It’s hard to claim that Adam Strange has a particularly glorious history, but he remains one of the DC’s most beloved science fiction characters. He goes back to the dawn of the Silver Age and reflects a very 1950s aesthetic: a morally pure adventurer on a foreign planet (part of the “planetary romance” sub-genre of sci-fi), with his own raygun and jetpack. His earliest adventures, in Showcase and Mystery in Space, have at their best the delight of strange adventures that mix masculine adventure with technological know-how. They are filled with monsters and made complete with a beautiful romantic interest on a foreign, high-tech but half-barren world of Rann. And at their best, they have elegant, evocative artwork evocative of the best science fiction strips. But Adam Strange never won his own ongoing series.
In the 1980s, as a darker tone turned American comics towards revisionism, Alan Moore featured Adam Strange in his classic run on Swamp Thing. While not Moore’s most popular revision, he questioned the underlying tenants of Adam Strange’s story, teasing out intelligent if somewhat cynical answers. When Adam Strange at last won his own mini-series in 1990, it extended this new direction, but fans didn’t take to this direction and the character languished. In the late 1990s, in the pages of JLA, DC let Mark Waid return the character to a modified version of his classic form. In 2004, this updated version of the classic Adam Strange was slightly updated again and given a second mini-series by writer Andy Diggle and penciller Pascal Ferry. Though it sold poorly, rumor circulated that it was far more important than an inconsequential mini-series starring a largely forgotten sci-fi hero — in fact, that it would lead into something big called The Rann-Thanagar War in the summer of 2005.
Adam Strange in Showcase
In 1957, DC held an editorial conference that led to two new science fiction features: Space Ranger and Adam Strange. Science fiction was still doing well for DC, though it was already wading back into super-heroes, most prominently with the Flash’s return in the previous year’s Showcase #4. Showcase was DC’s try-out title, allowing characters to have limited runs to test their merit before gaining their own titles — a role the mini-series often performs today. Space Ranger was given to editor Jack Schiff and assigned a run in Showcase to be followed by Adam Strange under editor Julius Schwartz. Schwartz assigned Adam Strange to writer Gardner Fox, creator of both the Flash and Hawkman.
Adam Strange first appeared in Showcase #17 (cover-dated November-December 1958) in a story entitled “Secret of the Eternal City.” The same issue featured a second story, “The Planet and the Pendulum.” Strange returned in Showcase #18 (January-February 1959) and Showcase #19 (March-April 1959). The first two Showcase try-out issues gave the strip the generic title “Adventures in Other Worlds,” but the third used Adam Strange as the headline.
While exploring Incan city of Caramanga in the Peruvian Andes, a wealthy American archaeologist named Adam Strange found himself transported to the alien planet Rann, established as orbiting Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our own. On Rann, Strange became a hero; in the second story in Showcase #17, he would find a jetpack, a red costume with a helmet, and a blaster that let him fight various menaces like mad scientists or nuclear monsters. He met Sardath, Rann’s chief scientist, and learned that he had been transported by means of something called Zeta Beam, a Rannian attempt to communicate with Earth invented by Sardath that had inadvertently become a means of interstellar teleportation. (DC’s Martian Manhunter had similarly found himself transported to Earth by a communications beam.) In the pulp sci-fi tradition, he also met a beautiful woman — Sardath’s lovely blue-haired daughter, Alanna.
But the Zeta Beam would wear off, causing Adam Strange to slingshot back to Earth. Strange was given a schedule of Zeta Beam locations and dates, and he often had to struggle to reach the departure point, typically an archaeologically or aesthetically interesting site. Upon returning home, he could find himself almost anywhere — but only in the Southern hemisphere because Alpha Centauri can only be seen from Earth’s Southern hemisphere.
