DC Comics History: Adam Strange (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
Jun 13, 2017 - 7:39
The period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age was the heyday for Adam Strange. Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino kept the planet hopping hero on the cover of Mystery in Space for much of the period, as Adam fought all manner of menaces on Rann. He would get quite a few recurring villains during these years, though frankly only a couple of them stand out as interesting characters. More significantly, he would meet the Justice League of America, and have his first team up with Hawkman.
The Adam Strange story in Mystery in Space 75 came about because of an error in an issue of Justice League of America. In a discussion about potential members for the team, the Flash mentioned Adam Strange. But how could the JLA know of Adam Strange, when his adventures all took place off Earth? Gardner Fox spins a full-length story, set shortly before JLA 4, the issue in which Adam was referenced. The story opens with Snapper Carr recording the events of JLA 3, which introduced Kanjar Ro, as well as Hyathis and a couple of other, insignificant, villains, and left them all trapped on a deserted world. But we see that Kanjar Ro promptly escaped and headed to Rann, where he schemed for a way to gain enough power to defeat the Justice League members.
Kanjar Ro has his deadly gamma-gong, which causes paralysis in those who hear it rung. He also has assembled a mind-controlled barbarian army, and between the two, is taking over all of Rann. Adam Strange and Alanna get caught, but Adam manages to break free and steals Kanjar Ro's slave ship of space, taking it back to Earth. There he catches another Zeta-Beam, returning him to Rann. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Justice League come across the abandoned slave ship. This is the original line-up of the team: Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, and Smapper Carr. Superman is busy in Kandor. They split into two groups, half going to the planet where they left Kanjar Ro, and learning that he escaped, while the others stay behind. There is a lot of planet hopping, and Adam eventually meets up with the various Leaguers, and together they head to Rann for the big assault on Kanjar Ro.
I've never been too fond of the resolution to this story. Kanjar Ro has a Dhorite rod, made from resources from his home world of Dhor. This basically gets treated as though it was Ro's kryptonite, and used to defeat him. But why would it? It's not as if mud is kryptonite for humans. A poor ending to an average tale. The best thing about it, other than bringing back Kanjar Ro, is that it teamed up Adam Strange with the League. But that's about it. Oh, I should mention that, as a result of Kanjar Ro, Adam can no longer stay indefinitely on Rann, and has to be Zeta-Beamed back to Earth.
Kanjar Ro was not the only villain to face both Adam Strange and the Justice League. The Tornado Tyrant debuted in Mystery in Space 61, the earliest incarnation of what would eventually become the Red Tornado. While on his way to meet up with the Zeta-Beam, Adam Strange gets intercepted and teleported to the planet Xalthor by a being who introduces himself as Ulthoon. The planet will shortly explode, and Ulthoon intends to leave Adam there to die, while he heads off to conquer Rann. Adam manages to get off the shattering planet, and intercept the Zeta-Beam from there, arriving on Rann to find Ulthoon in a weird craft, apparently generating a destructive tornado. Ulthoon seems immune to all of Adam's attacks, but then the hero realizes that Ulthoon and his ship are merely an illusion.
The real enemy is the sentient tornado itself. He leads a Rannian fleet against the tornado, dispersing it. This entity would become known as the Tornado Tyrant, a name used in the title of the story, but not in the tale itself. The Tornado Tyrant returned in the pages of Justice League of America three years down the road.
Mortan faced Adam Strange twice, the first being in Mystery in Space 62. The story opens on Alanna, who is waiting for Adam in a desert, but suddenly finds herself in a jungle, menaced by dinosaurs. At first she believes she has been sent back in time, but then finds out she is inside a force filed bubble, which vanishes as quickly as it appeared. Adam shows up, just in time for another force field bubble to appear, this one in the ocean. It contains another odd beast. The force field bubbles are the creation of a Rannian scientist who intended to use them to study the past, but have been taken control of by his assistant, Mortan. Mortan is another would-be conqueror of Rann, demanding power, or he will unleash the various nasty beasts that he can bring forward in time with the force fields. Adam tracks the radio waves being used and destroys the force field machine.
