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Mystery in Space
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Julius Schwartz.
Mystery in Space contained both Adam Strange and general, non-series science fiction stories. This article only covers Adam Strange stories.
The dignified, beautiful Mystery in Space art was by Carmine Infantino. Adam Strange did his work on the planet Rann. Its largest city Ranagar was a typical example of Infantino's futuristic Art Deco. See the article on the Flash for a detailed discussion of this. Ranagar is often seen in the background, its skyline in silhouette, like other Infantino cities. It is full of spiral ramps, and sloping ramps that tilt upwards from building to building. It also has trapezoidal doorways, and numerous towers.
Adam Strange's costume is a brilliant red, like other Infantino heroes such as The Flash. The twin jet packs on his back look like angel's wings in traditional art. Since Adam Strange is a figure of 100% virtue, this is not inappropriate imagery. He can indeed seem like an angel figure, trying to help the people of Rann.
The most important cycle in Gardner Fox is the zeta-beam used to transport Adam Strange to Rann. It has the following steps:
A typical Adam Strange story consists of one cycle of the zeta-beam. However, it can consist of two or more. The whole concept of a "cycle" means that it can be repeated again and again, either within a story, or in separate tales. Gardner Fox does not always tell all he knows about the cycle in each zeta-beam story. He simply makes it implicit in the progress of the tale. However, all the stories follow it with extreme consistency.
The above cycle is not restricted to Adam Strange. Any living being can be the protagonist of a zeta-beam cycle, traveling from Earth to Rann, and back again. Fox sometimes substituted other protagonists for Adam Strange. This is typical of Fox cycles. Most allow any person to be their lead character. Fox would systematically develop his plots by varying the leads of his cycles, in ingenious ways.
Gardner Fox showed great profusion of imagination. He was quite capable of making up a brand new cycle for a single story, never to be used again.
A Gardner Fox story can have more than one kind of cycle in it. The two cycles are often superimposed in ingenious ways. A cycle, of course, can be a kind of prison for a character, a pre-doomed path that they are constrained to follow. By participating in two different cycles, the hero of the tale can break out of one cycle, and get free of its influence, by following the other cycle. This causes him to gain his freedom, or at least get some leverage. He often uses his position to free a large group of innocent characters trapped in the first cycle.
Gardner Fox shares a certain orientation in his science fiction with Robert Heinlein. This is the Heinlein of the 1940's and 1950's, who described calm, rational future worlds full of space travel to other planets, organized civilization, a benign prosperous capitalism, and a life style not too different from 1940's America, only set in outer space. Heinlein had been a US Naval Officer, and there was a certain naval feel to his heroes, many of whom were part of space fleets not too different in organization from the US Navy. One sees all of this in Fox' stories. Heinlein was the most prestigious science fiction writer in the USA during this period, and it is not surprising that Fox showed an influence from his stories.
The menaces are a structural feature of Fox' writing. They occur in almost every Adam Strange tale. The title of each Adam Strange story is usually based on them: for example, the title "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" describes how the inhabitants of Rann are made immobile by the device. Although there are many other things going on in a Fox tale, the menace gets the title. For example, Adam Strange had his main encounter with the Justice League of America in "The Planet That Came to a Standstill". This is a Big Event in the comics world, and it would have been easy to title this story "Adam Strange Meets the Justice League" or some equivalent. Instead, Fox has stuck with his titling approach. This is not simply a "convention". Fox built his stories according to certain structural principles. These structures are at the heart of Fox' writing. Everything in his tales is constructed as a variation on the underlying structural patterns that he used.
The fights against the menaces themselves can be considered as a specialized form of the cycle, Gardner Fox's basic building block. Each menace-fight follows the following cycle:
As in all Gardner Fox cycles, the protagonists are in the same shape at the end as at the beginning. Rann was a happy menace-free place at the start, and at the end, the menace has been contained, and everything is as if the menace had never existed.
