Review: STRANGE ADVENTURES – COLLECTED EDITION
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Tom King
Colours: Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
Thanks to Penguin/Random House for providing a review copy.
Strange Adventures – Collected Edition: Adam Strange is the hero of Rann, a man famous throughout the galaxy for his bravery and honor. After leading his adopted home to victory in a great planetary war, Adam and his wife Alanna retire to Earth, where they are greeted by cheers, awards, and parades. But not all is as happy and nice as it seems, as the decisions Adam made during battles on Rann come back to haunt his family and threaten the entire DC Universe. Now his fate rests in the hands of one of his fellow heroes, Mr. Terrific, who must choose between saving Adam or the world. Collects Strange Adventures #1-12.
Strange Adventures collects all twelve issues of Tom King’s DC Black Label maxiseries. Even though the cover is designed to look like a well-read, beaten-up book, it is a rather handsome hardcover volume that will look great in any graphic novel collection.
Tom King is becoming a master of the maxiseries format. Some, like Mister Miracle and Omega Men, have been hailed as contemporary classics. But others like Heroes in Crisis are more polarizing. Although the ending is likely to put Strange Adventures in the latter category, I feel that overall this is a fantastic story.
Tom King seems to love detective stories, especially detective stories with an odd twist. Strange Adventures, like Rorschach, Heroes In Crisis, and The Human Target, is another of King’s offbeat mysteries. In this story, the detective is Michael Holt, a.k.a. Mister Terrific. And the prime suspect is the titular hero, Adam Strange.
Adam finds himself accused of murder and turns to the world’s greatest detective Batman for help clearing his name. Interestingly, Batman decides that Mister Terrific is better suited to tackle the mystery. But as Michael investigates, he finds that Adam might actually be guilty of that murder, and possibly even worse.
The art on this series is fantastic. Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner do a brilliant job of illustrating King’s story. They manage to beautifully capture the Silver Age story of the flashback sequences set on the planet Rann as well as the more nuanced atmosphere of the present era.
There is one small detail about the book’s presentation that I absolutely loved but might go unnoticed by some readers. If you look under the book’s dust jacket, you will see that the underlying cover is made to look exactly like the autobiography Adam is promoting in the story (also called Strange Adventures). It even includes a review quote by the Daily Planet’s Lois Lane on the back cover.
If you don’t want the ending spoiled, you should stop reading this review now and come back after you’ve read the story for yourself. But, I can’t adequately review this without touching on this. It turns out that Adam not only committed the murder but also sold out Earth to alien invaders to save Rann and his daughter from the aliens.
I have mixed feelings about this ending. It is certainly a bold, unexpected conclusion to the mystery, and it provides a powerful conclusion. On the other hand, it seems like King has tarnished a beloved Silver Age icon. However, this is a Black Label book, and therefore might not be canon. I can accept this as a non-canon Elseworlds story, but I don’t think it should be incorporated into the DCU’s canonical history.
This brings me to an issue I have with the Black Label line in general. While some stories are clearly outside of the DCU canon, others might be, and for those latter stories, DC doesn’t give any clear signals as to whether the story is canon or not. There is nothing in the story that explicitly marks it as being an Elseworlds story. Batman, Mister Terrific, and other characters are in line with their current canon versions. The only thing that is off is that the Adam in this story is fully capable of treason and murder.
I think DC needs to be upfront about whether any Black Label series should be considered canon or not. If I knew for sure that Strange Adventures was apocryphal, then I could enjoy it without worries that it’s compromising Adam Strange. But as it stands, we will have to wait for a main DCU title to either confirm or contradict the events of this maxiseries.
Strange Adventures is an exciting and powerful story. Despite my misgivings about the way it ends, I quite enjoyed the story. If you can enjoy the story on its own terms without worrying about whether it counts as official DCU history, then you will likely enjoy it too. And if you don’t like it, then consider the hidden message in the final panel: “If you didn’t like this, blame Mitch”.