Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Strange Adventures #1

Posted: Sunday, March 8, 2009
By: Thom Young

Jim Starlin
Manuel Garcia & Al Milgrom (1st) / Starlin & Rob Hunter (2nd)
DC Comics
"Starting Over" and "A Minor Incident . . ."

A deadly peril threatens the universe, and it's up to Adam Strange to stop it. Meanwhile, a contract is put out for the death of Comet while Bizarro finds a new purpose in life, which leads to the beginning of a strange adventure.

Jon Freeman:

Troy Stith:

Robert Murray:

Kurt Taylor Lane:

Thom Young:

Jon Freeman:

I must say that I was quite pleased to find that Jim Starlin and DC packed as much story into this issue as they could. Starlin delivers the beginnings of two stories in this 40-page adventure: “Starting Over” and “A Minor Incident.” They don’t mislead us into buying a comic for $3.99 and then stuff half of it with reprinted material--or text that appears to have come out of some superhero encyclopedia.

Nope, Starlin gives us as many strange and adventurous happenings as he can without spilling over into the advertisements. So, kudos for that! However, there is the question of the strange adventures themselves--that is, the content of the book.

“Starting Over” begins with a very interesting premise, but quickly becomes bogged down in its execution. The planet Rann is in ruins, utterly uninhabitable. Recovery teams sweep the planet in an effort to salvage whatever advanced technology remains. Then, in one of the most striking scenes in the entire issue, Adam Strange and his team take drastic measures to ensure that none of their abandoned technology will ever fall into the hands of the Thanagarians.

This potentially great opening is mired in its juxtaposition to three pages or so of exposition that is poorly disguised as courtroom drama. A simple recap or intro page would have accomplished this purpose much more economically and allowed for more actual adventure into the story.

Still, even as Starlin moves the story along, he occasionally wanders into narrative that essentially serves the purpose of explaining the action that is occurring in a panel--such as Comet’s narrative description of being beaten up that we read as we see him being beaten up. As is usually the case in comics, the action is much more clearly illustrated by the art itself (yes, I see Comet is being punched by two green goons!).

To be honest, “Starting Over” really tore me in two directions. On the one hand, Starlin’s story harkens back to some of his great space epics and to other fondly remembered sci-fi books of the Bronze Age. However, in all frankness, reading Strange Adventures #1 became boring quickly. It was not engaging, innovative, nor funny. It was more like a rerun of some early 90s comic than a space epic for 2009.

Luckily that was only half of the story! “A Minor Incident” prominently features one of my favorite DC characters: Bizarro. Perhaps my affection for the character blinded me to many of the faults in the story, but I found the second half of Strange Adventures #1 more enjoyable than the first.

The majority of Bizarro’s tale is simply Deacon Dark chatting away. Nevertheless, such action seems more befitting a maniacal villain than the heroes who appeared in the preceding story. Also, I found Starlin’s pencils to be much more appealing than those of Manuel Garcia on the first story. Starlin’s work is clearer and more detailed. Besides, all those panels filled with various Bizarro expressions are nothing less than comic gold!

In the end, there is absolutely no shaking the charm of a Starlin space adventure. Even so, Strange Adventures #1 fails to come together. If you are looking for a well-written, compressed comic reminiscent of the “good old days” . . . well, Marvel Adventures does it better. If you are looking for a more exciting and tightly executed sci-fi romp, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are doing excellent work on Marvel’s War of Kings and Wildstorm’s The Authority. Finally, if you happen to be looking to pick up a fun, limited series from DC, Solomon Grundy is shaping up to be a blast.

At $3.99 an issue, I can’t say whether or not I’ll stick around for the next seven installments of Strange Adventures. As a fan of Starlin’s work, I certainly hope that the rest of the series develops into the epic that it should be. If not, I hope it at least gives us more of Bizarro beating stuff up.

Troy Stith:

I’ll start out by admitting that I’m a sucker for Bizarro. If he’s going to make an appearance, then I’m going to buy whatever title he pops up in. Strange Adventures is a perfect example of this.

I didn’t really know much about Jim Starlin’s story going into the book. All I knew was that it had Bizarro in it and Starlin at the helm. All of which, I had learned from the summary on DC’s Web site. As I read the issue, one thing that bothered me was Starlin’s pacing of events. He seemed to make the book read longer than the events occurring should have taken.

