Among the many things gripping the imaginations of children in the late 1950s were the emerging superheroes of the Silver Age of comics (1956–1969) and the beginnings of the space race. DC Comics decided to combine those two interests by launching a pair of space heroes in its tryout comic book Showcase. The first to appear was the futuristic spaceman, Space Ranger, while the second (who premiered in Showcase #17 in late 1958) was Adam Strange, overseen by longtime science fiction fan and editor Julius Schwartz. His first choice as artist was Carmine Infantino, but, as Infantino was currently entertaining the troops in Korea, Mike Sekowsky was drafted in for the three Showcase issues. When these proved popular, Strange moved over to the Mystery in Space comic, where he enjoyed a run of fifty issues, most of them drawn by Infantino and written by the prolific Gardner Fox.
Strange is first seen deep in the Andes, searching for lost cities, when some sort of beam suddenly transports him light years across the universe to the planet Rann, where he is confronted by those science-fiction staples, the pretty girl and the raging monster. Having dispatched the beast, Strange and his maiden-in-distress (rejoicing in the suitably off-worldly name Alanna) travel to the nearest city with her father, a scientist called Sardath. It turns out that the transporter ray—a zeta-beam—was only intended to contact far-off planets and that Strange’s precipitous arrival on Rann was accidental. Unfortunately, the effect of the beam wears off after a while, and Strange is zapped back to Earth, but he has by then developed a taste for saving far-off worlds (and far-off girls called Alanna). So each story for the next six years begins with Strange whizzing around the world to catch the next zeta-beam and zoom off back to Rann.
Probably no comic series better typifies the hope and optimism of the postwar “new frontier” than Adam Strange under Fox and Infantino. Even his costume—a sleek red suit with aerodynamic jet pack and a shark-fin on his cowl (rather resembling the tail fins popular on cars of the late 1950s and early 1960s)—seemed to be emblematic of the era. Infantino’s art was dynamic, slick, and very stylish, and the strip was littered with the sort of stark, elegant, and futuristic cities that architect Frank Lloyd Wright would have been proud of. Strange himself was the thinking man’s superhero, preferring to use his intellect rather than his fists to defeat the menace of the week (although having his own ray gun also came in handy).
And menaces there certainly were. Seemingly every time that Strange beamed down he was confronted by a panicking Alanna, describing yet another world-shattering horror, be it Jakarta the Dust Devil (a sort of sentient dust storm); a living, tentacled world; or Ulthoon the living tornado. A particularly entertaining alien race were the cube-headed Vantorians, who struck terror into their enemies with their deadly vacuum cleaners. For much of his run, Strange seemed to exist in a fictional world of his own, though he did share a villain—the insect-eyed Konjar Ro—with DC’s superhero team the Justice League, resulting in a memorable meeting with those adventurers.
Although the strip had a devoted following, it was never a massive seller, and when Fox and Infantino were moved over to revive the failing Detective Comics the strip nose-dived in popularity. It struggled on for a further ten issues before being replaced by the ludicrous Ultra the Multi-Alien, and Strange was banished to a life of occasional guest spots and the odd backup series. In a touching 1970s issue of The Justice League, Strange and Alanna finally got married, and many years later the pair appeared in a few issues of Alan Moore’s revolutionary Swamp Thing comic. That brief revival prompted an ill-conceived, darker 1990 miniseries that was not well received by fans, and perhaps showed that the feature was very much a product of a more innocent time, with no place in a more cynical real world. —DAR