Most Adam Strange stories began with him on Earth. He would sometimes be shown performing mathematical calculations to determine the precise place and time of the Zeta Beam’s arrival. He would often count down to the Zeta Beam’s arrival. Strange would arrive on Rann near its largest city, Ranagar, where Alanna would greet him, typically cluing him in on developments on Rann in his absence. Often, this involves some new menace threatening the planet that the Rannians are somehow helpless to solve, and this threat interrupts the flirtatious romance between Adam and Alanna. Adam and others would consciously how his arrival coincides with some threat to Rann. Adam and Alanna would then head out to address the menace, and Adam would derive a quasi-scientific solution, achieved either through his own action or through his direction of the Rannians. At an unpredictable time, but typically just in time to interrupt Adam and Alanna developing their romance, the Zeta Beam radiation would wear off, sending Adam back somewhere in Earth’s Southern hemisphere. Any damage his body had when he left Rann would be somehow healed so that he returned to Earth as he left it. Sometimes a single story would see Adam Strange return to Earth only to go back to Rann again. Because the beam wasn’t tuned to Strange himself, others occasionally hopped the beam to Rann.
Adam Strange was more an adventurer than a serious science-fiction character. Science and wilderness both existed on Rann, and Strange’s adventures often involved monsters and the like. Strange always flew by means of his rocket pack, while Alanna was typically shown piloting various flying machines. Strange was no Buck Rogers, no starship commander like DC’s Space Ranger. Rather, he was a vision of freedom, sleek and free in the open air with his jetpack. He could enjoy Rannian technology, with its elegant eternal city, but always seemed happier being a little outside of it, more rugged than the Rannians in that he alone could combat the planet’s menaces with a simple blaster and jetpack. The dreamy, wish-fulfillment aspect added much to the stories. Not only did Adam Strange enjoy his celebrity and the paradisical aspects of Rann, but the locations from which he was transported eerily echoed Rann, with their lost civilizations and academic dreams.
Adam Strange in Mystery in Space
The success of Adam’s three Showcase issues didn’t warrant his own series, but he was given a home in Mystery in Space beginning with that title’s issue #53 (cover-dated August 1959). Mystery in Space was a science fiction anthology, edited from its 1951 inception by Julius Schwartz. It featured some continuing characters, including Knights of the Galaxy, Interplanetary Insurance Agent, and Space Cabby, but mostly featured general science fiction tales that were not part of any series. Adam Strange became the title’s prime feature and cover star, though each issue contained various other stories. In his Mystery in Space stories, Adam Strange would be illustrated primarily by Carmine Infantino, who brought a grace and elegance to the artwork, particularly to the spires of Rann’s cities. Almost all of Adam Strange’s stories in this period were written by Gardner Fox.
In one memorable story, Adam Strange met the Justice League and became the first to turn down membership. The tale, printed in Mystery in Space #75 (cover-dated May 1962), actually resulted from a continuity error in which the Flash dropped Adam’s name as a possible member during a discussion in Justice League of America — despite that the League and Strange had never met. Reportedly, a fan letter pointed this out, spurring Gardner Fox to write a story in which the League came to Rann, where Adam Strange saved them from traps laid for them by their villain Kanjar Ro.
With issue #87, Hawkman moved into Mystery in Space, sharing Adam Strange’s status as prime feature and cover star. When DC shook up its editorial positions not long after, in 1964, Hawkman was granted his own title and moved out of Mystery in Space. His slot was given to Space Ranger, uniting the two sci-fi characters created in that 1957 editorial conference. Lee Elias took over as main illustrator of Adam Strange’s adventures, altering Adam’s costume somewhat.
Adam Strange and Space Ranger continued in the title through #102. With Mystery in Space #103, both were ousted in favor of a colorful patchwork character called Ultra the Multi-Alien. His tenure didn’t last long, however, as Mystery in Space was cancelled with issue #110 (cover-dated September 1966).
Adam Strange from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s
Despite losing his home in Mystery in Space, Adam Strange continued to appear in various DC titles, never quite disappearing entirely thanks to a string of guest appearances.
One notable guest appearance came in Hawkman #18 (cover-dated February-March 1967), which saw Hawkman and Hawkgirl team up with Adam Strange in “The World that Vanished.” In that story, Hawkman cannot find his home planet of Thanagar. His search brings him to Rann, where he encounters Adam Strange. Written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Murphy Anderson, the story sees Sardath develop a machine that lets Adam stay on Rann — a major shift from Adam Strange’s earlier stories.