Mortan makes a return in Mystery in Space 80. The story begins with Adam Strange still on Rann, spending time with Alanna. Sardath gets captured, and before Adam can do anything to get him back, the Zeta-Beam wears off, and he returns to Earth. Back home, he falls ill, and cannot make it back to Rann for weeks. When he finally makes it back, he can find no trace of Sardath. And to make things worse, his own shadow keeps attacking him, trying to kill him. It's only because Sardath escapes that Adam finds out what is really going on, that Mortan has gotten free, and was the one who kidnapped Sardath.
He is also the one using shadow radiation against Adam, trying to kill him. But Adam is able to turn the tables on Mortan, using the shadow radiation to make himself, effectively, disappear. Convinced that Adam has gone back to Earth because the Zeta radiation has worn off, Mortan stops hiding, and Adam is able to take him down.
Aliens with deadly vacuums are the problem Adam Strange has to face in Mystery in Space 63. Alanna takes Adam exploring in Sumuru, the oldest ruins on Rann, supposedly built by a race of lizard men. There they get an emergency call, demanding Adam's return to Ranagar. A representative of the Vantor has shown up, politely informing the Rannians that they intend to conquer the planet, and giving them an opportunity to fight back. The Vantors have their deadly vacuum weapons, which turn their opponents into gaseous forms, which is why they can be so nonchalant about the whole invasion thing. Adam sees Alanna get vacuumed, but when the Vantors turn the weapons on him, it interacts with the Zeta radiation and sends him back to Earth.
When Adam returns to Rann, he finds the city of Ranagar gone, but the people are back. Alanna explains how they surrendered to the Vantor, who vacuumed away the city. Adam theorizes that the vacuums have to be set for different substances, so gets the Rannians to coat themselves in different metals, and then leads another attack. And this works, as it takes the Vantor too much time to keep re-setting their vacuums, and the Rannians are able to get to them and pound them silly.
The Vantors are back in Mystery in Space 78. Adam arrives on Rann to find the world plunged into darkness. The Vantors are open in announcing their responsibility for this, and threatening the Rannians. The next day, the darkness is gone, but a black disc remains in the sky. The disc turns the people of Rann into shadows, and teleports them off to another planet. It's not actually the planets of the Vantors that they wind up on.
Instead, there is a different alien, Llyrr, who is behind the black discs, but working in conjunction with the Vantors. Adam pulls off two triumphs in this tale, taking out LLyrr by getting him to get hit by lightning, and then taking control of the black discs and turning the Vantors into shadows, sending them off to Llyrr's world. It works pretty well, because we never do see or hear from the Vantors again.
Adam Strange faces two new foes, both of whom will return, in Mystery in Space 68. The story begins on Rann before Adam's arrival, as we see Alanna and her father Sardath, as well as Kaskor, his second in command, see sky writing from a mysterious foe. The troops they send out to confront it just vanish. Adam Strange arrives on Rann, and the cover sequence takes place, though both Adam and Alanna wind up vanishing when the tigrabar attacks. They wind up on the planet Rynthar, and have to face the Dust Devils, who are native to that planet. Adam is able to defeat them by turning them to glass. Only then does he learn that the villain behind all of this is Kaskor.
He has been plotting against Sardath and the Rannians, and has developed a modified Zeta-Beam, which allows him to teleport people and things without having them return when the charge wears off. He has plans, as so many do, to conquer Rann. Adam impersonates Kaskor and returns to Rann. He then Zeta-Beams both of them to Rynthar. It's a bit of a confusing ending, and there really isn't any clear purpose for impersonating Kaskor. Of the two villains introduced in this story, Kaskor and the Dust Devils, the latter would return in these pages. Kaskor would not be seen again until the late 70s, in a Superman/Adam Strange team-up in DC Comics Presents.
