Monday, June 22, 2015

Strange Visitor to Another Planet - Showcase 17

Showcase #17 (November/December 1958)(cover by Gil Kane)
"Secret of the Eternal City"
"The Planet and the Pendulum"
Gardner Fox-Mike Sekowsky/Bernard Sachs

Doug: As I mentioned in last Tuesday's anniversary post, straying from the regular writing of comics reviews has cost me the joy of reading comics regularly. That's not to say that I haven't read a single book since Karen and I reviewed our last issue of Marvels back in April. On the contrary, I've read a few, including the entire New Frontier series as well as some Lee/Kirby Thor. But I do miss that week-to-week reading and writing. Also as I mentioned last week, I'm going to be very intentional about publishing my reflections on a few issues here before the summer ends. And, with some minimal arm-twisting, I think I'll have my partner along for the ride twice.

Doug: So back in February we ran an Open Forum where I posited that there are characters I know of, sort of like, but really know nothing about. Adam Strange was my guy. A few weeks after that post I found a deal on eBay that was simply too good to pass on -- the first two volumes of the Adam Strange Archives for around $25 total. You're going to be the beneficiary of that purchase today. The character bowed in Showcase #17. I was surprised that the initial adventures were penciled by Mike Sekowsky, he of the Super-universe titles. My assumption was that I was going to see Carmine Infantino, or perhaps even Gil Kane. Infantino became the regular penciler of the strip once it moved to the Mystery in Space mag -- Adam Strange's fourth appearance. But today we're going to see his first two outings: the origin story, sans costume, and then a short tale where he dons the familiar red space suit.

Doug: We open in the Andes mountains of Peru at an ancient Inca site. Archaeologist Adam Strange has found the secret city of Caramanga, which really sounds like something a Ninja Turtle would shout. And with that found city -- a treasure not plundered by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro. But as Strange further investigates, he's set upon by a very angry detachment of Inca warriors -- still dressed in 16th century garb! One has to "love" 1950s racism... Strange wheels and runs for his life, quickly reaching the precipice of a deep canyon. The divide spans some 25 feet, but Strange's only choice is to back up and race toward what will certainly need to be the best long jump of any track career he ever had. As he hurtles into the gap, he's suddenly in the midst of some sort of power beam. Blink! Gone is Strange from our planet, only to arrive on some distant world. He's immediately chased by some sort of giant lizard, but is saved by a small aircraft. The vessel ensnares the beast with a strong net, and then a beautiful young woman emerges from the cockpit. She attempts to converse with the stranger, much to his frustration. He understands, however, that she wants to spirit him away. Having no idea where or when he is, he consents -- so one must assume that her looks trumped any mistrust Adam may have felt. Soon they are in the city of Ranagar, and in the company of the young woman's father.

Doug: This plays out like an episode of Flash Gordon -- we have the beauty and her dad, we'll see some ray guns, space fighters, weird creatures and settings... Alanna, the woman, places a metal band around Strange's head. Instantly his brain is infused with all knowledge of the language he moments earlier had not understood. The man's same is Sardath, and he is a scientist (of course). Sardath explains that four years ago the people of Rann attempted to contact the people of Earth, firing zeta-beams at our planet. It must have happened that when Strange fled the Incas he leapt right into the beam. Alanna offers that in the time the zeta-beams had been active, some space radiation must have converted them from communication beams to teleportation beams! Man, this truly is great 1950s fare!

Doug: Alanna offers Adam a tour of the city, and explains some local history to him. Suddenly they are attacked by blast rays from a space ship -- trouble is, Rann has no space ships. This is an alien invasion! Alanna finds a radio frequency (ha!) that alerts she and Adam to the goings-on: a race called the Eternals has come to Rann seeking a metal called Vitatron. It seems like some Vitatron had landed on their planet years ago, and they quickly deduced that its properties could render their people immortal. However, the metal began to fade in intensity, so they sought another source. Their sensors determined that Rann had some. Alanna heard all this, and wondered if it might be located in the city of Samakand, an odd location that appears in our dimension only once every 25 years! She and Adam set out to investigate.

Doug: In Samakand, Alanna and Adam meet with some priestly officials who confirm that they indeed have the metal. But -- how to keep it away from the Eternals, and Samakand has no weapons! Adam says to leave it to him. And then this Earthman archaeologist offers to pilot a space fighter in an effort to drive the Eternals away. I have to convince myself that I'm in that 10-year old target group that DC drove at. You know, and I said this just above, this science fiction is fun -- and it's not generally in my wheelhouse. So Adam, as you might guess, successfully defeats the Eternals in space. But when a detachment continues to follow Adam and Alanna back to Rann, Adam urges Alanna to parachute from their ship, leaving it on auto-pilot to return to Samakand. The Eternals follow, but arrive just as Samakand fades out -- not to reappear for another 25 years! But at the same moment? Adam begins to fade also. Did the zeta-beam wear off?

You betcha -- but back on Earth, Adam is at least armed with the knowledge of the location of one of the other zeta-beams. Maybe, he will be able to get back to Rann, and to Alanna.

