We’ve previously covered the history of Adam Strange, up until the 2004-2005 mini-series Adam Strange, which led into The Rann-Thanagar War. Now, it’s time to address that mini-series…
The Adam Strange mini-series launched in September 2004 was only the second series to bear the character’s name and, at eight issues, was the longest. The writer would by Andy Diggle, known for his work on Vertigo’s The Losers. The capable and stylish Pascal Ferry would provide the art.
Few noticed this mini-series starring a perhaps largely forgotten and certainly not especially commercial hero. DC was still in the throws of Identity Crisis, which was garnering so much attention that no one seemed to notice little Adam Strange. Sales were low.
Then rumors began circulating, largely due to comics gossip columnist Rich Johnston, that Adam Strange would lead into a summer crossover entitled The Rann-Thanagar War. No one knew at that time that The Rann-Thanagar War would be only one of four mini-series, nor how it would tie into the occasional rumors about a pending sequel of sorts to Crisis on Infinite Earths. At the same time, readers were beginning to notice that the series itself was worthwhile, fun in both script and art. Around issue #4, DC solicited DC Countdown #1, increasing speculation as to what the company had planned. Sales were starting to rise, with the sparsely-ordered early issues disappearing from stores. Around issue #5, DC solicited The OMAC Project and Day of Vengeance. A month later, around issue #6, DC solicited The Rann-Thanagar War and Villains United. As the internet filled with speculation and buzz about the four mini-series, the rumors about Adam Strange‘s tie to The Rann-Thanagar Warnow seemed confirmed. Stores that had ordered few copies of Adam Strange now found the mini-series selling out. Around issue #7, DC released DC Countdown #1, revealing that the upcoming four mini-series would lead into something called Infinite Crisis. By the conclusion of Adam Strange with #8, those mini-series had begun publication. The last few issues ofAdam Strange flew off the new comics racks of comic book stores; demand had outstripped supply.
DC failed to advertise on Adam Strange‘s ties with its upcoming build-up to Infinite Crisis, perhaps not wanting to show its cards too soon so as to avoid distracting from Identity Crisis. In fact, narrative threads were already being laid across the DC super-hero line. Part of the joy of the run-up to Infinite Crisis was discovering and guessing at these threads. But if DC had failed to promote Adam Strange as important to a coming major crossover the likes of which the company had never seen, it capitalized on the series once Countdown to Infinite Crisis was underway, collecting Adam Strange into a trade paperback entitled Adam Strange: Planet Heist and releasing it a few months after the mini-series itself had concluded. While it sold ably, its sales hardly touched those of DC’s hastily produced Prelude to Infinite Crisis, probably because that trade paperback bore the Infinite Crisis name.
Even without its ties to Infinite Crisis, however, this second Adam Strange mini-series was worthwhile in its own right. Diggle filled the script with various DC outer space characters, such as the Omega Men, and provided dramatic cliffhanger after cliffhanger in the manner of classic science fiction serials. Pascal Ferry’s artwork, while not the weightless grace of classic Adam Strange artwork, offered a stylized modern version of the same. It was sleek but not overly realistic, modern yet without losing that pulpy quality. Dave McCaig’s masterful colors added layer after layer of texture, produced by more shades of hues than one’s eyes could even appreciate. The overall effect was something decidedly contemporary yet honoring the pulp science fiction tradition from which Adam Strange had come.
It was an appropriate tone. Adam Strange himself was updated. Ferry gave the character a sleeker, more stylized costume without changing its basic elements. The series also gave him transparent force shields around this costume, allowing him to venture into the void of space without more than his costume for the first time. The storyline allowed readers an introduction to Adam Strange in his own right, introducting Rannian elements bit by bit. An odyssey in itself, complete with a conspiracy and a new secret weapon that could change the universe, the story also tied Adam Strange into DC’s wider setting of outer space.
The mini-series may not have been a masterpiece, but it was a major artistic work in its own right, an updated outer space epic in an era that had forgotten how much fun they could be.
Andy Diggle story; Pascal Ferry art; Pascal Ferry cover; cover-dated November 2004
Adam Strange opens on Earth with a cityscape that seems to mix the industrial with the retrofuturistic — great plumes of smoke loft up through elevated walkways connecting buildings and graceful modern figures flowing out of the functional architecture. We don’t know it yet, but this isGotham City. The first word is Adam Strange’s, given in narration: “God, I hate this planet.”
