Strange Adventures has given us all the answers. Well, all except one. With the revelations of the last issue, we’re seeing Adam Strange in a new light. His trauma, his cruelty, and his brutality are all bubbling to the surface. But Strange refuses to be kept in a box. With Strange Adventures #9, we’re still left wondering how we feel about Adam. Writer Tom King, artists Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, and letterer Clayton Cowles delve into Adam’s troubled mind in this issue. When we come out the other side, we’re not sure whether to hate him or hope for him.
One of the biggest themes King plays on in this chapter is the idea of Adam being a “Man of Two Worlds.” It’s an odd thing, having two homes. Adam, in some ways, is luckier than most. Most people just have the one home. But, in other ways, Adam is more confused than other people. We follow him as he fights on Rann. The warrior within him takes over. He’s calm and collected in the face of great danger. But it’s as though happiness dries up around “Adam the Soldier.” When he’s playing the role of a warrior, he feels empty inside. And so, King shows Adam come up with a simple plan: he’s going to bring Alanna with him back to Earth. But, as we’ve seen, Adam doesn’t fully feel welcome on Earth either. His actions are being dissected by the Justice League and the Pyykt have followed him there. King shows just how isolating it can feel to belong in two places and nowhere all at once.
The beat-by-beat nature of Shaner’s art makes many of his scenes feel kind of playful. Which is ironic, because Shaner is depicting Strange’s time in the Pyykt/Rann War. Images of Pyykt standing guard, being shot through the head, and then collapsing out of sight are delivered in ways that almost get a chuckle. Through this, Shaner shows just how much this has become a part of Adam’s day-to-day. Killing the Pyykt is right under “do laundry” on Adam’s to do list. And Shaner’s art matches the dialogue. Strange, as he’s sneaking through Pyykt camps, is making dark jokes. He’s unfazed by their deaths. His brow is set, his eyes are full of rage. He isn’t haunted or scared, he’s angry.
Gerads’ Adam Strange feels less sure of himself. Gerads makes it look like there may be anger on the surface, but there’s pain deeper down. This Adam is haunted by Shaner’s Adam. He wants to be the man who fought in the Pyykt/Rann War, but the trauma is catching up with him. Gerads almost makes this Adam seem ashamed. He obscures Adam’s face often. At one point, Adam’s gun is covering his face as he aims at a Pyykt ship. We only see his eye peaking over the gun. Later, this happens again, but it’s the rays of light coming from his gun that get in the way of his expression. This makes it feel like Adam wants to hide behind something. It makes him seem like he’s not happy with the violent man he’s become.
Nearly all of the color has drained from Shaner’s panels. With the war raging on, nothing seems to hold much weight in Adam’s life. Except for poisonous gases and Pyykt robes. These are shown in brilliant green and red. They’re the only moments that mean anything to Adam now. Gerads juxtaposes the bleak atmosphere of war with the warm interior of a bar. We go back and forth between Mr. Terrific watching the news and Adam fighting the Pyykt. Gerads helps us relate to Adam. He might have made some mistakes, but he’s still out there fighting. Meanwhile, the man who holds Adam’s life in his hands is having a beer. We see things from Adam’s perspective for a second. We see how unfair it feels to him to be stuck in the cold, blue setting of war, while others can curl up in a warm, orange bar.
We begin to bridge the gap between Shaner and Gerads’ stories in this issue. Cowles, rather than using large sound effects in the Shaner pages and small, quiet sounds in Gerads’, gives the same treatment to every page. This is war and it’s the same today as it was yesterday. So, the “PEW” noises of Adam’s gun look the same. The sound of explosions, the stomping of feet, the smash of a bottle, it’s all big and bold. And as Adam screams at Superman, with his words in large red font in a word balloon that has a thick, jagged outline, we see just how much war pushes people. In Gerads’ scenes, Adam has always been subdued and put together. As the war rages on, we’re seeing him turn into the cartoony man of his memoir. His dialogue and sound effects are proof of that.
DC Comics’ Strange Adventures might have answered lots of questions, but it hasn’t sacrificed any of its mystery. It continues to be a title full of intrigue and action. This creative team is still doing some of the best work in the industry. Pick up Strange Adventures #9, out from DC Comics March 30th, at a comic shop near you!