The Dust Devil comes back in Mystery in Space 70. Adam Strange comes to Rann, and this time brings the problem along with him. Jakarta, one of the Dust Devils that Adam Strange faced a couple of issues back, managed to avoid being turned to glass by hiding out in Adam's holster. Now he emerges, wanting vengeance.
The pair battle it out on Rann, and Adam tries to invent a new device to defeat Jakarta, but the Zeta-Beam wears off, pulling him back to Earth, and Jakarta comes along., So for a change, the climax of the story takes place on Earth, which the Dust Devil is attempting to conquer. Adam figures out that Jakarta can be "bound" with static electricity, and seals him into a room full of it.
Jakarta, the Dust Devil, makes his final appearance in this book in Mystery in Space 84. Jakarta escapes from his static electricity prison, and shows up as Adam Strange waits for the Zeta-Beam to take him back to Rann. Adam does not want to leave the Dust Devil behind on Earth, and so he tries to avoid the beam, but Jakarta manipulates him into getting hit by it. Part of Jakarta also gets beamed to Rann along with Adam, while part of him stays behind on Earth. Both halves are able to act, and are a threat. Jakarta shows himself once again a particularly dangerous opponent.
The Dust Devil has figured out how to avoid the static electricity trap that worked before, and can destroy any weapon Adam uses against it. Adam figures on using that tendency against it. Adam creates weapons imbued with a paralyzing radioactivity, and allows Jakarta to turn them to dust. This dust blends with the form of the Dust Devil, paralyzing him. Adam heads back to Earth to do the same thing with the other form of Jakarta.
Adam Strange deals with problems in the present and the future on Rann in Mystery in Space 72. Adam has to wait almost a year for the next Zeta-Beam to hit Earth, so he goes back to work as an archaeologist. But then a purple beam hits him, and teleports him away. A cop sees Adam disappear from his car. It's a very small role, just two panels, but this cop, Tom Boyle, will return in a few months. Adam finds himself back on Rann, but in the distant future. The Rannians are being attacked by aliens, and have no idea what to do about it. Consulting their history tapes, they see that Adam Strange used to come and save them, so they decided to create a time warping Zeta-Beam, and bring him to their time to solve their problems.
Viewing the history tapes, Adam sees that Alanna is dealing with a different alien invasion in the present. The Rannians promise to send him back in time to solve this, once he has dealt with their troubles. You'd think in all this time the Rannians would have gained a hero of their own, but apparently not. At any rate, Adam defeats the invaders in the future, and then gets sent back to deal with the ones in the present. It's a pretty exhausting day for the guy, but it comes with a sort of reward. The future Zeta-Beam lasts much longer than the current one, so after he gets rid of the swirling cones, he gets to spend an entire month on Rann with his sweetheart.
Mystery in Space 81 features the return of the confused policeman, Tom Boyle. This time Adam does not disappear in front of him. Adam does cause some problems for himself, though, when he spots Alanna on Earth. He catches up to her, and she informs him that they found a way to Zeta-Beam her to Earth. Content to be with her, Adam doesn't bother to catch the next Zeta-Beam. But as we quickly find out, this is not the real Alanna. The villain of the story, Alva Xar, has been making his own use of the Zeta radiation.
He is thousands of years old, from the ancient city of Zared. He was awakened a few issues earlier, during the story with the giant flying gun, when aliens were fighting over the weapons from that city. Having created his Zeta radiation based weapons, he beamed Alanna's memories into an Earth woman, to keep Adam Strange at bay, as he proceeds with his plans to conquer Rann. Alva Xar sends some of the Zeta radiation to Earth, where it forms a destructive cloud monster, which freezes people.
Adam has enough Zeta energy in him so as not to be affected by this, but it still takes him a while to disperse the cloud monster, which responds to telepathic commands. By this point the woman who resembles Alanna has regained her own mind, and Adam realizes that he has been tricked. He catches the next Zeta-Beam to Rann. So Adam is only actually on Rann for the conclusion of the tale. He has the weapon that creates the cloud creature, and by releasing it, manages to freeze Alva Xar, and uses the two deadly weapons to destroy each other. A fun story, which changes the pattern up a bit. Alva Xar returns in the Adam Strange back-up in Green Lantern in the 80s.