Usually, an Adam Strange story contains one cycle of menace-fighting. However, some can contain two: for example, "Challenge of the Giant Fireflies" (1961). The menace-fight cycles in that story occur sequentially, as is typical of the Adam Strange stories. Gardner Fox rarely has two menace cycles going on simultaneously. Instead he has one follow the other. The two menaces in that story are different from each other (giant fireflies in the first cycle, fire creatures in the second). Other Adam Strange stories repeat the same menace in a series of cycles. For example, in the long tale "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" we go through three cycles of the same menace (the immobilizing gong).
The menace-fight cycle contains two timing issues: the arrival of Adam Strange shortly after a menace appears, and his departure after it is fixed. Fox sometimes varies these two times. When he does, he always calls attention to it in his dialogue. Adam Strange himself usually wonders why the pattern is breaking. For example, sometimes when Adam arrives on Rann there is no menace. Adam will express wonder about this! He will also worry that a menace is about to appear - and it usually does. This is a little late, but the cycle then resumes as usual. These structural variations in the cycle of the tales are explicitly marked out by Gardner Fox's writing.
There is no logical reason why the zeta-beam timing should coincide with the menaces. Gardner Fox is as aware of this as anybody. Adam Strange frequently points out what a coincidence this is. Fox milks this whole question for humor in several of the tales. It is a good point for self-satire in the stories. However, the humor also serves the structural function of highlighting the reader's awareness of the fundamental pattern.
Several of the menaces in the Adam Strange tales themselves come in cycles. The menace will put its victim through several stages. At the end, there will be an antidote, which will return the protagonist unharmed to his or her original state. Some of these cycles will be discussed under the individual Adam Strange stories below.
Fox is much less interested in the villains that cause the menaces than in the science fictional menaces themselves. Some of the menaces are simply natural catastrophes; other times the villains turn out to be not such bad guys after all. Fox' disinterest in villains is not such a bad thing. Some comic book writers go overboard and glamorize their villains, making them central figures and displacing the hero. I have never enjoyed this approach.
Sometimes the menaces in the tale cause Adam Strange to take part in traps. These are different in that Adam Strange, and often Alanna too, are caught in a concrete, physically dangerous situation from which they must escape. Fox shows great ingenuity in his traps. Adam Strange's escape methods always involve science. He typically thinks his way out of bad situations. Readers in the letter column loved the fact that Adam Strange used his brain to solve problems - it was one of the things they loved best about their hero.
This first story has the zeta-beam encounter at the Inca city of Caramanga, Peruvian Plateau of the Andes. Like many of the later stories, the location seems to poetically echo the events of the story to follow. It is not a hard and fast connection, and there is no "logical" tie. Still, it is noticeable in many of the tales. Here the lost Inca city, still guarded by tribesmen, echoes the eternal City of Samakand and it inhabitants Adam will meet on Rann.
The "snap the whip" segment here constitutes the first of the traps from which Adam Strange must escape, a favorite element of the stories to come. Like the later traps, both its construction, and the devices used by Adam to escape, are based on scientific principles.
Alanna is frequently shown piloting flying machines. Her introduction in the first tale has her descending from a ship she is flying. She also pilots barges, and what look like flying carpets. By contrast, Adam usually gets around by his jet-pack, not by any ship. Like the Flash, he is a pedestrian, not a driver, and either walks or flies solo everywhere he wants to go. His anti-ship approaches perhaps underscores or echoes the fact that he gets to Rann by zeta-beam, not by space ship. He may be a space traveler, but he is definitely not in the tradition of Buck Rogers or other starship pilots. In this he is in direct contrast to the Space Ranger, the DC Silver Age hero who debuted in Showcase immediately before Adam Strange.
Fox also includes a meteor, filled with a radioactive substance called Vitatron; this is one of several radioactive meteors that show up in Fox's work. They tend to be beneficial to humans, not harmful, often bestowing special powers. Such radioactivity, or perhaps the power it confers, does tend to isolate the people who receive it. These people tend to become separated from the rest of humanity, unable to live with them. Fox often builds stories about these affected people's need to rejoin the human race: see "The Dawn-World Menace" (Strange Adventures #147, December 1962).
