Usually, for a Strange Adventure review, I would write this in two parts: one section discussing the storyline of Adam’s book, the other showing the modern-day investigation into his actions. But DC Comics’ Strange Adventures #7 is hard to get specific about. Not because it’s not brilliant. Writer Tom King, artists Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, and letterer Clayton Cowles have delivered one of their strongest issues to date. It’s just so potentially spoiler-y. So to avoid ruining a magnificent issue, I’m going to keep this a little briefer than usual.
King makes us question everything from the first panel. Do we even know Adam Strange at all? King switches us back and forth between scenes of Adam staving off a new Pykkt invasion, to scenes of him being captured in an invasion gone by. His casual brutality begins bubbling to the surface. We begin to wonder if he’s even a hero. In fact, he seems to look down on superheroes. They can’t get their hands dirty like he can. We’re seeing a new Adam. An Adam that will do anything to get the job done. King’s scenes of Adam’s past with the Pykkts brilliantly creates a terrifying origin for this rage. It shows us the turmoil that’s turned now to violence, and it gives us more than enough reason to worry.
Gerads and Shaner, in some ways, switch approaches in this chapter. Where Gerads once held the ground in the gritty and dirty, Shaner now stakes his claim. In fact, Gerads’ scenes are often disturbingly clean. There’s a war going on, but Alanna and Adam’s indifference to it all is shown visibly in scenes that look completely calm. Shaner, on the other hand, pulls out all the gritty, grimey, timey wimey stops. This change is most noticeable in a simple scene of Adam and one of his captors looking out a window. They’re silhouettes against the light. In any other chapter, Shaner would have their backs shown as a solid black. But here, we can actually see the pen strokes. It brings a grittiness and realism in that’s like sugar in a gas tank. Can the clean world Adam has created in his book deal with an encroaching reality, or will it crumble around him?
A lot of the disturbing calm in Gerads’ scenes comes from his coloring. It’s a soft color palette. Gentle blues and greens, hints of orange. It feels serene, except for the occasional red burst of blood. There’s a sense of comfort in these scenes that makes us feel as though Alanna and Adam feel more at peace when they’re at war. Shaner’s colors are hypnotic and disturbing. He has brilliant rainbows of color spread out across his panels. It would be beautiful and mesmerizing, if it weren’t in scenes of violence and torture. Shaner invites us into the unraveling mind of Adam Strange. He gets us to feel the beauty of letting go and slaps us in the face with the harsh dullness of reality.
There are so many opportunities in this issue for big sound effects. But as Adam gets zapped from place to place, no letters accompany him, except the sound of his own screaming. When Alanna stamps out a cigarette, or Batman takes a punch, there’s nothing. Cowles strips the lettering back to its essentials, and the sounds that stay jump off the page. The three panels, two with a “pew pew” and one with a heart-stopping “snap,” that have sound effects, stick with the reader vividly. Because that’s what Cowles does — he highlights the important. In a conversation with Alanna, Adam lays out his heart in a tumbling dialogue. But Cowles separates one thought from the rest. He spaces out the stacked bubbles on either side of the line “I thought I was crazy.” Those three panels and that one line are the core and soul of this issue.
DC Comics’ Strange Adventures #7 is wonderfully complicated. This creative team is upping the stakes as we pass the midway mark, promising with each new issue a conclusion that will blow us away. Pick this issue up, out from DC Comics December 1st, at a comic shop near you!