Throughout Adam Strange’s subsequent appearances, the character continued to evolve away from his origins as an Earth archaeologist with a secret life as an adventurer on Rann. The Zeta Beam itself became more controllable as a transportation device, allowing Adam Strange to spend more and more time on Rann. He and Alanna finally got the time to enjoy themselves without the Zeta Beam wearing off at inopportune times. Without a continuing feature that required menace after menace, Adam’s life on Rann quieted. Adam Strange married Alanna had settled into a new domestic status quo, punctuated only by occasional guest appearances that forced him to address some new menace.
Alan Moore Reinvents Adam Strange in Swamp Thing
In late 1986, celebrated writer Alan Moore turned his title Swamp Thing towards outer space, seizing the opportunity to redefine certain DC space characters. Moore would redefine Adam Strange smartly by finding, exposing, and explaining incongruities in earlier stories. Why had the Rannians proven so incapable of defending themselves despite their technological knowledge? After all, Adam Strange’s arsenal consisted only of limited Rannian technology and his own scientific wits. Why did “the Champion of Rann” need to be a human? How could a communications device accidentally teleport someone instead? And what exactly was going on in Adam’s relationship with Alanna, daughter to Sardath, creator of that device?
Moore cleverly answered these questions without letting Adam Strange in on the answers. As a result, Strange comes off as an adventurous pawn as much as a protagonist. Like Swamp Thing before Moore took over the title, his own history is unknown to him — but Moore doesn’t let Adam Strange in on the revelation, whereas he revitalized Swamp Thing precisely by doing so. Readers, however, could figure it out.
Rannian civilization had recovered from a nuclear war a thousand years before, but the planet was increasingly dominated by desert wastelands. Swamp Thing secretly terraformed a section of the planet, but he left the planet’s ultimate fate in the hands of Adam Strange and the Rannians. Beyond this, however, the Rannians had a deeper, genetic problem.
Adam Strange was presented with the image of Rannians thinking of him as a hero, but most Rannians resented this off-worlder to whom Sardath catered. Rannians also resented that his fame rested on what Rannian’s own police force could do, yet those Rannians weren’t rewarded for their courage. The reason for all this was that Rannians had grown sterile, impotent in the wake of their own advanced technology. Symbolically, they had grown weak from their technology, but this weakness had become genetic reality. Adam Strange’s true purpose, then, was as a stud to infuse Rann with new, virile blood. He was there to save the planet after all, but not in the way that he — and we — had thought.
Richard Bruning’s The Fall of Adam Strange
In 1990, Adam Strange was given his own title for the first time in a three-issue prestige format mini-series. The series was written by Richard Bruning, then DC’s Design Director working on its trade paperbacks, and illustrated by Andy and Adam Kubert, then largely unknown except as the children of veteran comics artist Joe Kubert. The mini-series was originally going to be called The Fall of Adam Strange but ended up being titled simply Adam Strange. Ironically, given Bruning’s role with DC’s trade paperbacks, a collected edition of the mini-series was not offered until 2003, and then it was ironically titled Adam Strange: The Man of Two Worlds, a phrase that recalled Adam’s classic era. This juxtaposition was further played upon in the book’s design, which featured 1950s-style script and text boxes that played ironically against the story’s dystopian 1980s elements. In his introduction to the mini-series’s collected edition, Richard Bruning said that he had actually shared ideas with Alan Moore prior to Moore’s use of Adam Strange in the pages of Swamp Thing. Nonetheless, this first mini-series entitled Adam Strange continued from that appearance.
As the first issue begins, Sardath has revealed that he had stopped Zeta Beam transmissions some years ago. It took four and a half years for the Zeta Beam to travel to Earth, and Sardath said that he had stopped transmitting after five years because he hadn’t received a response from Earth. Thus, the whole history of Adam Strange, from teleported adventurer from Earth to his current married state, had taken at most four and a half years. But before Sardath had stopped transmissions, he had replaced the Zeta Beam with something called a Mega Zeta Beam that, he calculated, would not wear off, allowing Adam Strange to remain on Rann permanently with Alanna, who was now pregnant. In case Adam misses the first Mega Zeta Beam, Sardath sent two.