There is another cycle here, one dealing with the Eternal City of Samakand. This is one of Fox's most beautiful ideas. Sekowsky's art is lovely, too. When rereading this story, I felt the same thrill of wonder I had experienced as a child.
The Planet and the Pendulum (1958). Art: Mike Sekowsky. Sequel to the origin story, in which Adam Strange tries to rescue some colonists from Rann on its sister planet Anthorann. In this tale, Adam Strange first gets his space suit, jet pack and ray gun. Fox has him simply find them in a Rann space ship. They are not custom designed for Adam. This also means that the insignia on the helmet and his collar have no personal meaning for Adam. Nor is the meaning of these symbols ever explained. As far as I can remember, the origin of Adam's space suit will never be discussed again in the series.
Adam dives from a boat to meet the zeta-beam here, in the ocean south of Singapore. This is the first deliberate meeting with the zeta-beam in the saga. As in all later tales, this involves Adam trying to get to the exact location and time of the zeta-beam's arrival. Adam does the first countdown here to the zeta-beam, also a feature of the later cycle. This story's opening plays an important role in building the zeta-beam cycle. In some ways, this opening part of the second story seems more like a continuation of the first Adam Strange tale, "Secret of the Eternal City", which appeared immediately before it in the same issue of Showcase. It helps perfect the whole zeta-beam concept, that was largely otherwise created complete in the first story. Fox had announced the location of the zeta-beam's next arrival near Singapore at the end of the first tale, something he never did again in any subsequent tale. This makes the initial part of this sequel look as if it is actually part of the first tale's gestalt.
Fox also specifies the location where Adam returns to Earth at the story's end: somewhere in the Australian desert. This too is fairly rare in the saga. We always see Adam standing safely on Earth, but the location is rarely given. Another story where we are told the return point: "The Weapon That Swallowed Men" (1960), where Adam shows up on an island in the Banda Sea.
This story is pleasant, but it is by no means as good as the first Adam Strange tale. It is a wild grab bag of science fiction ideas. The best one concerns the "Rainbow Doom". When Adam Strange is being teleported by a machine from Rann to Anthorann, he experiences a huge light show involving multi-colored circles and dots. Sekowsky's art is very beautiful here. Such light shows are comic book traditions, used in situations of teleportation, time travel, or passage from one dimension to another. Gil Kane used similar abstract art effects in his Qward stories, depicting the journey from the dimension of Qward to Earth: see "The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts" (Green Lantern #2, September-October 1960). After Adam Strange arrives on Anthorann, Fox and Sekowsky have him experience a meteor shower, thus keeping up the spectacular light effects.
Adam's costume is present on the cover of this issue, created by Gil Kane. The twin rockets of Adam's jet pack remind one in shape and position of those Kane often painted on spaceships. Kane's spaceships were nearly always bilaterally symmetric, with two rockets on either side of the main ship; Adam's twin set of rockets serve a similar geometric function. Adam Strange's rounded helmet and two side rockets below them have the same geometric form as his space ships' central elongated main ship with its rounded head, and two side rockets below them. Kane's space ships are loaded with phallic imagery, and this symbolism is strongly preserved by the similarly shaped Adam Strange helmet and rocket packs.
The tubes leading to the rockets and Adam's ray gun are both in Kane's tradition of complex machinery; when he began drawing them in the stories, Infantino never made them look so elaborate or complex. Adam's ray gun is a series of rotated ellipsoids, bulging in the middle, connected by a series of very short narrow cylindrical sections. It shows Kane's deep interest in curves. Kane's rockets have recessed circular openings at their tops, in the tradition of Kane's machinery; Infantino would simplify this into closed tops. Similarly, the ear-circles in Kane's helmet have a recessed hollow center, in the Kane tradition of recessed circular openings; whereas Infantino's later version simplifies this down to a circular shield parallel to the rim of the ear piece. The rim of Kane's ear-piece is also rounded in complex ways, whereas Infantino's ear-piece as a whole is a simple, pure truncated cylinder or cone.
