By Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & Mike Sekowsky (DC Comics)
For many of us the Silver Age of comics is the ideal era. Varnished by nostalgia (because that’s when most of us caught this crazy childhood bug) the clear, clean-cut, uncomplicated optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced captivating heroes and villains who were still far less terrifying than the Cold War baddies who troubled the grown-ups. The sheer talent and professionalism of the creators working in that temporarily revitalised comics world resulted in triumph after triumph which brightened our young lives and remarkably still shine today with quality and achievement.
One of the most compelling stars of those days was an ordinary Earthman who regularly travelled to another world for spectacular adventures, armed with nothing more than a ray-gun, a jetpack and his own ingenuity. His name was Adam Strange, and like so many of that era’s triumphs he was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz and his close team of creative stars.
Showcase was a try-out comic designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If the new character sold well initially a regular series would follow. The process had already worked with phenomenal success. The revised Flash, Challengers of the Unknown and Lois Lane had all won their own titles and Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld now wanted his two Showcase editors to create science fiction heroes to capitalise on the twin zeitgeists of the Space Race and the popular fascination with movie monsters and aliens.
Jack Schiff came up with the futuristic crime fighter Space Ranger (who debuted in issues #15-16) and Schwartz went to Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs to craft the saga of a modern-day explorer in the most uncharted territory yet imagined.
Showcase #17 (cover-dated November-December 1958) launched ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’, and told of archaeologist Strange who, whilst fleeing from enraged natives in Peru, jumps a 25 ft chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. He materialises in another world, filled with giant plants and monsters and is rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna who teaches him her language.
‘Secret of the Eternal City!’ reveals that Rann is a planet recovering from an atomic war, and the beam was in fact a simple flare, one of many sent in an attempt to communicate with other races. In the four years (speed of light, right? As you Know, Bob… Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light-years from Sol) the Zeta-Flare travelled through space cosmic radiation converted it into a teleportation beam. Until the radiation drains from his body Strange would be a very willing prisoner on a fantastic new world.
And an incredibly unlucky one apparently, as no sooner has Adam started acclimatising than an alien race named The Eternals invade, seeking a mineral that will grant them immortality. His courage and sharp wits enable him to defeat the invaders only to have the radiation finally fade, drawing him home before the adoring Alanna can administer a hero’s reward. And thus was established the principles of this beguiling series. Adam would intercept a follow-up Zeta-beam hoping for some time with his alien sweetheart only to be confronted with a planet-menacing crisis.
The very next of these, ‘The Planet and the Pendulum’ saw him obtain the crimson spacesuit and weaponry that became his distinctive trademark in a tale of alien invaders which also introduced the subplot of Rann’s warring city-states, all desperate to progress and all at different stages of recovery and development. This tale also appeared in Showcase #17.
The next issue featured the self-explanatory ‘Invaders from the Atom Universe’ and ‘The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange’ wherein the hero must outwit the dictator of Dys who plans to invade Alanna’s city of Rannagar. With this story Sachs was replaced by Joe Giella as inker, although he would return as soon as #19’s Gil Kane cover, the first to feature the title ‘Adam Strange’ over the unwieldy ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’. ‘Challenge of the Star-Hunter’ and ‘Mystery of the Mental Menace’ are classic puzzle tales as the Earthman must out wit a shape-changing alien and an all-powerful energy-being. These tales were the last in Showcase (cover-dated March-April1959). With the August issue Adam Strange took over the lead spot and cover of the anthology comic Mystery in Space.
As well as a new home, the series also found a new artist. Carmine Infantino, who had worked such magic with The Flash, applied his clean, classical line and superb design sense to create a stark, pristine, sleekly beautiful universe that was spellbinding in its cool but deeply humanistic manner, and genuinely thrilling in its imaginative wonders. MIS #53 began an immaculate run of exotic high adventures with ‘Menace of the Robot Raiders!’ by Fox, Infantino and Sachs, followed in glorious succession by ‘Invaders of the Underground World’ and ‘The Beast from the Runaway World!’
With #56 Murphy Anderson became the semi-regular inker, and his precision brush and pen made the art a thing of unparalleled beauty. ‘The Menace of the Super-Atom’ and ‘Mystery of the Giant Footprints’ are sheer visual poetry, but even ‘Chariot in the Sky’, ‘The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges’ (MIS #58 and #59, inked by Giella) and ‘The Attack of the Tentacle World’, ‘Threat of the Tornado Tyrant’ and ‘Beast with the Sizzling Blue Eyes’ (MIS #60-62, inked by Sachs) were – and still are – streets ahead of the competition in terms of thrills, spectacle and imagination.
Anderson returned with #63, which introduced some much-needed recurring villains who employed ‘The Weapon That Swallowed Men!’, #64’s chilling ‘The Radio-active Menace!’ and, ending this volume, ‘The Mechanical Masters of Rann’, all superb short-story marvels that appealed to their young readers’ every sense – especially that burgeoning sense of wonder.
The deluxe Archive format makes a fitting home for these extraordinary exploits that are still some of the best written and drawn science fiction comics ever produced. Whether for nostalgia’s sake, for your own entertainment or even to get your own impressionable ones properly indoctrinated, you really need this book in your home.
© 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.