Another complaint is the amount of narrative captions used in Comet’s section of the story, they really take away from the art. Also, the way Starlin has us bouncing from character to character and planet to planet gets a bit annoying at times. I did like the storylines going on, but I wish he had split them up a bit more coherently. Another thing I didn’t expect was the Bizarro aspect of this story coming it at the end of the book with a separate story.

Manuel Garcia’s and Starlin’s art on their respective stories kept me happy throughout. Both artists did a great job with their page composition. A personal highlight for me was Garcia’s splash of Comet sweeping over the streets of Hardcore. Additionally, Starlin’s take on Bizarro was great, and his action scenes were detailed.

I had no complaints on the art side of Strange Adventures, it definitely played a large role in getting me through the dialogue-laden sections of the book. Don’t take me wrong; I like dialogue a lot, but great art shouldn’t be covered with too much dialogue and narrative captions.

Even though I gave this issue an average rating, I will be picking it up again next month. I need to find out what happens to Bizarro.

Robert Murray:

While I have always been a big fan of cosmic adventures in the DC Universe, this first issue of Strange Adventures is a totally unsatisfying affair. There’s really nothing that happens--picking up where Rann-Thanager Holy War left off and illustrating the reconstruction process for this area of the galaxy.

If this was a continuing series, this kind of “filler” issue would be fine, but this is an eight-issue miniseries. This kind of slow start is not giving me a lot of hope for the rest of the run as the lack of focus shown by Jim Starlin is discouraging.

Also, for readers who didn’t follow Holy War, the amount of specialized information from that miniseries basically makes this first issue unreadable. No crash course is given for the uninitiated as to how Rann became uninhabitable and what role Adam Strange has in the destruction of his adopted world--leaving any new readers completely in the dark.

Hey, I’m all for rewarding the readers that have stuck with your story, but it’s also a good idea to suck in new readers who picked up your book because of the action-packed cover and the recognition of Starlin’s name. However, this complaint is just one in a long list I have concerning Strange Adventures #1.

Still, I enjoyed the way Starlin presents Adam Strange and Captain Comet. Additionally, the space opera wonder that always exists in his comics remains intact here. However, I can’t get over the feeling that this was a rushed issue with little planning given to the limited format.

What do I have to back up my accusation? Well, let’s take a look at the subplots running through the book.

We have Adam Strange and Alanna visiting Old Rann to pick up personal items and other sundries before they nuke the all the cities the lie in ruins. Meanwhile, Prince Gavyn meets with a council to defend Strange’s actions in Holy War. Then, Strange and Gavyn work together to repel an intrusion into Throneworld’s (New Rann’s) space by raiders who believe Throneworld has been deserted. As for Comet, he has some personal problems. On the way to a lunch date, he gets attacked by mobsters because of some debts that Tigorr has run up. The second chapter, “A Minor Incident.” involves Deacon Dark and the Aberrant Six, with an Abbott and Costello moment of bumbling that causes the Deacon to send Hawkman to some unknown dimension and bring Bizarro into the mix instead.

That’s the skinny on the subplots, as well as a brief, hazy sighting of a character that was thought to have died in Holy War.

If you think that the collection of tales in this issue sounds less than Earth shattering, you are right--which leads me to believe that this is a project without a specific direction. Therefore, why make it a miniseries? A permanent series would have been more apropos.

As for the artwork, I like the work Manuel Garcia and Al Milgrom put together for the first chapter in the issue, but Starlin and Rob Hunter’s work on the shorter tale was lackluster. The version of Bizarro that they produce looks chunky and awkward, which would normally work for this backwards character if the other characters in the chapter didn’t look awkward as well. I mean, check out Superman’s eyes in the full-page splash!

Fortunately, Starlin’s artwork is in the shorter segment of this issue, and the larger chapter features fantastic fight sequences, good emotional expressions, and the kind of cosmic imagery readers expect from stories such as this.

To say I was disappointed with this first issue would be an understatement, but I still love the DC cosmic universe enough to continue with this miniseries. Hopefully, either the cover price comes down to a regular 2.99 or the story picks up on galactic scale. Otherwise, I might be discussing Strange Adventures as a bust that may keep me from investing in further interstellar fare.

Kurt Taylor Lane:

I assumed I would be able to follow this book since I’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in the DCU recently. Instead, I was thrown out of my element. To be honest, I enjoyed being in the dark. It allowed two things to happen.