As the last Zeta Beam wore off, Adam Strange kisses Alanna, as he often did when he felt himself returning to Earth. On Earth again, he begins wrapping up his affairs. He tells his family, including his dying father, that he had been voyaging to Rann and that he was relocating there, but they do not believe him. Drinking, he spends a night with a nurse named Eve the night his father dies. Finally, putting Earth behind him, he catches a one-way ride to Rann on the Mega Zeta Beam.
Meanwhile, on Rann, we get increasing glimpses of what was really going on. Examining Alanna earlier in the story, after Adam had defended her from a monster attack, Sardath had mentioned that hers was the first baby conceived in twenty Rannian years. Alanna had questioned why Sardath hadn’t told them earlier about the Mega Zeta Beam, but Sardath hid behind his usual absent-minded scientist façade. With Adam gone, Alanna begins questioning why so many Rannians seemed to hate Adam, and Sardath simply explains that they hated someone more powerful and capable than themselves. But readers are treated to scenes in which several Rannian policemen complained that, while Adam had helped the planet, they themselves could have done what Adam had done. It seemed that many resented Sardath and his fertile celebrity son-in-law from Earth, and some seem to have formed a resistance movement.
As Alanna and others wait for Adam to appear from the Mega Zeta Beam, he at first fails to do so. Alanna and others wonder if Adam had chickened out and decided to permanently abandon his Rannian family. When he appears, however, he was deranged, having been driven mad by the Mega Zeta Beam, in which he had somehow remained conscious to experience frightening hallucinations. Thinking them monsters, the crazed Adam Strange lashes out at the Rannians, injuring Sardath before being wounded and driven off into the planet’s desert wastelands.
In the second issue, Adam Strange’s actions spur resentment against him. The resistance movement grows as the planet’s ruling council seems in Sardath’s pocket. Assassinations begin in the eternal city of Ranagar, and a terrorist unleashes a weapon not unlike the neutron bomb that leaves skeletons where people were without damaging the buildings. A policeman named Delaken, who has held a candle for Alanna and might have married her had Adam Strange never arrived, begins to care for her in Adam’s absence and while Sardath recovers.
Meanwhile, in the planet’s wastes, Adam Strange has lost his jetpack and begins wandering, sweltering in the desert heat. He then comes to an oasis of green and recognizes it as having been created by Swamp Thing. The terrain is occupied by people who aren’t sterile and seem to have a nature-based religion, including interaction with flying creatures that Adam had thought monsters and had previously battled. A despairing Adam wonders why Sardath told him nothing of this and says that everything he thought he knew was wrong. A woman cares for him, then reveals that she is Alanna’s mother.
Meanwhile, on Earth, the woman who Adam went home with on the night his father dies, Eve, can’t seem to get Adam out of her mind. She finds Adam’s notebook and sees a note about a location near Rio. Eve gets her girlfriend, who has been concerned about Eve’s mental well-being, to agree to a vacation and they head out to Rio, then take a jeep to the location indicated in Adam’s notebook. The Mega Zeta Beam strikes, zapping Eve to Rann — where she sees the beautiful spires of Ranagar burning from the present conflict.
As the third and final issue opens, Adam hears the woman’s story about how Sardath used a computer to select Rannians who were most likely to be able to reproduce together. She was selected to marry Sardath and they had a daughter, Alanna, but they fought and he had her exiled from the city. She found a community of exiles who desperately eked a living out of the wasted land until Swamp Thing made their land bloom overnight. The community even had its first pregnancy recently. It’s then that the woman then suggests that the reason Sardath has treated Adam so well was in order to repopulate the planet. She points out how suspicious it was for a communications beam to wind up teleporting someone instead. As they arrive at Ranagar on a flying creature from the wastelands, they see it in flame.
