Strange Adventures #2
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC/Black Label
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“You are Mr. Terrific. The only thing you do not know is that which you choose not to know.”
In two different respects, Strange Adventures proves that every pairing provides the potential for contrast. The first is in reference to the creative team, as artists Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner each tackle a different side of writer Tom King’s overarching narrative. The second exists within the narrative itself, as we meet Michael Holt, a.k.a. Mr. Terrific — a genius superhero recruited by Batman to investigate Adam Strange and the allegations swirling around him.
Batman’s reasoning for this is that the two have something in common. Both have lost family to tragedy. Michael lost his wife and unborn child, while Adam and wife Alanna lost their daughter Aleena. On the surface, this general set-up seems akin to previous King scripts such as Batman #25, which alternated between one conversation with Gotham Girl and another with Catwoman in a dialectic fashion. In that same vein, King used the opening issue to present the readership with one character that potentially has something to hide, while this second introduces one who sets out to uncover the truth.
As a result, this issue fills in the chronology of Gerads’ Earth-set portion, with Mr. Terrific doing the necessary research to take up the case, namely reading Adam’s published book (also entitled Strange Adventures) and seeing what ordinary people think of the spaceman. Accompanied by a pair of T-Spheres, Clayton Cowles’ lettering ensures the character finds himself constantly surrounded by truth and knowledge.
While King’s script does a solid job of introducing the character and his modus operandi in a more restricted page count, it’s fair to say this series slows down a bit in order to accommodate this new narrative before the series really had a chance to get going.
Because Strange Adventures’ sophomore effort still has to set up a major aspect of the series, which is a marked shift compared to King’s previous maxiseries, which made their intentions clearer from the outset. (And that’s before the book’s release schedule was affected thanks to a global pandemic.)
In theory, the book’s bifurcated structure should also threaten the overall momentum. But what prevents this from being the case is that while Adam Strange and Mr. Terrific have different perspectives, Gerads and Shaner’s art-styles are blended within the layouts, sometimes co-existing on the same page rather than just being juxtaposed on alternate ones.
As both are also coloring their own work — Gerads with a sense of subdued realism, Shaner with a glowing radiance — their aesthetic approaches remain distinct even when the form causes them to collide. This is a quality that a dedicated colorist wouldn’t be able to provide in the same way.
This decision results in a texture-based clash that really enhances the book thematically. One page goes from a nighttime scene from Shaner featuring Adam and Alanna on Rann, before cutting to two panels from Gerads, depicting Michael getting his boxing gloves laced up on Earth, captured in a more close-up fashion.
The reverse is also true, with another page going from Michael at a chilly and austere firing range, before switching to Adam flying high above the deserts of Rann thanks to his jetpack.
Coupled with the fact that King isn’t confining his artists to the structural approach of a nine-panel grid — though the three-tier approach means it still shows up once in a while — it all suggests an attempt on his part to push himself as a storyteller and not be beholden to a formal approach he was starting to have diminishing returns with. Of course, it certainly helps that King is working with two artists at the top of their game. Gerads’ grounded storytelling is well juxtaposed against the jaunty stylings of Shaner — both have collaborated with King previously, and that existing bond is likely what causes the book’s formal gambit to succeed.
To speak to Shaner’s narrative set on Rann, this part of the story continues from where the last issue left off. The Rannians have escaped into the desert in order to escape the attacking Pykkts, and their best hope is to forge an alliance with the Hellotaat to build a sufficient army. Referred to as “savages,” the colonialist subtext that King sees in Adam Strange’s creation comes to the forefront, particularly given the Lawrence of Arabia-style outfits Adam and Alanna are sporting. Yet later on in Shaner’s narrative, a comparatively bloody moment makes our perspective start to shift a bit — even Clayton Cowles’ sci-fi “Pew” sound effect helps to strip away the bright-eyed sheen of Shaner’s cartoony style. It only goes to further prove the tight grasp and understanding the creative team have on their material — even in an issue that doesn’t wholly push the narrative forward, an aesthetic choice pushes understanding further.
The extent of what we know is the key thematic concern raised by Strange Adventures. In certain ways, it almost feels reminiscent of Carol Danvers’ big-screen outing last year in Captain Marvel — in that film, the dominant Kree had control of the narrative surrounding the Skrulls and were able to shape Carol’s understanding of the conflict until she was presented with an alternate perspective. Given the themes of narrative and story that anchors Strange Adventures — all the way down to Adam’s bestselling memoir that Mr. Terrific now must tear apart — I wouldn’t be surprised if this series followed a similar path. Contrast may lead to conflict, but those sparks also can lead to illumination — only time will tell where the truth of Strange Adventures really lies.