Tuesday, February 3, 2009

These are Strange days, indeed

Adam Strange (see his latest action figure incarnation here) is the archetypal good guy of classic sci-fi pulp. He wears a sleek flight suit with a helmet and collar marked by cool military wings, stars, and a fin. He's got a ray gun and a jet pack.

Adam Strange is a hero we can understand and empathize with, because he's an archaeologist from our world (well, the modern world of the 1950s). In this collection's introduction, we learn legendary editor Julie (Julius, really) Schwartz got to start his science-fiction tale in the present day. His Adam Strange went on for years; the future counterpart, Space Ranger, dribbled away after a few stories.

Adam's tale is a simple one each issue: Swept up in a mysterious teleportation beam, he finds himself 25 trillion miles away on the Earth-like Rann. In every short 10-or-s0-page story in this 217-page collection, he races to catch the next Zeta beam to Rann to continue his growing love affair with dark-haired heroine Alanna and to save Rann and the city of Rannagar from space aliens, destructive devices, jealous planetary inhabitants, and even angry atoms. The sad ending to every tale—despite his planetary salvation—is always him disappearing as the Zeta beam wears off and pining away for his light-years-distant girlfriend from some lonely earth starting point.

These tales from the 1950s never blew me away, but neither did they bore me. I've always been a sucker for the 'B' and 'C' class superheroes and supervillains of comic book history. Rom Spaceknight. Ambush Bug. Xombi. And now, Adam Strange. There's not much to these first stories, but when writers and artists from the 1970s and into the modern day has taken the time to tease out the heart inside this formula, it's quite compelling.

Strange is a regular scientist with no superpowers, only a great intellect and great courage. He's constantly torn away from his love as each Zeta beam wears off, and ends each episode staring into the skies with longing. That's surely the longing that many kids and young adults felt as they pined away for their own Alannas in the real world.

Adam Strange has been brilliantly resurrected in the past few years as an integral player in DC Comics' latest reality reboot, "52." And he and his spacemates earned a place in their own trade paperback chronicling their adventures in space that fell outside that year-long, 52-week multi-arc adventure.

Here's to more great Adam Strange and all the other quirky, kooky heroes and ne'er-do-wells from the depths of decades of DC and Marvel history.

And may fun, heartfelt space opera live forever!

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