shot into space containing one of their cities…okay…space egg…got it.
In fact, the only character that’s handled well in this entire series is that of Evelyn, who again was introduced just for this story as a doctor from Adam’s old hometown back on Earth. She makes some great points about whether Adam ever was really in love with Alanna, or in love with the ideal of what Alanna represents to a hot blooded American Male aka a beautiful chick to save and bed constantly. Also once she’s brought to Rann via a stray Zeta Beam, she adds one of the few voices of sanity to the proceedings, and helps save Adam Strange’s baby from dying along with Alanna. But, I question whether her character was even necessary.
Instead of developing Alanna into something more than the one dimensional character we get in this book, all of that development is pushed off on to this other woman, including here’s the kicker, MOTHERHOOD! Yeah, Alanna doesn’t even get a motherhood arc to help flesh out her character more as she dies and then lets Evelyn take custody of the new baby. Talk about the final insult to a long standing important female character in the entire Adam Strange mythology, and again all done as to allow Adam to mix it up with a different female after the original had “reached the end of her romantic usefulness”. Those aren’t my words, by the way. That’s the overly implied notion given to all these proceedings.
In closing, I will say that one of the saving graces of this entire series is the wonderful art by Andy Kubert. The guy has a knack for sci-fi and those scenes on Rann are pretty breath taking at times, so kudos to him for delivering solid visuals despite what was lacking story wise. It almost reminded me of Barry Winsor Smith’s art, especially the stuff he did at Valiant in the 90s, and that’s pretty high praise from me. I would love to see him do a Flash Gordon book, as I think that would be equally as gorgeous and fit into his wheel house.
However, art or not, there’s just too many things about this story and the way that the characters were treated in it for me to give it a decent grade. In fact, this would have been an “F” if not for the art so it should be grateful we at least have that. I guess the only good thing that came out of this story was the fact that it was so bad and took Adam Strange in such a weird and terrible direction that it was later basically ignored as a part of the official continuity of the character, which means even DC comics wanted to forget this ever existed…
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: D+