Adam Strange's helmet has a flange. Artists love flanges: it allows them to introduce new geometrical elements into their compositions. Flanges were also present on the heads of such Golden Age super-heroes and members of the Justice Society of America as the Atom and Starman. The Constructivist Kane frequently included spheres in his stories, with elaborate circles and circular crescents drawn on the surface of the sphere. Adam Strange's helmet is in this tradition. Its two white circular crescent regions on each side make a beautiful, complex geometric design. These circular arcs are echoed by the circular flange running over the center of Adam's helmet. It too is white. Kane has a small circle at the meeting point of these arcs, serving as the center point of the helmet's wing insignia. Kane also has circular ear coverings for Adam. The whole helmet is one of Kane's greatest triumphs of Constructivist design.
Adam Strange's space suit resembles in a general way the clothes worn by men in "The Square Earth" (Mystery in Space #22, October-November 1954), illustrated by Seymour Barry, and based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. Like them, the space suit has the feel of a military uniform worn c1900 somewhere in Mittel-Europa. The resemblance is especially strong from the neck up, with a stiff military collar, a helmet with a flange on top, and circular ear pieces. The rest of the costumes are somewhat different. The men in that tale wore gloves and boots, in the traditional officer's military style, while Adam Strange's gloves and boots seem to merge right into his suit. Adam's gloves and boots are marked off by diamond shape regions of color, whereas the boots and gloves in "The Square Earth" have round, cylindrical edges.
At the base of this cover picture, we see a cityscape on Rann through the force field. Kane emphasizes circular towers. These tend to be composed of several pieces; each section is a narrow cylinder of smaller and smaller radius. We will see similar towers close up, on the cover of "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges". Such towers tend to be less frequent in Kane's other architectural work: they seem to be part of his vision of Rann.
The giant space pendulum cutting through a spherical force field protecting a planet is reused from the Knights of the Galaxy tale, "Duel of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #3, August-September 1951). This linkage points out the similarity between Adam Strange and the earlier Knights. This similarity is discussed in detail that article. With the advent of Adam Strange, Mystery in Space will once again center on a spaceman hero, just as in its first eight issues.
Invaders from the Atom Universe (Showcase #18, January-February 1959). Art: Mike Sekowsky. The Vrenn, alien invaders from a microscopic world, teleport Rann's people down to a micro world, and take over Rann. This tale involves Fox's perennial interest in teleportation. The story starts out with the whole population of Rann being teleported & shrunk; later Alanna invents a small device that allows just one person to be size changed at a time. This is an interesting reversal of Fox's usual progression. Typically, he starts out with just one person being the protagonist of one of his cycles, such as teleportation, and gradually works up to a whole population being the protagonist of the cycle.
Fox does a competent job with the teleportation aspects of the story, and these are fairly enjoyable. I liked the large teleportation machine, the Orkinomikkron. But this cannot disguise that this is just a war story, with an "us versus them" mood. Problems are solved by fighting and violence, and the enemy is not reformed at the end, but destroyed. All this makes it second rate in the Adam Strange canon.
At one point, Adam sends all the hunters of Rann out on a search. This is an early example in the series of Adam's directing a large group of Rann's people on some task vital to the future of Rann. This will be a standard plot development later on.
Sekowsky's art is notable at the stories' beginning, where he takes us to the Bara region of Southern Madagascar to await the zeta-beam. This region of tall needles of volcanic rock is spectacularly drawn here. It will later echo the barren, rock-strewn world to which the Rann people are teleported.
The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange (1959). Art: Mike Sekowsky. Adam impersonates one of twelve life size Adam Strange toy dolls, in order to smuggle himself into a dictatorial Rann city-state that is preparing war. This tale is probably based on its Gil Kane cover, which shows the villain using a life size Alanna doll to set a trap for Adam Strange. As befits a good science fiction writer, Fox has turned the idea of large dolls into a systematic sf innovation. The dolls are now universally popular and the craze of society: good sf looks at the social implications of ideas, and their mass effects. Fox has created Adam Strange dolls, as well as Alanna ones. The dolls are played with by kids; Fox did a similar look at kids playing with the Adam Strange mythos in "The Multiple Menace Weapon" (1961). He has also made the dolls humanoid, and the result of advanced technology beyond Earth levels. Fox has a long time interest in stories in which the hero meets multiple duplicates of himself: see his "The Case of the Counterfeit Humans" (Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952) and "Trail of the False Green Lanterns" (Flash #143, March 1964). This story also anticipates another story of humans impersonating giant dolls, "Dolls of Doom" (Lois Lane #21, November 1960) a tale by an unknown author. Both of these tales also have "Doom" in their titles.
