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Best Shots Review: Strange Adventures #3 "feels more like an acquired taste" (5/10)

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

Strange Adventures #3
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC / Black Label
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

From the start, Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Evan “Doc” Shaner’s Strange Adventures has been a series about doubt — about whether our heroes can ever truly measure up to their own mythology, or if that inherently glossy veneer is just so much fiction. And as a mystery goes, I still have hope that by the time this series wraps up, King and company will have spun a twisty-turny look at the truth behind Adam Strange’s life. But as far as singles issues go, even with two artistically distinct perspectives, Strange Adventures #3 still feels incomplete.

Whereas the first two issues of this series introduced the series’ main leads — intergalactic war hero Adam Strange, and Mister Terrific, the man investigating Strange for murder — this third issue lacks that forward momentum, and as a result, highlights the weaknesses in King’s dual-narrative structure. Admittedly, Strange Adventures #3 also highlights the weaknesses in monthly serialized comics, as well, particularly after COVID-19 delays — we’re only getting a small bit of the full picture here, and while this chapter might make more sense with the full context, as a standalone installment, it also feels a little early for things to be dragging already.

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

On the one hand, King’s narrative with Mitch Gerads — the investigation into Adam Strange — continues to have tension and heft, as Adam and Alanna Strange have brought the weight of celebrity into what was supposed to be routine procedure. Unlike King and Gerads’ work with Scott Free in Mister Miracle, in which we got a good sense of the character’s internal state from the jump, Adam feels almost purposefully enigmatic — it’s the mask of celebrity, the good-natured smile that stops before you have to show any of your real self to the rest of the world. King and Gerads bring an almost sinister bent to this narrative, sometimes uncomfortable — Gerads’ scratchy linework makes even sun-lit settings feel ominous and claustrophobic, almost as if Adam knows he shouldn’t be here among the true champions of Earth.

Yet I’d also say that beyond some uncomfortable chats with the Justice League, the Stranges’ obfuscation of Mister Terrific’s investigation only takes baby steps in terms of plot progression — which makes King’s flashback sequences with Evan “Doc” Shaner feel hollow. That’s not to say that Shaner is a slouch with the visuals — he’s genuinely terrific, able to shift gears from a truly optimistic and cartoony style to something much more savage and discomfiting, sometimes even on the same page.

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

But because we’ve already been conditioned to view Strange Adventures the same way that Mister Terrific has — through the lens of doubt — even watching Adam fight his way through an alien gladiator pit doesn’t carry the weight you might expect. Some of this is because it’s all flashback — we already know Adam and Alanna survive, winning the Pykkt war in some yet-to-be-defined way — but also because our suspension of disbelief has been purposefully impacted. The readers are already going into the flashbacks thinking they might be totally fabricated — and like the main storyline, Adam still seems to be wearing that surface-level mask that drowns out what he’s truly thinking, even in the face of life-and-death combat.

But maybe that’s the mask that Tom King feels he has to wear, as well. That is the price of celebrity, even in a world as insular as comic books — that even as you pour your heart out onto the page, you have to keep some part of yourself hidden, safe from the prying eyes of strangers and speculators alike. 

(Image credit: DC/Black Label)

But like Sheriff of Babylon, Omega Men, and Mister Miracle before them, Strange Adventures feels like the sort of story that would show King’s distinct point of view, as someone who has served their country but done so in ways that might draw scrutiny, critique, or perhaps even downright vitriol. 

The line between fact and fiction and propaganda is thin, and the maddening thing about Strange Adventures is how slowly it’s playing its hand, hobbling even the twin talents of artists Gerads and Shaner. As a full story, perhaps this chapter will make more sense, feel more satisfying, give more answers — but asking readers to be patient when we're only three issues into the storyline feels like a bug rather than a feature, making Strange Adventures feel more like an acquired taste despite the singular track records of all the creators involved.