The first was the chance to do a little more research on things, and the second was that I am able to evaluate the book as more of an outsider. After reading DC’s Rann-Thanagar War along with browsing through the three other lead ups to Infinite Crisis along with Planet Heist and Rebirth, I felt ready to give this book an honest review, and I honestly wished I would have just saved my money.

My first thought after reading this was “Wow, they’re doing eight issues of this, huh? Well good luck with that.”

This issue followed Adam Strange, Comet, and Bizarro (yes, Bizarro). I know it was a first issue, and it seems to be setting things up . . . but to what extent, really? I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth to see Deacon Dark fill in for Synnar every month.

Speaking of Deacon Dark, he’s keeping his eye on Hawkman, whom Synnar has plans for as part of the Aberrant Six. His clumsy assistant screws the whole thing up and instead, he ends up contacting Bizzaro. Starlin’s usual wit is better then this Rob Schneider-like crap: “Oh, clumsy me, instead of Hawkman, now you have the backwards Superman moron, isn’t this a humorous situation?”

No, it’s not. This just didn’t work for me, and I was honestly glad it only lasted for about four pages.

Thanks to Tygorr (of the Omega Men), Comet (the former “Captain Comet”), now freelancing on Hardcore Station, is cornered by the Mortician and his thugs. Now, I’m not the most fashionable person around (I’m a fan of a black tee and blue jeans), but the Mortician’s fashion sense is horrible--and Starlin or Manuel Garcia must take the blame.

The Mortician looks like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland dressed in Huggy Bear’s clothes (from the Starsky and Hutch movie). It made it hard for me to take the character seriously. While the story is unfolding, I’m wishing I could magically jump into the comic panel and smack that damned “Space Pimp” hat off his head.

Also, am I completely wrong or wasn’t Comet a little more heroic in recent appearances? He came off as a second rate Han Solo in this story. While the Adam Strange storyline in the first chapter was decent, it wasn’t enough to save the rest of this issue.

If you’re a fan of Jim Starlin, you’ve probably already bought this issue and more power to you, but I’m not battering down the door or shattering the windows at my local comic store to get a hold of the second issue. If you’re looking for a good space opera, there’s always War of Kings or Shrapnel: Aristera Rising.

Thom Young:

In 1976, I stumbled across Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock series quite by accident and was immediately captivated with the illustrations and the cosmic concepts. I sought out the back issues I had missed--four issues in Marvel’s Strange Tales (#178-81)--and I followed the story to its eventual conclusion in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 in the summer of 1977.

I may have re-read the story at some point in the early 1980s. For the most part, though, I haven’t looked at Starlin’s original “Warlock Saga” in more than 30 years. In my mind, it is one of the all-time classics of the superhero form and is the epitome of cosmic stories.

That all changed about a week ago when I was going through boxes of comics I have in storage and came across the Marvel reprint of the series from 1982 (which is when I may have re-read the story, but I’m not certain whether I did or whether I just bagged and stored the issues after buying them). I bought that reprint series after selling my entire collection (and thus the originals) in 1980, and it has survived two or three subsequent purgings of my “collection.”

I’ve sold thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of comics in the past 29 years, but Starlin’s “Warlock Saga” has been a series I’ve always felt the need to own because I’ve considered it a story that is worth four and a half to five bullets on the Comics Bulletin scale. However, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, that changed about a week ago when I re-read it for the first time in 25 to 30 years.

It’s really not as great as I had thought it was when I was pimple-faced kid who dreamed of wonders of the cosmos while listening to Kiss and Black Sabbath albums. Much of the dialog is actually filled with melodramatic hyperbole, and the internal logic of the plot has several holes in it that could have easily been addressed by a better writer or a taskmaster editor.

Still, the wonder of Starlin’s cosmic concepts shine through to rescue it from being complete garbage. Instead of giving the original “Warlock Saga” five bullets and considering it one of the greatest series of all time, I’d now have to give it no more than three and a half bullets--mostly for its innovative concepts (especially for the mid 1970s) and for Starlin’s dynamic illustrations.

Starlin has always had some difficulty in depicting human anatomy as well as he might, but he makes up for it with layouts that are sort of a cross between Jack Kirby’s energy and Neal Adams’s figures (the comparison to the work of Neal Adams makes a lot more sense if you consider the state of superhero illustrations in the 1970s rather than 30 years later when the comparison doesn’t seem as valid).