Alanna playfully and mystifyingly confronts Adam with the Adam Strange dolls on his arrival on Rann; only a few minutes later does she reveal herself to him, and explain the dolls. This is the first of several occasions in the series during which she hoaxes him on his initial arrival. These gentle hoaxes are a form of romantic play, and greatly aid in her characterization.
The hoaxes tend to confront Adam with serious, traditional sf situations: meeting doubles here, robots who run amok in "Menace of the Robot Raiders". Then the story reveals the situations to be hoaxes, and the story turns from tragedy into comedy. There are also structural features to this change. The hoaxes tend to present not just sf, but horror material, images that reflect subconscious fears. The hoax then reveals that these situations are not true. Actual reality seems far more friendly, with the dolls and robots functioning as user friendly machines that are under full human control. The actual reality reflects the idea that robots are useful machines, not sinister threats to humankind. Fox has a message here, embedded in the structure of his tale. Horror ideas about robots turn out to be hoaxes, replaced by deeper and more truthful ideas about the practical utility of robots. Fox is expressing a rationalistic tradition in sf: that ideas are more powerful than fears, and that technology and the universe itself will behave rationally.
A cynic might also note that the two tiered approach allows Fox to have his cake and eat it too. He gets to show both events, horror material and rationalist robotics, and include them both in the fabric of his story.
This story is much better around its edges, than in its central plot. At its core, this is just a conventional spy tale. An evil dictator is plotting war; good spies from another state infiltrate his domain, and defeat him. This sort of "us against them" material is not very inspiring or pleasant. By contrast, most of the colorful material dressing up the plot is a lot of fun, including the dolls, and Adam's attempts to evade the villain's final traps. We see our first map of part of Rann here. It includes some of the inland seas that are such a prominent part of Rann geography. We also see some Rann writing: here on a sign board in the city-state of Dys.
The opening in Sydney, Australia is the first look by Fox at what might happen if the zeta-beam were interfered with; this will become a major element of the series. Adam here meets the zeta-beam at the most urban place he encounters in the early stories. Both the urban locale, and the intrigue with the policeman, evoke the spy milieu to follow.
Challenge of the Star Hunter (1959). Art: Mike Sekowsky. A playful but powerful alien threatens to destroy Rann unless a Rann Champion takes part in and wins his science fictional hunting game. This delightful story is the best Adam Strange Showcase tale after "Secret of the Eternal City". Such game playing aliens had previously occurred in the Knights of the Galaxy tale "Master of Doom" (Mystery in Space #4, October-November 1951). The aliens in both tales are identically characterized: they are the last survivors of an alien race, they have awesome powers, they are terrible bored, and they have a game they inflict on other worlds, threatening to destroy them if their champion fails. The recurrence of such an alien points out the close relationship between Adam Strange and the Knights of the Galaxy stories. It is in this tale that Adam gets his title of Champion of Rann. This is a deeply service oriented position, devoted to helping others. It is one with many responsibilities, and few privileges.
The mood is Showcase #18 was grim and warlike. By contrast, the tone here in Showcase #19 is comic and playful, with the stories exploring the lighter, more joyful and more intellectual possibilities of the Adam Strange mythos.
The zeta-beam arrives in a plain near Calcutta. Adam's disappearance, which delightfully involves comedy and magic, sets the mood for the game like story to come. At the end of the tale, Adam uses his fading away from the zeta-beam to ingeniously enable actions he is taking to help the other aliens attacked by the villain of this story. This is the first such ingenious use of the zeta-beam cycle in the series: a key landmark.
