Saturday, March 2, 2013

365 Comics...61: Adam Strange #1 (1990)

Two days ago I was talking about the power of comics to trigger memories in me (365 Comics #59), but in that case I was talking about a book I'd read already as a kid.  With Adam Strange #1, it's a book I never read and yet it still unlocked another dusty old section of the memory bank.  

Up until mid-1990 I was buying all my comics off the newsstand.  I knew there were comic book stores, store that sold old comics or so I thought, but I wasn't really aware of the direct market.  I kind of wondered why, after issue 18, Doom Patrol just disappeared off the shelves, and why most "new format" comics weren't ever on those newsstands.  I had treated comics like magazines.  A title would come out once a month and linger on the shelves until the next issue came out, and if you missed it then you'd hope to encounter it in a "3-for-$x" department store baggie.

Starting art class in the Fall of 1990 I met other comic book geeks (I didn't really know any prior to that, for most of my childhood friends it was just a part of growing up that they had abandoned into their teenage years).  I was informed of the comic book store on the south side, the dirty, smoky used book store with the Porno section which my mother really didn't like taking me into, but I was rather insistent that I needed to go.  I had been there once or twice before when I was younger, but I didn't know what I was walking into then.  I think I was even less prepared as a teen, if that's possible.

It was a Thursday, new comic book day, and my mind was absolutely blown.  Stacks upon stacks of crisp-spined new comics sitting on top of a long cabinet of long boxes, obviously fresh in from the distributor.  I had never seen so many copies of a single comic, never mind dozens of them.  I looked around and there were hundreds of images of comics I had never, ever seen before (and a few I had)... I started to spin.  Why was everything in bags?  What was up with that?

One of the books on sale that I tuned right into was Adam Strange #1... an incredibly attractive cover from the Kubert brothers, a character I only knew through Who's Who and a $4.95 Canadian price tag?  I was an unemployed teenager... my allowance wasn't going to go very far dropping 5 bucks on a single book.  

But that was the start... where comic book interest turned into comic book obsession.

As for Adam Strange, this is a wonderful little book, part of the trend of the late '80's to diverge from adventure and instead dive into character drama and political intrigue.  "The World Of..." Superman books (Smallville, Metropolis, Krypton) and Hawkworld are other notable examples, all of which step back from the superheroic side of the characters and instead explore the workings of these surreal societies and alien civilizations.  

Adam Strange's father-in-law Sardath has figured out how to make Adam Strange's zeta-beam transfer from Earth to Rann permanent.  Now with Adam's wife Alanna expecting their child, this suits Adam just fine, but does it.  Facing saying goodbye to his home world and what family he has remaining, Adam's parental anxieties begin to surface.  Responsibility and being "tied down" permanently have never been his thing, especially given that his existence on both Rann and Earth is always temporary.  Rann is a constant adrenaline high, an adventure, a place where he stands out and makes a difference.  Writer Richard Brunning doesn't spell this all out, but in the subtlety of his script, one understands Adam's panic.  Meanwhile, Rannian civilization is reaching increasing discordance, with Adam and Alanna's baby (the first in 20 cycles) stirring xenophobia in citizens, as is Sardath's insistence that Adam be accepted as a citizen.  

All this, quite literally, drama, is fleshed out beautifully with wonderful lines from Andy Kubert, while Adam Kubert fills in the gaps with lush watercolors making this one ridiculously good looking book.  It's deep science-fantasy that I'm sure as a teen I would have found a little... slow, but it's a very mature (lots of sexual inference) and engaging read.  

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