Okay, that brings us to Starlin’s latest effort: Strange Adventures #1. The concepts aren’t as “mind blowing” as what Starlin came up with in the mid 1970s, but he’s improved considerably in the mechanics of writing. His dialog isn’t anywhere near as hyperbolic as it was back then, and the internal logic of his plot holds together much better.

As he did in his Mystery in Space series from two years ago, Starlin presents two stories that are intertwined in terms of characters and subplots. Just as the two strands of the series came together at the conclusion of Mystery in Space, I’m sure the two storylines in this series will weave together in the final issue of Strange Adventures.

Starlin plays with the same basic set of characters that he used in Mystery in Space and its follow-up Rann-Thanagar Holy War (not to be confused with Dave Gibbons’s earlier Rann-Thanagar War). Here again we see Comet, The Weird, Adam Strange, Bizarro, Starman (the Steve Ditko and Jim Starlin character from the 1970s), and Chief Max (who first appeared in Starlin’s 1998 miniseries Hardcore Station).

Starlin has carved out his own corner of the DC Universe with these characters and these settings--Hardcore Station and Throneworld (now New Rann) as well as being given custody of Thanagar and Rann (now Old Rann). Given his background, Starlin is a natural for being given the cosmic and space opera parts of the DC mythos, and his greater control of writing mechanics makes these stories a pleasure to read.

He’s not as innovative as he was when he was a younger man, but his skill as an illustrator has not diminished (neither has it noticeably improved, though).

The only real problem with this first issue is that it is a “first issue” in name only. It’s actually a continuation of Starlin’s work at DC for the past two and a half years--first on Mystery in Space (which I read and enjoyed) and then on last year’s Holy War (which I only read the first issue of and skipped the rest due to financial constraints).

It’s obvious that Starlin isn’t really writing these as three separate miniseries. They’re actually more like three arcs within the same series--but packaged as three separate series by DC (for marketing purposes, no doubt).

Since I didn’t read more than the first issue of the previous arc (Holy War), I was a bit lost regarding all the changes that had occurred on Rann and Throneworld. The changes to Rann were essentially covered in a three-page exposition scene in which Starman (Prince Gavyn) defends Adam Strange in front of the governing council on New Rann. Apparently, Strange had to use The Weird to blow Rann’s atmosphere into space in order to stop Rann’s population from being enslaved by Synnar.

Fortunately, Strange was able to arrange for all of the Rannians to be teleported to Throneworld via Zeta Beams before he orchestrated the destruction of their home planet. Hmmm. I take back what I said earlier. Starlin can still come up with some astonishing cosmic concepts--they’re just not evident in this first issue of Strange Adventures.

We also get the apparent continuation of a subplot from Holy War in which the Omega Man known as Tigorr had taken payment from a character called “The Mortician” for some “data” that Comet was supposed to provide. The problem is, Comet was not actually working with Tigorr and does not have the promised “data.”

“Synnar” and “The Mortician”? Starlin really needs to work on coming up with better names for his characters. Of course, Synnar (who first appeared in Starlin’s Hardcore Station) has a name that is in keeping with DC’s convention of giving extraterrestrial bad guys names that are similar to the English word that best represents the character--such as Sinestro and Despero. Perhaps Starlin could combine the three at some point and create a meta character who is a sinister sinner that evokes despair in people.

In otherwords, Starlin hasn’t completely done away with melodramatic hyperbole.

Still, Strange Adventures #1 is a well-crafted story of two intertwining narratives (with additional sub-narratives) that works as a continuation of Starlin’s ongoing space opera in the DC Universe. Aside from Comet’s voiceover narration that accompanies his scenes, the issue is almost entirely free of narrative boxes as Starlin allows the dialog to carry the scenes (and its dialog that isn’t as cheesy as the type he was writing 30 years ago).

Even Comet’s voiceover narrative serves a greater purpose as it positions the character as the space opera private investigator that Starlin has re-interpreted him as. He’s sort of cosmic version of Sam Spade with great mental powers.

Starlin’s not writing a story that will be remembered as one of the all-time classics in the medium. However, it turns out he never did write that type of story--not really. Instead, he’s just telling a slightly above average story of some classic comic book characters.

I long for a return to the Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson Adam Strange stories that Julius Schwartz edited from 1958 to 1965, but that character and those strange adventures are never to come again (apparently). Thus, fans of the character can enjoy Starlin’s use of the direction Adam Strange has taken without Schwartz’s guidance.

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