Inside the city, Eve had been found and taken prisoner. She winds up using her skills as a nurse to aid Alanna, who has gone into labor. Sardath returns, but his wounds have left him blind in one eye and a faulty medical machine seems to have altered his personality, making him more flamboyant, if not insane, than his earlier colder, scientific self. Adam and Alanna’s mother join the group, and Eve has some harsh words in private with Adam for his cheating on his wife. Adam heads out to fight against the attack on the city while Eve and Alanna’s mother care for Alanna, who Eve realizes is going to die in childbirth. Alana realizes that the older woman is her mother, gives birth, and dies.
As a fleet of rebel ships heads towards Ranagar, Adam Strange seems to give up and heads inside to die with his wife — only to learn that she’s already dead. Sardath has rewired the city’s technology, apparently insanely, making it look like a terrible mess. When he activates it, however, the entire city lifts off from the ground surrounded in a force field that protects it from the invading but not-quite-arrived ships. Like an egg, it lifts off the largely wasted planet and heads into space.
On the space arc that Ranagar has become, the new Sardath expresses a newfound joy in nonsense — a very postmodern concept. He explains that Adam went crazy going through the Meta Zeta Beam while Eve experienced no negative effects because of the Zeta Beam radiation already in Adam’s body. With her experience on Earth, Eve is acting as an expert on democracy as a new government is formed. Holding Adam’s daughter, who has been named Aleea, Eve talks to a mopey Adam Strange and convinces him to overcome his grief and attend the meeting that night that will decide on the new government. He carries Aleea in his arms, apparently for the first time, as they walk back together. The mini-series ends on this decidedly quiet note.
Fan response to the mini-series was decidedly mixed. Many praised the story as bringing a more contemporary sensibility to a character who had languished largely unseen in years prior — and who, after all, had never received his own title before. Both the script and the art were fine work, feeling much like an updated, darker, and smarter form of the sci-fi comics serial. Many fans of older Adam Strange material, however, felt that the story had effectively stripped the character and the planet Rann of its innocent charm and grace — true enough, though this was part of the point of the series. A fairer objection was that the ending was unsatisfactory: Alanna’s death seemed unnecessary, and the idea of Ranagar becoming a space colony and Sardath becoming a postmodern trickster figure lacked both the grace of the older stories and the recent revelations’ sense of intelligently revealing implications or possibilities left unexplored in the older stories.
Adam Strange wasn’t seen much thereafter, and it was no surprise: his character had reached the end of his arc. He had gone from hopping Zeta Beams between Earth and Rann to staying on Rann permanently and finding out his true purpose there. But now Alanna had been killed and Sardath’s personality radically changed, destroying the core cast of the older stories. Eve and Alanna’s hippie mother hardly seemed as interesting as Alanna herself, and few could imagine stories of Adam playing the single father, romancing Eve in Alanna’s place, or watching the floating space colony of Ranagar establish its government. Perhaps because of this, the character didn’t see the renaissance experienced by Swamp Thing when Moore had upturned his status quo. Not only was the romance innate to Adam Strange gone, but it had not been granted a suitable replacement — there just seemed like there was nowhere to go with the stories.
Mark Waid Reinvents Adam Strange in JLA
Adam Strange languished largely unseen until Mark Waid featured him in a two-issue story in JLA in the late 1990s. Waid had been called to write four issues of the title during regular writer Grant Morrison’s absence during its very peak of popularity. Waid devoted two of these issues (#20-21, cover-dated July and August 1998) to a meeting between the League and Adam Strange.
Waid, known as a longtime DC fan, seemed to undo the 1990 mini-series that had offended many fans. Ranagar was no longer a space colony and Alanna no longer dead. No mention was made of Eve or Alanna’s mother, nor of the Rannians’ growing sterility or Sardath’s plan to use Adam Strange as a stud for his daughter and the planet. But in restoring Alanna, Waid retained Aleea, her child with Adam Strange — despite that her birth had only been shown in the 1990 mini-series, now removed from continuity.