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In 1957, superheroes were not the dominant subgenre of comic books. You had horror titles, humor books, and lots of science fiction. The editorial director of DC Comics, Irwin Donenfeld, called his editors Jack Schiff & Julius Schwartz together and wanted pitches for science fiction protagonists. Schwartz’s idea was a play on Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic Jon Carter of Mars character. This would be an Earthman struck by a beam of strange energy that transported him to a distant alien world. Because he was the first human on this planet, Schwartz named him Adam. The protagonists debuted in the pages of Showcase #17; the series was a tryout book for new characters before given them their own titles.
Adam Strange is an archaeologist who is teleported while on a dig in Peru. The mysterious Zeta Beams bring him to the planet Rann where he immediately faces off with a native predator. He’s eventually rescued by a woman named Alanna. She takes him to her father, Sardath, one of Rann’s scientists, who explains the beam was sent to Earth to bring back data on intelligent life from the planet. Alanna guesses that exposure to cosmic radiation turned the Zeta Beam into a teleportation ray. Adam eventually falls in love with Alanna and even marries her, but the tragic twist of the character comes in.
Zeta Beams are unpredictable; without warning, Adam will be transported back to Earth. Simultaneously, when he’s going about his day, he will suddenly be pulled to Rann. There are calculations made so that Strange will know when it is about to happen, but it is a constant sense of the clock ticking, that he’s fighting against time itself. Another complication is that the beam isn’t always going to hit where Adam is at the moment, and he has to actively travel around the world to be at the exact point when it happens.
During this time, Adam Strange starred in his own solo feature in the pages of Mystery in Space and made some critical guest appearances in Justice League of America. In the 1970s, Adam helped the League fight space slaver Kanjar Ro and was even manipulated by that villain to be an antagonist in his next appearance. He also starred in an issue that fleshed out League member Red Tornado’s back story by tying that android’s origins to the destructive force of nature, the Tornado Tyrant on Rann. But, like most characters when 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths rolled around, Adam had his continuity reset for the most part.
Adam wasn’t considered a central character by this time, just a supporting player who would occasionally pop up in space stories, so he wasn’t on the plate to deal with in the wake of the Crisis. His origins wouldn’t be re-examined until the 1990’s Adam Strange mini-series. As was the tone of the time, this is a much darker Adam Strange story, keeping in fashion with DC’s success with Watchmen, The Dark Returns, and more. The origin of Adam’s connection to Rann is more or less the same, but the writing is more mature and really examines the problems Adam’s marriage would have with his ping-ponging between worlds.
The political overtones are more pronounced here, with Sardath’s role as the leader of Ramnagar, the capital of Rann, being played up. There’s also resentments by the Rannian people who see Adam as an outsider and that they should be tackling their own problems. Technology is framed as a double-edged sword bringing a comfort level to Rann and driving them into sterility both literally and figuratively. Alanna’s pronouncement that she is pregnant with Adam’s child marks the first birth in a generation. They even have Adam coming close to cheating on Alanna with the doctor treating his ill father, playing up the difficulties of living a life between two worlds. The story isn’t perfect and fails in many ways, but Andy Kubert’s art is magnificent, really finding a healthy balance between the cosmic majesty and grim realities of life.
Adam Strange would disappear from the spotlight until 1996 when he again resumed his perennial guest-star role, this time in a Green Lantern two-parter. He teams up with then Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and the GL Corps replacements The Darkstars. They reverse many of Rann’s changes in the mini-series, basically resetting things closer to the status quo of Adam’s world pre-Crisis. About two years later, Adam would guest in another two-parter, this time in a story written by Mark Waid for JLA where the people of Rann have been enslaved by alien invaders. And then? You guessed, right. Adam slipped into obscurity for another handful of years.
His next appearance would be another opportunity to set up something more significant. In 2004, he starred in a mini-series titled Planet Heist that served as a light reboot of the character. His uniform was changed to a slightly bulkier space suit. Adam appears to have finally found a way to stop dealing with the Zeta Beams and permanently come to live on Rann. However, the planet isn’t there anymore, and the mini-series has him teaming up with other space-based characters to figure out what became of his family and his other home. This would lead directly into the Rann-Thanagar story arc, which was one of many preludes to Infinite Crisis. Rann comes into direct conflict with Thanagar, home to the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkwoman. Strange discovers that the villains behind Infinite Crisis are also responsible for sparking this war but cannot stop the full brunt of the chaos that occurs.
Instead of being shoved into the closet of forgotten characters, Adam immediately became part of the sprawling ensemble cast in 52. This was a weekly series that filled in the missing year gap between Infinite Crisis and the ongoing comics. I previously reviewed that whole series starting here if you’d like to check it out. Adam was lost in space with Animal Man and Starfire. They went through a wild series of episodes, but they all eventually got home, include Adam to Rann, where he could live happily ever after with Alanna and their daughter Aleea. This wouldn’t last, and Adam would experience his most prolonged period of ongoing stories since his inception in the 1950s.
In the mini-series Countdown to Adventure, he’s tossed into another situation with Starfire and Animal Man. Adam has been replaced by Champ Hazard, an Earth actor, who has become the new hero of Rann. Hazard ends up being an unwitting stooge for Lady Styx, a Borg-like alien first encountered by these heroes in the pages of 52. This would lead to Rann-Thangar Holy War, where Adam teamed with Hawkman, Prince Gavyn, Starfire, and more to battle Synnar, a Thangarian demigod who expunges Rann’s atmosphere. Prince Gavyn relocates the Rannian people to his planet of Throneworld. This was followed by a Strange Adventures mini-series that added some pretty convoluted elements to Adam’s backstory, making him destined to be part of the Aberrant Six, a group meant to stop the rise of Synnar. This period ended with the hero’s inclusion in REBELS, a series centered around Brainiac’s son Vril Dox who was heroically trying to save the galaxy from Starro the Conqueror. All of this was flushed down the proverbial drain with the New 52 reboot in 2011.
This new version of Adam Strange first popped up in Justice League United’s pages, where he was now a Canadian, but still an archaeologist. He was in a long-term relationship with a woman named Alanna Lewis. A crazed geneticist named Byth Rok orchestrates an event that could destroy the universe, and Alanna reveals she is actually half-Rannian. She transports Adam and the rest of the League to her homeworld of Rann setting our hero down the path he was always destined for. Both Adam and Alanna would serve as members of the short-lived JLU as the team took on challenges from across space and time. Around the time JLU ended, DC was rolling out the Convergence event, which served as editorial’s way of saying New 52 had kinda been an oopsie and practically rolling things back, but always in that confusing way DC manages to do.
Adam is currently co-starring in a Strange Adventures maxi-series with Mr. Terrific being written by Tom King. I haven’t delved into that, I’m waiting for all twelve issues to have come out, but I suspect there will be a review on this very site when I do.