Adam Strange gets to play hero on Earth for once, in Mystery in Space 82. The story also introduces the idea that not everyone on Rann views Adam as a welcome hero. Some people consider him as much of a menace as the creatures and aliens he battles. Alanna dismisses these people as being from backwards cities, but much later continuity will show this to be a more widespread view on Rann. Adam winds up going to and from Rann a couple of times during this story.
He is dealing with another wanna-be conqueror on Rann, Thanas Pral (who isn't actually named in this story), with a giant flying lens that fries cities, and a wanna-be conqueror on Earth as well, with the no less unusual name of Manlo Tallifa, who has futuristic aircraft. The Justice League are mentioned as being off-planet, so Adam has to deal with the problem on Earth, as well as the one on Rann. He winds up taking out the Rannian, and getting control of his flying discs. Then he returns to Earth and uses the discs to fry the airplanes. Works out pretty well.
Alanna gets a new dress in Mystery in Space 88, and it causes a lot of problems. The canister that Adam brought the dress in gets taken over by the spirit form of Thanas Pral. He actually has reformed, but the Zeta energy on the surface of the canister causes him to turn evil. He refigures the canister into a robot, and goes on the attack.
Adam is able to shatter the robot and release the energy form on Thanas Pral, but even in this form he is still crazed evil, until Adam irradiates him with Alpha particles. This restores his mind, and he winds up becoming Sardath's assistant. But probably only for a very short time, as we never see him again.
In Mystery in Space 87 Sardath has created a Null-Zeta radiation machine, which will allow Adam once again to be able to stick around. But the radiation has a bad side effect, giving Adam Strange a giant head, a super brain, and a really obnoxious personality. Weird electrical patterns also begin appearing in the sky. Adam creates a bizarre super weapon to use against them. But Alanna is not happy with this cold and distant Adam, and shuts off the machine, which returns Adam to normal.
Without his super brain, he no longer has any idea how to use the weapon. The electrical effects in the sky were caused by his super-brain, but he knows how to shut off the computer causing those. The story ends as Adam winds up having to Zeta-Beam back to Earth, but he brings with him an unusual striped rock, which will feature in the Hawkman story in the same issue, endowing Ira Quimby with mental powers.
Mystery in Space 90 contains the first Adam Strange/Hawkman team-up. Although this plays out as a straightforward super-hero team-up, with no politics or subtleties, it laid the groundwork that would eventually build into one of the defining elements in DC's cosmology, the rivalry between Rann and Thanagar. The story is divided into three chapters.
The first is an Adam Strange story, the second a Hawkman one, with the team-up coming in the final chapter. The villain, Oran Dargg, uses a modified Zeta-Beam to transport various monuments from Earth to Rann, where Adam Strange and Alanna have to deal with them, bring flung around like weapons. Adam and Alanna are too busy smashing monuments to notice at first that Dargg has also used the Zeta-Beam on Earth itself, moving it into the same orbit as Rann. On Earth, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are dealing with the mysterious disappearances taking place on Earth, and make their first trip to the now nearby Rann. The Hawks meet with Sardath, who explains how the two planets are nearing, and how the gravitational forces will eventually rip both of them apart.
With the planets so close, Alanna takes a small ship and flies to Earth to meet Adam on his own planet. There, they also meet up with the Hawks, and the four head off to confront Oran Dargg. Sadly, he then teleports them into two separate traps, which divides them into their usual pairings. At the very least he could have put Alanna with Hawkman and Adam with Hawkgirl. The couples each escape their traps, and get back together, long enough for Adam and Hawkman to jointly capture Oran Dargg.
The story ends with Adam commenting on how good a team the Hawks make, and seeing that marriage has helped their relationship, rather than hinder it. He proposes to Alanna. As it turns out, this is a long engagement, as the couple do not actually marry for over ten years.
Adam Strange continues in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Adam Strange: Mystery in Space 57 – 90 (Feb 60 – March 64)
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