This story also resembles Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game". Fox twists the plot around, so that the villain is the hunted here, not the hunter. Fox shows great originality in the contents of his game. The game has its own cycle, in the Fox sense, one that is repeated three times. Such triple repetitions anticipate Fox's Star Rovers stories to come, as do the puzzle nature of these events, and the procession of alien creatures that appear here. The theme of non-violent hunting of animals, mainly sneaking up on them to get close to them, will form a recurring element of the Star Rovers tales.
The suspended animation elements here follow Fox's traditional interest in sleep, as an sf plot device.
Mystery of the Mental Menace (1959). Art: Mike Sekowsky. Although Rann looks peaceful when Adam Strange arrives, it is actually being menaced by a telepathic creature from its solar system's outermost planet, who wants to steal the secret of teleportation from Adam. The Adam Strange series never built up a clear, coherent picture of Rann's solar system. Fox would throw in another planet whenever he wanted to introduce another menace. Rann's inhabitants lacked space travel, and clearly never had visited most of these worlds, or knew much about them.
One might also point out that Fox never used this stories' plot gambit again: "Adam Strange held hostage by a villain who wants his teleportation secrets". One suspects that he did not want to portray Adam as a victim. Instead of stories in which Adam was in jeopardy, he wrote tales in which a heroic Adam rescued the people of Rann from their problems. Adam was the Champion of Rann.
None of this matters very much. The point of this delightful comic story is not its villain, but to spoof the coincidence of Adam's arriving whenever there is a menace facing Rann. This tale points out the coincidence in depth. But it does nothing to explain it. The last line of the tale ascribes it to "fate". This coincidence will last for the entire series of Fox Adam Strange tales. The story also explicitly uses the word "menace", and points out that Adam has met "five different kinds of menace" on his previous five trips to Rann. Fox makes it clear that both the menaces, and the timing of Adam's reaching and leaving Rann, are part of a standard cycle that recurs in the stories. This tale makes a fitting conclusion to the Showcase run of Adam Strange. Fox, like other Showcase authors, has consciously explored all the possibilities he can imagine for his hero, to demonstrate his versatility, and the potentialities of a future Adam Strange series. Now, for his conclusion, he is institutionalizing his menace cycle, just as the six tales opened with a story setting forth the zeta-beam cycle.
Adam nearly misses the zeta-beam on the veldt in Kenya, Africa, when he has to rescue a man from a stampeding elephant. Fox will reuse this rescue approach in later tales, such as "The Spaceman Who Fought Himself" (1962), where he rescues a Polynesian woman canoeist from a Pacific typhoon. It sets a mood of suspense for the later story. Adam will be in danger in this story from a creature, just as the man in Kenya is from the elephant.
There is a bit of mystery in this story, but it is brief and not very well developed; its solution is arbitrary. The early Mystery in Space tales will often focus on mystery, however, and perhaps this tale is a small precursor to that.
This story takes place during an official Rann holiday. Such holidays will regularly recur in later stories. They are always beautiful, dignified and upbeat. Fox and Infantino will show us many Rann customs during these events, which are always a little bit different from Earth mores. Rann is a Utopian world, in many ways, and the holidays show us an ideal picture of human happiness. The holidays remind one a little bit of the Utopian celebrations in Shangri-La in James Hilton's Lost Horizon. There had been precursors to this holiday in earlier Showcase tales, such as the peace celebrations at the end of "Dozen Dooms", but this is the first full fledged holiday portrait.
Menace of the Robot Raiders (1959). The first Adam Strange story in Mystery in Space, and the first with art by Carmine Infantino: aliens give Rann apparently friendly giant robots to do their chores, but eventually the robots run amok and menace Ranagar. This tale is a well constructed sf mystery, with Adam challenged to explain the mystery of the robots' behavior. Adam remains calm throughout the tale, trying to think carefully about the events he sees, and to find good evidence of their underlying cause, instead of jumping to conclusions. By contrast, a Rann soldier working with Adam is quick to assign blame for the robots' actions to the most obvious suspects. There is a didactic purpose to this: Fox is trying to show how a real scientist solves problems. Adam Strange is being held up as a role model to readers.
