In fact, I already was lusting for the comic by the time it hit my local drug store. The house ad promoting the issue had been running in several of the DC comics for a few weeks, and it intrigued the hell out of me. Back in those days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, new comic book heroes were very few and very far between, even though 1958 was something of a boom year. DC had a title called Showcase that offered new concepts a try out – usually three issues. Yes, it was joined by The Brave and the Bold, but not until the summer of 1959. Showcase begat the Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane, the Metal Men, and the silver age Flash, Green Lantern and The Atom… among others.
Whereas it isn’t hard to get an eight-year old all excited, this comic book had a pedigree that few others approached. It was created by, if you’ll forgive the word, legends. Julius Schwartz was the editor and the ringleader, and he reached for his A team. Gardner Fox, arguably the most accomplished comics writer in American history, did the scripting and he co-plotted it with fellow comics writer and science fiction icon Edmond Hamilton, along with the aforementioned Julie Schwartz. The cover artist was Gil Kane, and the story artist was Mike Sekowsky.
The series was called Adam Strange. It featured a run-of-the-mill Earthling who found himself transported by Zeta Beam to the planet Rann where he fell in love with the chief scientist’s daughter while flying around, usually with her, vanquishing alien invasions and monsters and such. When the Zeta Beam wore off Adam faded back to Earth, usually right after he saved the day but right before he could kiss his lover. That drove him bugfuck, and back on Earth he figured out where and when that Zeta Beam would strike next… usually just in time to save Rann once again.
What made Adam Strange work – in 1958 – was the costume. It was classic science fiction spaceman. Jet-pack, helmet, ray gun, and all red with white accents. It was designed by still another legend, Murphy Anderson. Murphy had been drawing science fiction heroes since 1944. In fact, he drew the newspaper adventures of one of the very first such heroes, Buck Rogers, and Buck’s influence on Adam’s costume was quite evident – and very welcome.
The whole thing started as a contest. DC executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld thought what the world needed was a new s-f hero and he challenged editors Julius Schwartz and Jack Schiff. Jack’s Space Ranger was published in Showcase #15 and #16; Adam Strange lived in the next three issues.
As it turned out, neither character won – yet neither character lost, either. Adam Strange became the lead feature in Mystery In Space, drawn by the near-mythic Carmine Infantino and always occupying the cover, while Space Ranger lived in Tales of the Unexpected. For the record: Space Ranger also was created by Gardner Fox and Edmond Hamilton, but the two were as different as night and day. The main difference: Space Ranger was rather typical, and Adam Strange was exciting.
Both series lasted until the mid-60s. By that time, the United States and Russia had sent a passel of humans (and a few dogs) into outer space, and the reality of what you could see on the home screen was vastly more compelling than 1950s science fiction heroes.
Of course, in comic books nothing ever goes away, and here Adam got the best of the Ranger. Adam Strange remains a vital force in the DC Universe to this day, and now Adam Strange is going to enjoy something of a starring role in the latest DC teevee show, Krypton. Mindy Newell reported on this Monday, although she revealed only a fraction of our deeply existentialist conversation.
I’m glad to see Adam is still around, but I’m reminded of DC publisher Jenette Kahn’s reaction to the character back in 1977 when Jack C. Harris and I discussed a run in the revived Showcase. She took home a couple bound volumes from the library, read them over the weekend, came back and pronounced it “dated.”
Yup. It was. And that was the point. But DC needed to develop its astrophysical borders, so Jack pretty much kept the story, which also featured Hawkman and Hawkwoman. We renamed the series Hawkman, and it did okay.
Amusingly, Hawkwoman (or Hawkgirl) will be joining Adam Strange in the new Krypton series. This will not be the same woman from the current DC/CW teevee shows as these shows (except Supergirl) inhabit a parallel universe in which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman do not exist.
As of yet.
Television has learned a lot from comic books.