As the story opens, Adam is being questioned by a policeman over some incident that trashed part of the city. Witnesses described, as the policeman notes mockingly, “theperpetrator flying’ around with — an’ I quote — ‘a jet-pack an’ ray guns.” Adam explains that he’s an outer space adventurer, but the policeman’s not having it, mockingly calling Adam “Space Ranger” — a reference to another DC sci-fi character, though the policeman doesn’t seem to know it and readers catching the reference actually confuses the mocking nature of the comment. Adam says he doesn’t know who attacked the city and doesn’t help himself by suggesting that it might have been “some alien foe I fought in the past” and suggesting that they contact the Justice League. To the policeman, Adam is just another costumed crazy, a copycat like “a Sunday school teacher” who, just “yesterday,” claimed to be Wonder Woman. “Personally,” the detective continues, “I don’t think he had the legs for it.”
The cop gives Adam on last chance to tell his story, letting Adam narrate a flashback retelling his story. He looks like Indiana Jones, an archaeologist adventurer created after Adam Strange, as we see him teleported to Rann for the first time. Pascal Ferry meets or exceeds all of his predecessors in illustrating Rann’s spires, giving them a marvelous geometric precision. Adam narrates that Rann’s gene pool had deteriorated and its people had become over-reliant on machines. Adam says that he became Rann’s champion, but he dwells on how happy he was on Rann, on Alanna’s beauty, and how their daughter Aleea was “the first natural birth on Rann in decades.” He reminds us how the Zeta Beam would wear off, but how he’d catch another one and return to his loving Rannian family.
The cop interrupts, wanting to know how this leads to Adam Strange waking up drunk in the rubble of his apartment, but Adam continues his story. Sardath improved the Zeta Beam, allowing Adam to stay on Rann. He went back to Earth to say clean out his affairs, but the next Zeta Beam never arrived. He moved to Gotham and waited for his super-hero friends to report. Six months ago, he says, Superman showed up at his apartment and told him that Rann’s primary star went supernova and the solar system had been destroyed. There was no time for anyone to escape: Adam’s family was gone.
One before, Adam tells us, he thought that he’d lost Alanna and was devastated. Now, his entire family gone, he took to drinking each night. Then two detectives showed up, asking about how his apartment block was destroyed and a photo of him with his jetpack found in the rubble.
Unimpressed, the cop and his partner decide to lock Adam up in Arkham Asylum. As two different cops are transporting Adam to a car, presumably to take him to Arkham, he breaks free of his handcuffs and knocks them out. Then Adam sees a glow that reminds him of the Zeta Beam’s energy signature. Rushing to it, he finds two bizarre aliens, one in a modified version of his own suit, complete with cannons. They affirm his identity by scanning him for Zeta radiation and admit that they destroyed his apartment block.
The aliens not in a version of Adam’s own outfit lifts Adam into the sky and demands to know what’s happened to Rann, saying the planet somehow disappeared. Throwing Adam through the air to intimidate him, Adam uses his knowledge of aerial combat to slam down into the alien and rip off his jetpack. It’s a bit large for Adam, and he veers out of control, smashing into a window of the WayneCorp skyscraper. He finds a couple hidden blasters in the jetback and flies out of the building, blasting away at the other alien who wears a modified version of Adam’s costume and who immediately fires missiles as Adam.
As they fire upon each other, an image consuming a full page, the issue comes to an end.
Already, the series has a very different tone from earlier Adam Strange stories. The cop’s comment about the crazy Wonder Woman impersonator has the tone of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, but the city and the story to follow certainly don’t have the same dark tone. The idea of Adam, stranded on Earth with the Zeta Beams unexplicably having stopped, is a wonderfully evocative one. Adam Strange, it would seem, has been deconstructed once again — but in the conflict with the two aliens that ends the issue, we have our first glimpse that things won’t always be this way.
