Written by Tom King, with art by Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, and letters by Clayton Cowles, DC Comics’ Strange Adventures #5 begins to focus on events outside their story. With so much going on in the political sphere, with elections coming up, this creative team draws more parallels between the real world and their story. While this creative team seems completely incapable of ever making a bad comic, they do get a little bogged down in this issue, distracted by the world going on off the page.
Adam Strange as Donald Trump
Subtlety is King’s best friend. His work on DC Comics’ Mister Miracle or Sheriff of Babylon shows he knows how to focus on characters and storytelling, and let readers draw parallels where they will. Unfortunately, the modern day scenes of Strange Adventures #5 don’t have subtlety going for them. As Adam Strange becomes a political figure in this chapter, his speeches about the investigation into him begin to feel a little on-the-nose. King seems to get distracted by current events and what he wants to say about everything. His pages in this issue are uncharacteristically text-heavy. There’s a lot King is feeling about what’s going on in the world, but the script feels like it’s one draft short of a final copy. Perhaps King is pointing to a politician’s ability to never stop talking, but the modern scenes certainly make for a slower read than we’re used to in this series.
Gerads brilliantly shows us the dynamic between Alanna and Adam with his positioning of characters on the page. When Alanna is on a board, speaking to Congress, she is pictured in the foreground with a tired Adam in the background. She is large on the page, and she looks calm and collected. Later, when she is standing on the balcony of the White House, we get an over-the-shoulder shot of her looking out at DC. She looks like a Queen overlooking her kingdom. As Adam zooms onto the scene, we suddenly see him above her, in what would be the dominant position of the scene. But it’s just his feet that dangle down, we maintain Alanna’s level, and she lazily holds a glass out to him. Her body language assures us, Adam is not above her.
Gerads’ coloring suggests that Strange Adventures #5 may mark a turning point in this series. His warm gold, red and orange coloring throughout has the feeling of a sunset, cast over the page. It’s as though something is coming to an end. With the Pyykt invasion looming, maybe this is the calm before the storm. It also gives the impression that things might be turning in Adam and Alanna’s favor. After all, red and yellow are the colors of Adam’s costume. Seeing Congress covered in orange hues is like a visual representations of the Stranges’ sway over the room.
Cowles helps show the power that Alanna holds. While speaking to Congress, we see Martian Manhunter going into a monologue. His words overpower each panel. Cowles makes sure his word balloons take up as much space as they can. And he even overlays Martian Manhunter’s speech over a panel of a bored looking crowd, Adam almost sleeping in the middle. The chairman responds in turn, going into his own monologue, but he’s interrupted by an orphaned word balloon. “Bullshit.” It’s like nothing else on those pages, short but to the point. By not giving the word balloon a tail, Cowles allows the smallness of it on the page to shock us. Like a bullet, it rips through the speeches and lectures, and sets all eyes on Alanna Strange, the woman who said it.
Adam Strange, Survivor
Adam’s own words, in his book Strange Adventures, actually make for the most compelling plotline in this issue. King places Alanna and Adam in a trial they don’t know if they’ll survive, and they come out on the other side, as nationalistic as ever. But King’s treatment of the characters, their belief in what they’re doing, lures us into understanding them. We can see the toxicity of what Adam believes about himself, but we can also see his desperation. His need to be the hero. As Alanna and Adam fight for their lives, stuck in a cave and imprisoned by people who treat them as lesser beings, we begin to see why they have come to believe unwaveringly in their own virtue.
When Shaner depicts Alanna and Adam, he flips the tables on their relationship. Alanna is behind Adam, or she’s leaning on him, seeking his support. We see, in Shaner’s pages, the strong man Adam wants to be for Alanna. His account in Strange Adventures makes him look like the swashbuckling hero, with the beautiful maiden counting on him to save her. But even in Adam’s own self-aggrandizing account, it’s hard to deny Alanna’s large presence. She may be depicted looking maidenly and fragile when Adam is by her, but she still takes up the page. She has a sway and presence that can’t be denied. And as she stands before the Rock Queen, it’s as though the beast inside has awoken. She looks ferocious, and Shaner has her superimposed onto the page, so that she’s larger than any of the characters and standing strong.
If Gerads’ scenes are a sunset, then Shaner’s are the twilight. The cool blue palette shows us the dark night of the soul for Alanna and Adam. As they enter the cave, the whole scene is almost entirely blue. They are doing what they are doing out of duty. It’s a cold task and a foreboding one too. As Alanna and Adam make the cave their temporary home, color begins to come back into the scene. We see the color of their flesh and the pink embers of the fire. When they reach desperate ends, the color drains back out again, only to be replaced by an overpowering pink. As Alanna and Adam embrace each other, their love and passion, like a pink flame, is the dominant tone in the scene. The final scene in this chapter of Strange Adventures is set in the stark, cold light of the morning. The white light of the morning sun washes over the scene, it’s the dawn of a new day. With the night over, Adam’s book might be reaching their glorious battle with the Pyykt soon.
Cowles’ lettering for this section starts strong, right out the gates. The sound of a snapping neck, in white lettering with no border, breaks through the fantasy and adventure. Placed next to Adam’s heroic looking face, it begs the question, what is all his heroism good for if people keep dying? Our introduction to the rock people on Rann is terrifying. Having not seem them on panel, only seeing the sounds of what they have done, gives them an air of no-nonsense. “You have. Come with Upworlders. To my cave. Is there? A reason?” The giant rock creature says to them. The periods separating his text make him feel otherworldly, but also give his lines a rhythm. He finishes off the line, trailing off down to the a word balloon lower in the page which says: “Do you? Also wish? To die?” The low position of the word balloon makes the line feel nonchalant. Cowles allows his big threats to hit home, by placing them in small, unassuming areas on the page. This rock man doesn’t need to flex, he means what he’s saying.
DC Comics’ Strange Adventures #5 is another incredible issue in this series. It does get a little distracted from the story it’s telling, veering into a few on-the-nose jabs at current events, but this issue’s faults are dwarfed by the incredible art, coloring, lettering, and empathetic writing on every page. King, Gerads, Shaner and Cowles continue to deliver as DC Comics’ Strange Adventures seems to be transitioning into a new act. Pick up Strange Adventures #5, out August 1st from DC Comics, from your local comic book shop