Doug: This issue of Showcase actually contained two Adam Strange tales, and in the second one we see our hero in his customary costume. We begin with Adam wondering about the zeta-beam. He's in the south Pacific, near Singapore -- that's where he'd calculated the beam to strike. Counting down to its anticipated arrival, at "zero" Strange throws himself from his boat and into the beam. He'd been right! However, he arrives on Rann not near Alanna, but in the presence of some barbarians. They overwhelm Adam and haul him to their leader. That guy, Zoora, tells his minions to take Adam to the Tower of the Rainbow Doom. Strapped into a chair, a kaleidoscope of colors begins to swirl -- and suddenly Adam Strange is no more! But we see that he's not really disappeared, but has been teleported. Scanning the sky, he sees he's in the middle of a meteor shower. But seeing a crashed space ship -- one that looks exactly like the one he and Alanna had used to defeat the Eternals -- causes Adam to race to it and enter. At the controls lies Sardath, unconscious. Elsewhere Adam attends to crew members, and finally to the lovely Alanna. I know you're asking -- what are the chances? Me, too! Alanna awakens and relates a tale of their fate, how they'd been contacted by the scientists of Samakand. As they were heading into the fourth dimension for the next 25 years, they left all their scientific knowledge with the city of Ranagar. This allowed Ranagar to attain technology of which they'd only dreamed.

Doug: Before the scientists had gone into exile, they set up a colony on a nearby planet. The city-state had a large artificial lake, and a dome to protect the people from meteor showers. Sardath wanted to see if those people were still there, so built a spaceship and assembled a crew. But on the way there they were attacked by another ship, and crash landed. The Rainbow Doom was a teleportaton device, hence sending Adam to the spot of the crash. Donning a space suit found in the craft (yep -- you know what it looks like), Adam told Alanna they could search for the city Sardath had sought. Again using a space radio (this still cracks me up that they felt advanced societies would rely on common radios), Adam and Alanna send out a distress signal. The people they're seeking actually pick up on it, and arrive to rescue our stranded party. But once aboard the vehicles, another tale of alien attack is told. The same ship that had sent the Rannian craft into distress had returned to the domed city, but this time with a scythe attached to a pendulum on the lower hull of the ship. You got it -- think of some of the perils from the Batman television show and you know what we're dealing with. Of course Adam suits up, dons a jet pack and packs a blaster and he's off to the stars. Our guy single-handedly whips the enemy and preserves democracy and all that jazz. But when he's ready to receive the adoration of his lady friend, what should wear off but the zeta-beam? And so it's back to Earth! Adam still has the space suit on, and says he'll have to hide it away. But when he finds that next zeta-beam, he'll be ready to defend Rann... and his new love, Alanna (with whom he's spent what? -- all of 48 hours?).

Doug: I enjoyed these stories. Sure, they were hokey, but they did fill in that knowledge gap that I've had for Adam Strange. I liked them enough that I'll return to this book as well as the second Archive volume. I'd lie if I didn't tell you I got sort of a "Spaceman Spiff" vibe from some of the situations in which Adam found himself. Gardner Fox's stories were what I'd have expected from a Silver Age DC (remember, they entered that "period" years before Marvel did), and Mike Sekowsky's art was pretty solid for the time. I'm always amazed when I read a story by Fox, and perhaps moreso by Bob Haney, at how many twists and turns there are in a plot. Marvel's longer, linear, narratives seemed to flow so much better and could be infinitely easier on the reader to just go along for the ride. Sometimes when I read some of the DC scribes, I feel the need to flip back a page or two and ask myself, "Now what just happened there?"

Doug: I would like you to take a look at the panel below. At the top of this post I'd mentioned Carmine Infantino. We know that by the time this saw print Infantino was one of DC's studs. I don't know to what extent he had any duties in art correction, but the face in the panel below can only be his work -- there is no other panel in either story included in Showcase #17 where there is a profile of Adam Strange drawn in that manner. What do you think? Of course, my line of questioning spins out of our discussion a couple of weeks ago on John Romita, where Marie Severin's name also came up. I just think that Carmine redrew that face -- and that's not to denigrate Sekowsky, who was overall quite solid. So leave a comment, you who knew all about this character, as well as those of you who have either had your curiosity piqued or who may not care at all!


Humanbelly said...


Man, I will NEVER single Stan Lee out again for his utterly inept grasp of elementary-school science-!

Whether it's intentional or not, what Gardner Fox seemed to be freely channeling here was the completely spontaneous, run-around-the-yard, make-every-twist-up-as-it-occurs imaginary action/roleplay that's such a vital and beloved part of being an 8 to 11 year old boy. Absolutely no filter whatsoever in terms of plausibility, logic, physics, etc.-- the moment the idea occurs, it GOES INTO THE NARRATIVE!!!

Now, if Fox wasn't going that route as a choice, then I want to smack him across the forehead-- 'cause the whole thing otherwise makes me pound my head against the kitchen table. Soooo, let my nostalgic 10-year-old self give him the benefit of the doubt, as the memory of me and oft-mentioned old pal Bryan tear around the yard & the woods & the neighborhood exhausting ourselves with acting out exactly this kind of extended stream-of-consciousness story/adventure. (Bryan's older brother Mike's vintage Ford pick-up was our homebase and time/space machine, in fact. . . )

Oh say-- the art? I do think it's surprisingly solid for that time! The cover in particular (if you kinda ignore precisely what's being depicted) is really first-rate-!