The real star of the first issue is the artwork of Pascal Ferry and the coloring of Dave McCaig. Adam never appears in costume except in flashback and on the cover, but it’s a glorious flashback, full of grace. In a scene with his family, a titanic sculpted face juts into the family’s futuristic, utopian home. It’s this kind of throw-away detail that gives us a sense of wonder that has been missing from Adam Strange stories, arguably since his classic stories in Mystery in Space. The coloring fleshes out characters not only with gradients but with a technique reminiscent of zip-a-tone, a process by which tone was physically added to the artwork through the application of strips containing dots of greater or lesser closeness. The effect of all of this is something classic, new and stylized yet evocative of all the grace and beauty of older stories.
It’s not a stellar first issue — Adam stays on Earth and only gets to fight a couple aliens. But it’s full of potential that would be realized in later issues.
Andy Diggle story; Pascal Ferry art; Pascal Ferry cover; cover-dated December 2004
The second issue opens with a LexAir flight inbound to Gotham City being contacted about a couple of bogeys on radar. It’s Adam Strange and the alien, battling it out in the skies over Gotham.
With missiles on his tail, Adam heads into the city and lets a bunch slam into the sign on the WayneCorp building. Adam realizes that the missles aren’t just homing missiles but are communicating with each other and are learning from each other’s mistakes. Whipping out his guns, he blasts the last two missiles — but they explode too close, sending Adam careening onto an elevated floor of a skyscraper under construction, shorting out his jetpack.
Adam — who clearly knows his stuff — recognizes the jetpack as “a Naiman-Farrish G-420 Skyhawk” and knows that it will begin its restart sequence in fifteen seconds. The armored alien lands and says that Adam killed its boyfriend, the alien Adam let fall to the ground when he stole his jetpack last issue. Though paid to take Adam alive, the alien now just wants Adam dead. In a cool sequence, Adam runs to the edge of the floor and jumps off it, calculating that it’ll have about 12 seconds before he hits the ground — hopefully long enough for the jetpack to reboot. As he leaps, the alien gets off another missile, so that as Adam spreads out his body to slow his fall, the missile is also gaining. He hits a button, engaging the jetpack, and it kicks in.
Arcing upward before hitting the ground, Adam now begins leading the missile around, but it’s learned from the others and won’t be slammed into the corridors of the half-constructed building. So Adam hopes that it isn’t attuned to him personally and is just a heat-seeker. He cuts his jetpack and lets the missle slam into the alien, who falls off the building and crashes into the street below.
Adam pulls off the alien’s helmet, wondering how the alien got a Zeta Beam device and a suit that looks Rannian in design. As Adam demands t know who sent the alien, the armor audibly begins its self-destruct sequence. Adam narrates that the armor has a fusion reactor and would detonate with nuclear force in downtown Gotham, so he persuades the alien to fire up the armor’s thrusters. Because the armor’s steering is shot, Adam holds onto it and physically steers. They shoot high into the sky, and the alien asks how Adam plans to get him out of the armor. Adam just lets the alien loose to explode high above Gotham.
Adam now has all he needs to believe that that Rann’s destruction was faked and that his wife and daughter are still alive. He heads to his apartment, finding it trashed but hardly destroyed with the entire block, as the cops had apparently exaggerated last issue. The aliens apparently found it by tracking the Zeta radiation on so much in the apartment, then gotten upset when Adam wasn’t there. Opening a vault hidden behind the refrigerator, Adam finds a new outfit, apparently a recent gift from Sardath. When he puts it on, it speaks to inform Adam about its various systems going online. It has a power cell and a life support system, not to mention what looks like a forcefield that appears only in sections around Strange’s body, as well as a heads-up display that tracks targets.
As Adam flies off, determined to leave Earth — “this backwater dirtball” –behind him, some cops intervene and Adam uses his gun, set on stun, to escape.
Then he does something we’ve never seen him before: head into space and look down on Earth, wearing nothing but his own costume. He activates the Zeta Beam device he took from the alien, setting it for Alpha Centauri and Rann. As his narration points out, he’s out to solve a “little mystery in space” — a reference to the title that once was his home.
Hoping that he’s not “beaming myself into the path of an exploding supernova,” he arrives to find Alpha Centauri itself an expanding shell, having indeed gone supernova. His armor begins to warn him immediately of the heat and radiation levels. He finds planetary debris, but the Alpha Centauri system had planets other than Rann. He also finds massive levels of Zeta radiation and comes to the conclusion that “somebody stole the planet!”
As Adam sets the Zeta Beam device to get him out of there, it explodes from the stellar heat, leaving Adam stranded with his suit’s systems beginning to fail.