The aliens in this tale are known as Griks, and the story repeatedly evokes the ancient legend of the Greeks giving the Trojan Horse to their enemies. This is one of many references to Homer's Odyssey in Gardner Fox's tales.
Adam meets the zeta-beam at the Praca Floriana in Rio de Janeiro. This is a beautiful public park, filled with people. This opening among human civilization perhaps sets the mood for the advanced technology tale to follow. Adam also has to use strategy and thinking to peacefully get two boys away from the zeta-beam's location. This thinking anticipates a main theme of the story to come, the importance of thinking in solving human problems.
Infantino has Adam in suit and tie in the early scenes of the story. This is typical of the heroes of Mystery in Space. But it will be uncommon for Adam in later stories. More often, Adam will already be wearing his Rann spacesuit on Earth, before meeting the zeta-beam.
There is a close up of one of Ranagar's buildings on page 6; this is one of the most detailed close views in Infantino's art. It looks somewhat like Adam Strange's own house, as depicted in "Challenge of the Rival Starman" (1962). Both views are in profile, from the side. Both buildings are multi-storied, and both show one of Infantino's multi-paned Art Deco windows.
This story has one of Gil Kane's best covers. We see the robot in considerable detail. He is a large Constructivist object, made up out of geometric figures such as squares and circles. There is a whole tradition of Constructivist portraiture, associated with Russian artists such as Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo, in which the face is represented as a collection of geometric patterns. Kane's cover is a witty variation on this tradition. Instead of geometric elements approximating the appearance of a human being, here we have geometry used to make a robot, whose face is an imitation of a human's.
The robot has an openable chamber in its head, in which a human can ride around, and control the robot. The control panel looks like those in Kane's space ships. This is a very ingenious concept. I do not recall seeing anything like it in previous sf comics. It recalls a little bit the Time-Car in Kane's "The Paul Revere of Time" (Strange Adventures #77, February 1957), which combined a time machine with the idea of a car. Here we have a robot in which a human can also ride around. The transparent dome of the robot reminds one of the transparent sphere of the Time-Car.
Many of Kane's covers show a flying Adam battling a huge menace. Although Adam is depicted at normal size, he tends to be dwarfed by such giant figures as the robot here, and the giant Adam Strange on the cover of "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (1960). He often looks like a Lilliputian figure, coping with a very large world. Some of Kane's earlier covers for the sf magazines actually showed small, miniaturized human beings. So this was a persistent theme of his. Both the robot here, and the giant Adam Strange, have huge hands, which are outstretched in dramatic gestures.
There is something oppositional in Fox's approach to Kane's covers. The covers were probably created first, and then Fox's stories were written about their ideas. But Fox often undercuts the apparent meaning of the covers, usually to create a more humanistic or more scientific vision. The cover of the first tale, "The Planet and the Pendulum", shows Adam in what is plainly a military uniform/space suit. Fox has Adam simply find this suit in a space ship and put it on; none of the military insignia on the suit have any meaning in Adam Strange's life: he is not a member of any military organization. Similarly, Kane's cover for "Menace of the Robot Raiders" shows the robots running amok and wrecking Rann. This is a classic piece of human anxiety about robots. However Fox's story does not accept the idea that robots could just run out of control. It insists that there must be a rational cause for this event.
Invaders of the Underground World (#54, September 1959). Adam is accused of stealing from Rann's underground weapons cache; the real culprits are beings who live in Rann's interior, and who are planning an invasion of the surface. This is a clichéd tale, in which Adam spends all his time fighting against both the people of Rann, and the underground invaders. How many stories have we all read in which the unjustly accused hero has to fight both the police and a gang of crooks? This tale is just the science fictional equivalent.
Adam meets the zeta-beam flying over the Pacific Ocean. He encounters an airplane on a Sydney - San Francisco run, and has to persuade the pilot to move aside. This evokes the court full of men he has to persuade in the story. Both the pilot and the judge he meets are authority figures.
