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DC Comics Presents Mystery in Space

Posted: Monday, August 9, 2004
By: Michael Deeley



“Crisis on 2 Worlds”
Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Artist: J.H. Williams III

“Two Worlds”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Jerry Ordway (p), Mark McMenna (i)

This is my favorite of the Julius Schwartz tribute books. Two stories inspired by a famous cover image of Adam Strange trapped by indecision. But while the comic is meant to honor Schwartz, we get one of Grant Morrison’s best stories and a last look at a recently killed comics character.

In Africa, Adam Strange’s jetpack is taken by government authorities who trade it for nuclear bomb technology. On the planet Rann, a rogue government has seized control of weather satellites and turned them into weapons. While Strange saves Rann, the Elongated Man and his wife Sue try to survive the chaos of a Third World country turned nuclear power. Williams and Villarubia provide us with lush, beautiful artwork. I haven’t seen Williams’ work in years. That’s because I don’t have the patience nor inclination for ‘Promethea’ and it’s magic-heavy references. Sue Dibney proves herself to be a clever, confident woman; a perfect partner for a superhero. This comic came out the same week as ‘Identity Crisis’ #2. It shows us how great a loss Sue’s death is to the DC universe. Comics could use more female characters like her. They might attract more female readers.

Morrison’s story steals the show. His story not only puts Adam between two worlds, it puts the reader between them too. Adam has been captured by a secret Army unit trying to start a war between Earth and Rann. They’ve tied up Strange in a helicopter set to crash in Sydney, Australia. They’ve managed to copy Strange’s “unique genetic signature’ enabling them to ride the Zeta beam to Rann.

Interspersed through the story are Morrison’s captions about how the space race of the 50’s and 60’s influenced popular fiction and Schwartz’s decision to edit Adam Strange instead of Space Ranger. According to Morrison, Schwarz says, “I think it’s more dramatic having something strange and imaginary happening today than in the far future which is already imaginary.” Rann, one of many fantasy worlds of impossible creatures and sleek architecture, is a world within our reach. Just ride beam of light and you’re in another world. Instead of depicting a world that might be, Schwartz gave us a world that was; a place we could visit right now. Rann is a world of living sandstorms, clouds with words, and a green sky with four suns. It’s not a world that can be easily conquered. It’s not a world for soldiers, as the soldiers here discover. “You have to wear bright colors”, Adam tries to tell them. They have to dress like superheroes. They’re entering a comic book. And scientists, not soliders, were the heroes of Schwartz’s books.

Morrison guides the reader between the action and his commentary so seamlessly the two become one. The concepts Morrison praises are in the story. It illustrates what Morrison is trying to say about Schwartz’s work. At the same time, the captions mix with the dialogue and the action to create a work that explains what it’s doing as it’s happening. The story is the commentary is the story. It’s so complex yet looks so simple, I can’t explain it easily. It would be like listening to a commentary track on a DVD, when the characters suddenly speak the commentary about themselves while the director narrates the thoughts in the characters’ minds.

This is a story about stories that knows it’s a story about stories. Get your head around that!

And lest I forget, the art of Ordway and McKenna looks perfect. The scenes on Earth are dark and ominous. The scenes on Rann are bright and fantastic. They are two worlds, populated by two different people. Adam looks like a different person on each world, but remains the true hero.

When Grant Morrison passes away, I hope a collection is published of his best stories, a la Marvel’s Visionaries books. If so, this would be a shoe-in for the first volume.

Go buy this right now!



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