It’s a great cliffhanger.
Andy Diggle story; Pascal Ferry art; Pascal Ferry cover; cover-dated January 2005
The third issue begins with Adam Strane waking up. Alanna tells him that it was all a dream, and little Aleea’s there too. But as they go to the window, the sun seems too bright. As Adam cradles his daughter, the light of the supernova burns off their flesh.
It’s all a hallucination as Adam Strange floats at the outskirts of the expanding plasma that is all that remains of Alpha Centauri. He has no idea how much time has passed — perhaps days or weeks. The suit can keep him alive for years by recycling air and waste, and he wonders if it will run out before the radiation can kill him.
A shape approaches, and Adam thinks it can’t be real until it’s beside him and clearly a Thanagarian ship. Inside, the ship’s crew communicates with its female commander, telling her that they’ve found someone alive and that he’s not Rannian but a “primitive” — someone with “traces of fossil fuel particulates in the lungs.” The commander takes a look at a monitor, recognizes him, and orders him brought aboard.
Onboard, an all-but naked Adam Strange is evaluated by Thanagarian machines as the ship’s commander introduces herself as “Wing Commander Sh’ri Valkyr of theThanagar Imperial Fleet.” She tells him that he would have survived only hours but that the Thanagarian technology has cured him. She’s a cocky one, insulting both Adam Strange’s strength and Rann.
She informs him that “suspicion has fallen upon Thanagar as being somehowresponsible” for Alpha Centauri’s supernova. She says that his Zeta Beam device is being repaired, and Adam adds that they’re certainly trying to reverse-engineer it as well. He points out that Thanagar has wanted Zeta Beam technology for years, but she insists that if this were so, “we would simply have taken it.” Adam insists on being given some clothes, apparently uninterested in following doctors’ orders to stay in bed.
Later, Sh’ri Valkyr instructs her ship’s engineer to hide a miniature tracker in the Zeta Beam device. The engineer agrees, though it’s notable that he’s impressed with the tracker’s miniaturization.
Still later, Valkyr talks to Adam Strange, now back in costume and using the ship’s equipment, with her permission, to scan the nova remnant — which he’s discovered is not Alpha Centauri. The nova’s molecular composition matches a star in the ship’s database: TK-421, “a final-stage supermassive red giant in the Hydra Nebula” that was about to explode. Adam says they have to investigate.
Later, Valkyr is talking with Councilor Thrall, who refuses to let her head off to the Hydra Nebula. His theory is that Adam is trying to hide his own guilt, and he orders Valkyr to bring Adam under arrest to Thanagar. Thrall says that the Guardians of Oa, creators of the Green Lanterns, are no more — Thrall wants the galaxy to see Thanagar trying and executing Adam. Valkyr is clearly reluctant, but seems to put duty above her own feeling.
When a couple wingmen arrive to arrest Adam Strange, he flies off. Another Thanagarian, attacking Adam, warns him not to use his blasters lest he breach the ship’s hull. Adam elbows the wingman in the face and decides to escape by retrieving the Zeta Beam device. But Valkyr herself descends upon him, securing him with her blades, which she says can cut his head off if she shrugs. Adam Strange is indeed a prisoner.
Arriving on Thanagar, Valkyr leads Adam through the streets in heavy, cinematic chains. Councilor Thrall says that she’ll be acting as his defense attorney. Though he doesn’t say it, Thrall himself will act as prosecuting attorney.
Trials are great drama, even rigged ones. As the trial opens, the judge formerly pronounces the charges: specifically, that Adam Strange has committed genocide against Rann. Adam refuses to answer the charges, saying that everyone knows the trial’s rigged.
As Thrall questions Adam, he says that he believes Rann wasn’t destroyed but beamed away, along with its entire solar system, and replaced with a supernova. Asked for evidence, he cites how he was attacked (in the first two issues) on Earth by two alien bounty hunters who claimed that Rann had disappeared — but they’re dead and can’t testify.
Thrall asks Valkyr if her ship found any traces of Rann’s remains, and she says that it did not. Then he asks her if she would expect it to, given that the supernova had engulfed the planet, and again she says no.
Adam’s theory is thus deemed “pure conjecture and shall therefore be disregarded.”