Edo Bosnar said...

Nice review, Doug. I've always been interested in these early Adam Strange stories. I read of few of them in reprint form (both in those giant-size DC Super Stars books from the mid-'70s, and in one or two of the later digests) and recall liking them well enough. The ones I read were definitely drawn by Infantino, and those were instances when I really liked his art.
I really like the John Cartereque hook in these stories, i.e., the zeta beam is a plot device similar to Carter getting teleported to and from Mars all the time.

B Smith said...

From the look of those samples posted, I'd hazard a guess that Infantino contributed a lot more than just that face! I'd even go as far as to suggest breakdowns, or layouts of some sort - those are very Infantinoesque poses on Adam there.

Garett said...

I haven't read early Adam Strange stories, but the art I've seen by Infantino looked good. Sekowsky's art here looks ok. He's an artist who's somewhere in the middle for me-- his Wonder Woman was pretty nice, but his JLA looked weak compared to Dick Dillin.

I guess Flash Gordon set the tone for space adventures until Star Trek and 2001 came along.

I did read a newer Adam Strange miniseries drawn by Andy Kubert, and while I can't remember much, it made a good impression with the art (done in a Joe Kubert-esque style) and story. Mostly with Adam Strange I think of the teamup with Superman in DC Comics Presents #3-- some of Garcia-Lopez's best art!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read these early stories either, although I do love a good space opera. I'm mostly familiar with Adam Strange from his JLA team-ups...maybe I should check these out sometime.

Mike Wilson

Dr. Oyola said...

Flash Gordon, John Carter, John Norman of Gor, Adam Strange, Captain Video. . . aren't they all the same guy? ;)

Garett said...

Here's a good interview with Walt Simonson from last Wednesday. He talks about many things including Edo's recent review topic, Star Slammers:

Humanbelly said...

You left Buck Rogers out of your roll call there, Osvaldo-! And for the life of me, I've never known the difference between him and Flash Gordon. Adam Strange is a hilariously obvious amalgam of both of them, right? Except-- his name is the coolest. . . no question.

Adam did pop up in Swamp Thing in the late 80's during a period where Swampy had gotten somehow dislocated elsewhere in the universe--- truly Lost In Space (it was an extremely interesting arc, I thought, during the latter part of that book's creative hey-day)-- and one of his stops was on Rann (right?), where we sort of see the behind-the-curtain view of what those superior folks really though of ol' primitive, backwater-planet Adam.


Edo Bosnar said...

Garett, thanks for the link to the Simonson interview!

Osvaldo, hate to get all geek police on you, but it's Tarl Cabot of Gor, not John Norman - the latter was the writer of those execrable books (seriously, I don't even like lumping his work together with the others, even though he was obviously riffing on Burroughs' John Carter idea).

JJ said...

Nice choice, Doug. You guys are often right in my wheelhouse. I've long been a fan of Adam Strange, partly because I think his costume (w/ jet pack and ray gun, naturally) is so damned cool. I also like how Strange is forever denied a full life and happiness with his true love, as he's always being zapped back to Earth by the Zeta Beam. This adds a nice dash of ongoing torment and melancholy to the recipe. A few years back I picked up a B&W Showcase of these early adventures. I found the stories a bit too zany (although they don't diminish my affection for Strange one bit), so for me the real attraction with this early stuff is the Infantino art. He was at the height of his powers then and I find his style immensely appealing when he's firing on all cylinders.

If you're into Adam Strange then I heartily recommend the 2005 mini series PLANET HEIST (available in TPB). It's got a cracking script by Andy Diggle and the art by Pascal Ferry and Dave McCaig is just sensational. The stakes are high in this one and Strange's quest for the truth takes him all around DC's cosmic universe. Truly great space adventure. I haven't read them all of course, but I'd wager PLANET HEIST is the best Adam Strange story published thus far. -JJ

Phil said...

No mention on John Carter of Mars? Also Singapore is located at the Straits of Malacca separating the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. The South Pacific is where Fiji is, several thousand miles away but I assume you got that from the comic. Adam Strange actually uses his brain to solve his adventures. Of course this is within the confines of comic book logic, such as ringing Kanjar Ro's gong to immobilize himself so the zeta beam effect will wear off and he gets transported to earth.....stuff like that. But when Infantino begins his art the strip really shines.

Phil said...

So here's a good example of Adam Strange using his smarts to defeat the villains. Why doesn't he just kill them with bullets of metal spears? Because this is a comic book!

Doug said...

Phil --

Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied during yesterday's conversation, so did not have the opportunity to jump in on the conversation. But I think you'll notice that one of our readers did bring up John Carter here in the comments section.

And yes, any mentions of the plotlines of these two stories were based on information within the stories.


Ward Hill Terry said...

Doug, why are you so dismissive of radio as a means of communication? I often read this blog via radio waves. This message will be sent wirelessly,too!

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