Strange Adventures (2021)
Reprints Strange Adventures #1-12
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerards and Doc Shaner
Tom King’s work is such a perfect distillation of the current state of mythic media in America today. On the surface, it looks incredible; he has some of the best artistic collaborators out there right now. Mitch Gerards delivered some gorgeously dynamic work in Mister Miracle and continues here. Alongside Gerards, handling flashbacks is MVP Doc Shaner. In an interview, King stated that Shaner draws comics the way people imagine they should look. He is definitely right on that one; it’s a beautiful combination of classical forms and sparks of more modern comics art. You will love each page of this series as it presents some gorgeous visuals. Yet, King himself is a troubling figure. He’s become a punching bag for the eye-willingly ignorant comicsgate right-wing morons. They are right to not like him, but they do so for all the wrong reasons.
For those unfamiliar with the Adam Strange character, I wrote up a profile of him previously, but all you really need to know is it was a 1960s variation on John Carter of Mars. Carter, in turn, was part of a large body of colonial literature where white men ventured off into exotic foreign lands to prove their mettle. The result was always an Other-ing of non-white characters being transposed into sycophantic sidekicks or inhuman antagonists. It was infrequent that the native characters ever had goals & dreams of their own. Adam Strange sort of sidestepped those by presenting the alien natives of Rann as white people just like Adam.
In Strange Adventures, an out of continuity “Black Label” series, Adam is back on Earth following the defeat of the brutal Pyykt army. He’s promoting a memoir he’s written about his life and this experience with his wife, Alanna, serving as Adam’s handler. During a book signing, a man accosts Adam shouting that the supposed hero is actually a perpetrator of genocide. Days later, this man is found dead from a laser blast that matches the Rannian weapons Adam carries. An investigation needs to happen, and Batman looks for a neutral party finding one in Mister Terrific. Terrific, aka Mike Holt, is a highly brilliant inventor and businessman who conducts his investigation with cold precision. Alanna is immediately hostile while Adam is passive, hinting that he isn’t guilty of the crime.
It is completely ridiculous when you start to peel back the layers of what this whole story is about. Strange Adventures came out of Tom King getting upset that people on Twitter have said it is terrible he served as a CIA operative in Iraq. These people are correct; the United States’ presence in Iraq was predicated on lies and helped to further destabilize a region the Western world just continues to decimate as the decades roll by. He also is adamant about commenting on “post-truth” and the Trumpian shift in politics. At one point, Alanna even cuts a deal with Trump. While I hate the fascists that seem to have growing power in America to the point my honest feelings about them would get me TOS’ed here, I think it’s lazy writing to lean on such prominent figures of ridicule. I appreciate more thoughtful writing, something King is skilled at pretending to give audiences.
What’s very lazy here is that King is totally stuck regurgitating the same narratives at this point. The story always hinges on one narrative that is a lie, and the truth eventually comes out. You see this in Mister Miracle, Heroes in Crisis, Rorschach, on and on. For me, the catch here is that King isn’t a critic of the CIA; instead, he firmly upholds the broken neoliberal ideology that has seen the ruin of many countries under the hands of his former (?) employer. Strange Adventures wants to critique Adam Strange’s false hero narrative and reveal that his enemies are evil and deserve to die. The problem is that Adam was put in a position where he had to work alongside them. There’s never any depth given to the Pyykt; they are literally faceless enemies.
My annoyance with most comics journalism out there about King’s work is that it takes such a surface-level approach. If they dislike the books, it’s merely centered on the treatment of popular characters rather than fundamental in-depth analysis of his work. Yet, anything you find going a bit deeper is full of praise, buying into the neoliberal conceits of King’s philosophy. If anything, the reaction to the presence of a propagandist in comics is a continued reflection of the shallow nature of the medium, at least within the borders of the United States. King is a writer I will read everything from because he is a peek behind the curtain of American media at the end of the day. Superhero media is ultimately imperialist propaganda, purporting warped views of superiority and identity. Of course, this means reading King is essential, but exploring what he is saying through his work is vital.