Another Thanagarian continues the questioning. He points out that the supernova had massive levels of Zeta radiation and that Adam was carrying a Zeta Beam device when he was rescued. He calls this a great coincidence.
Adam yells out to Valkyr, telling her to tell the court about the red giant with the same molecular structure as the supernova remnant, but she rests the defense’s case instead.
The court finds Adam guilty and sentences him to be executed, in ancient Earth custom, by beheading.
On a floating city with a massive Hawk sculpture that serves as an arena, Councilor Thrall promises Valkyr that she’ll be rewarded for her participation in the trial. He says that he’s had doubts about her due to her “unorthodox spiritual beliefs” but that she’s proven herself. But she excuses herself, apparently out of disgust with the proceedings.
He orders the execution to proceed, and a guard shocks Adam with an energy weapon, forcing him to his knees. The bulky executioner looks forward to his task, asking if humans “bleed red like realpeople.” Thrall asks the assembled crowd its will, and it chants for Adam to be killed. The executioner raises his axe…
Another great cliffhanger.
Andy Diggle story; Pascal Ferry art; Pascal Ferry cover; cover-dated February 2005
The fourth issue begins with the axe about to drop — literally. But Adam Strange is surrounded by a sphere of energy, then disappears.
He finds himself teleported to a remote location where Valkyr greets him. She calls it her “little love nest,” continuing her flirtation with him. Pointing out that this is the secondtime she’s saved his life, he asks why — especially after she failed to defend him in court. She explains that she couldn’t defend him, since the trial was fixed — doing so would merely have meant her death. Councilor Thrall wanted to use Adam’s execution to build his popularity, but she sees this as ignoring Thanagarian foreign relations. Thanagar is already suspected in Rann’s destruction, and “scapegoating an alien” only makes the empire look more guilty. She gives him his Zeta Beam device and tells him to find his loved ones or those responsible. With a thanks, Adam teleports away. When he’s gone, she promises that he will die — something her “master will make sure of.”
Arriving in the Hydra Nebula, Adam finds the sun gone and Zeta radiation levels high. He also finds “an old stellar research station” that looks like the outline of a cube with a sphere inside it and a dish-like monitor device attached to one side. He wonders if the station is Rannian in design and recalls the Zeta Beam device he took from the alien bounty hunters.
Inside, we see the Omega Men, a group of DC space rebels. You don’t need to know that they have a history, though, as they’re introduced well-enough later — in fact, they’re in the dark here so as to partially obscure their identities. One of them — Seer, a brain in a weird, purple, insect-like robotic body, is having a vision of someone made of light who’s traveling somewhere. Tigorr, the team’s leader, disparages these ambiguous visions. Then the visionary announces that “he’s here.”
Adam Strange is just then entering the station, which has air but otherwise looks abandoned, with no lights on and no gravity. As he moves through the station’s corridors, a demonic-looking winged female alien attacks him. She’s Harpis and is one of the Omega Men. They briefly fight, but Adam captures her and holds her with his blaster. Expressing his frustration at recent events, he insists that she give him some answers.
A hand hits a button, restoring gravity. It’s Tigorr, along with the rest of the Omega Men, now in the light. Tigorr asks Adam Strange who he is, and he tells them his name. Doc, who has a wide head consisting of what looks like a yellow light, notices that Adam must have been the one in the vision earlier. The rocky Broot recognizes Adam’s name. Adam demands to be told anything they know about the disappearance of Rann. In refusing to be intimidated, Tigorr calls his team the Omega Men. Adam knows the name, calling them “some kind of terrorist outfit operating out of the Vega system” and asks what they’re doing out there. Tigorr says that they’re not terrorists but freedom fighters.
As they all saunter deeper into the structure, Tigorr introduces the rest of the Omega Men, though by name only, as “Broot, Doc, Elu, Artin, Seer, Cecilia, Dark Flea, Chantale an’ Vandal” (plus, of course, Tigorr himself and the demonic Harpis) — there’s unfortunately no visual match between the names and the characters. Tigorr explains that they’re there to lay low because the Spider Guild is hunting them for bombing one of the guild’s “flesh farms,” from which they liberated Seer. The Spider Guild wanted to clone her brain to produce a line of precognitives. Tigorr says that they’ve learned to trust Seer’s choppy visions, but recently she’s been predicting something horrible. Elu, a floating ball of light, points out that “every race” has some version of the end of the universe, which Doc chimes in to call “the Omega Event.” Tigorr explains that they’re also in the station because Seer figures that it has something to do with what’s coming and that they’ve been waiting there for some six months for the arrival of someone they now know to have been Adam Strange.
