Tagged: Irwin Donenfeld

Mike Gold: Time, Space, and Adam Strange

It was, for its time, the coolest comic book on the racks. Lucky for me, having just turned eight years old I was at the perfect age to best enjoy it.

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.

 

Mike Gold: Suicide Squad, John Ostrander, and My Damn Good Luck

Johnny O Squad LogoAre you tired of all the comics-related movies this summer? I didn’t think so, but I do understand why some of the movie critics are. These poor bastards see a couple hundred movies each year, they have little choice over which ones they must review and after a couple years, the daily smell of hot popcorn must become cloying.

Still, a couple of these writers have become complete assholes about it. Fine, fine. It is a great tradition among the professional critic set to cast their noses so high in the air you’d think they’d drown in a drizzle.

Having just seen The Killing Joke in a real movie theater – that part was cool – I’m only a couple days away from seeing Suicide Squad­ at the New York City screening. I’ll be joining my friend, frequent-collaborator and fellow ComicMix columnist John Ostrander, creator of Amanda Waller and the concept of The Suicide Squad.

This will be a highly personal experience for me. John and I have been friends for 45 years now, which speaks highly of his astonishing tolerance. Amanda Waller and Company first got on their feet in my apartment in Evanston Illinois before I returned to DC Comics in 1986. John and I were plotting the Legends miniseries and, since Bob Greenberger was my assistant way back then and he and John had been kicking some ideas around we decided Legends would provide a great launchpad for the Squad.

We really weren’t sneaking John in through DC’s back door, although that image pleases me. When Dick Giordano offered me the job of senior editor, he was hoping that I would bring John and some of my other First Comics collaborators to the company, or, in many cases, back to the company. This was no surprise: it was exactly the same deal, with the same hopes, that DC’s then-executive vice president Irwin Donenfeld made with Dick when he was editor-in-chief at Charlton nearly 20 years previous.

John and I met because we were comic book geeks. We both were at a party dominated by people in Chicago’s burgeoning theater scene, which gave us the likes of John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, David Mamet, Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna. In fact, John co-wrote the play Bloody Bess that starred Franz and Mantegna. When I arrived, the party’s host recognized me and semi-snarlingly said “Oh, we have a couple of other comic book fans here” and I was escorted to a lonely couch where us fanboys couldn’t infect the others. John was sitting on said couch, and we hit it off immediately.

Friendships come and go; the really good ones can exist forever and endure long periods of limited co-existence. I am lucky to have John in my life as a constant – our friendship never lacked personal contact despite my moving from Chicago to New York, back to Chicago, and then back to New York (well, Connecticut, really). John has also moved around, calling Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Michigan his home. We share emails almost daily, phone calls frequently, and in-person visits whenever possible (in the comic book racket, that can be with alarming frequency given the now-12 month convention season), often over amazingly great barbecue. John and I have shared our good times and our bad, the worst of which for each of us being the death of our respective wives thirteen years apart.

John Ostrander has always been there for me, and that is why I am looking forward to the Suicide Squad premiere.

Even if the film breaks.