It’s a wonderful turn for readers, but Adam returns the subject to his missing family. We don’t stick around to hear his tale retold, however, instead returning to Thanagar. There, Sh-ri Valkyr activates a hidden device within a statue, which releases what looks like a Zeta Beamer. Kneeling, she’s teleported into a chamber where she prostrates herself before a glowing blue and black being. He explains that his patience is wearing thin and says that he has “bestrode the galaxies like a god” only to be forced into his present, shadowy, incorporeal form. She pleads patience, saying that the High Council suspects nothing but that she must not act too soon. She calls him “the Devourer, the End Point” and says that he’s been troubled by “the meddling of mortal insects” but will soon find corporality through Adam Strange’s unwitting help. He says that he won’t just be made physical, but that he will “be made… all” — and that she will be rewarded along with “all the faithful.”
Later, Valkyr meets with a Durlan, a shape-shifting alien species that normally appear as cloaked figures with tendrils coming out from under their hood. In response to the Durlan’s apparent disrespect, Valkyr identifies their location as “the temple of theLuciphage,” but the Durlan says that he’s not paid for respect. Valkyr gives him a Zeta Beam device, reverse-engineered from Adam’s. He knows his orders. He also refers to Adam’s two alien attackers from the first two issues, revealing that Valkyr hired them before hiring the Durlan. It seems that her arrival at Alpha Centauri was no coincidence…
Back on the space station, Doc is awaking Adam Strange from slumber. He asks Adam how Adam can know for certain that his family is still alive. Adam asks only if Doc has ever been in love. When the answer is yes, Adam says only that he must know the answer.
As Adam reaches Tigorr later, Tigorr reveals that when they arrived in the station, its reactor was about to explode but they shut it down. He wonders why someone would set the reactor to self-destruct and if the station has something to find. Searching the station, they found a strange device that he now wants to show Adam Strange. Adam asks if it’s some sort of containment chamber, but Tigorr says he doesn’t know. They tried to cut it, but it wouldn’t even scratch. Artin, who has a large transparent tube-like enclosure for a head and looks like a sophisticated robot, adds that they couldn’t access the device’s controls either. Perhaps noting that the device, like the station, looks vaguely Rannian in design, Adam enters his own security code into the control console — and finds that it activates.
The device opens, pouring light out of its cracks. Inside is a giant vertical device with balls of light swirling around it.
Tigorr calls Doc and tells him to bring Seer down to get a look at it. Seer seems out of it, and Doc — jokingly or not — says that he’s drugged.
Then there’s a flash of light in an adjacent room that we recognize at the effect of a Zeta Beam. Doc goes inside the room to investigate and finds the Durlan, who lurches forward, growing a fanged leech of a head that appears poised to swallow poor Doc.
Not quite as good a cliffhanger as the previous ones, but the issue has made up for it with events on Thanagar, including the revelation that Sh-ri Valkyr hired Adam’s attackers from the first two issues and that she has a secret agenda — just as the mini-series reaches its half-way point.
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“Your Guide to Infinite Crisis” attempts to spell out and outline the whole of this sprawling, complicated crossover. It has several other installments, organized by the narrative thread under discussion:
The OMAC Project
- DC Countdown
- The OMAC Project
- “Sacrifice” Concludes
- The OMAC Project Concludes
- “Sacrifice” Aftermath
- Tie-Ins to The OMAC Project #6
Day of Vengeance
The Rann-Thanagar War
- A Brief History of Adam Strange
- you’re reading “Adam Strange: Planet Heist”
- “Adam Strange: Planet Heist” Concludes
- A Brief History of Hawkman
- A Brief History of Hawkman, Part 2
- Hawkman #46
- The Rann-Thanagar War
- The Rann-Thanagar War Concludes
- “Coalition in Crisis”
- The Rann / Thanagar War Special
The Return of Donna Troy
Crisis of Conscience
- Identity Crisis Epilogue
- Dr. Light in Teen Titans
- “Crisis of Conscience”
- “Crisis of Conscience” Epilogue