Fox shows some ingenuity in his use of teleportation. The people of Rann become suspicious of Adam's story about the zeta-beam, and suspect that he can teleport himself at will. This is a logical extension of the series premise, and it is used to construct a good crime plot. The early tales in Mystery in Space often had crime or mystery backgrounds. This is not a mystery per se - there are no mysterious events for Adam and the reader to unravel - but the plot does develop along crime story lines, including a court room drama.
Fox did not much emphasize in these early stories the use of the zeta-beam to interfere in menace cycles.
The Rann lawmen in this story have rocket packs on their backs, just like Adam Strange. They also have circular ear-pieces on their helmets that look like his. In a later story, "The Attack of the Tentacle World" (1960), the other men at the sports arena all seem to be wearing helmets with ear-pieces like this - perhaps it is a common male costume on Rann. There are some good Rann cityscapes here (p 7). Adam climbs a spiral ringed tower to Alanna's window. This beautiful image recalls "Rapunzel", and other fairy tales. Later, we see an inside staircase with what look like floating steps.
The Beast From the Runaway World (1959). The zeta-beam inexplicably sends a large, menacing animal to Rann instead of Adam Strange; later, Adam deals with aliens who try to menace Rann with a bomb. The two zeta-beam locations in the tale, the South African Veldt and the South Atlantic, are both desolate and lonely areas, without any notable features. They are appropriately minimalist places for a story about the apparent failure of the zeta-beam.
This richly plotted story shows a construction not infrequent in Gardner Fox's Adam Strange tales. The story falls into two halves. The first part explores some science fictional situation. It is almost structured like a mystery: first we meet some strange situation. Then Fox fills us in on more and more details, until we understand the full situation much better. The opening fragment of action is like a mystery waiting to explained, and the full sf treatment that follows is like the solution to the mystery. Often times, the solution reveals that the truth is more humane and less monstrous than we first thought. This sort of idealism was very frequent across many of the Silver Age comics writers.
The second part of the story involves some major science fiction feat performed by Adam Strange. It solves a problem, and also gives a huge climax to the tale. It is a tradition in many art forms to have a boffo finale, and Fox is trying to follow it here. Sometimes, rather disappointingly, this is just action. Other times, he comes up with some sort of major sf stunt. The art here at the end is some of Infantino's finest. The shock waves of the bomb form abstract patterns; especially good is the second such image, showing the after effects of the explosion in space fading away, but still powerful and vast. The drooping curved lines are masterly.
The Menace of the Super-Atom (#56, December 1959). A large, flying, intelligent atom tries to conquer Rann. This indifferent story shows little imagination. The characters of Adam and Alanna also seem diminished here: Adam defeats the menace through dumb luck, not by brain power, while Alanna is reduced to a "woman in jeopardy". In fact the two leads are so differently characterized, that one wonders if Fox is really the author of this script.
Infantino includes a interesting composition, in which the atom is counterbalanced below by Adam Strange and his flanged helmet (p5).
Mystery of the Giant Footsteps (1960). On a "sinking island" on Rann, Adam deals with giant alien invaders whose attempt to submerge the island will set off terrible earthquakes on Rann. The "sinking island" concept is fascinating. It concerns islands that periodically sink and vanish under the surface of the ocean, then later rise again above its surface, to reappear. The story explains that either tides or volcanic activity can create such sinking islands. They are apparently a real life geological phenomenon. Clearly, a sinking island is a Fox cycle, in the full sense of the term. As in all Fox cycles, the island winds up in the same condition it did at the start of the cycle, ready to begin the whole process again.
Fox counterposes this cycle with an alien menace cycle. This involves alien invaders, who are submerging islands throughout the galaxy, to guard themselves from radioactivity on the islands. They have been doing this over and over, on different planets, for the past 20,000 years. In the classic Fox tradition, Adam Strange uses the sinking island cycle to interfere with the alien menace cycle. The aliens' regular routine, submerging islands throughout the galaxy, is interrupted for the first time by the actions of the sinking island cycle. Having one cycle interfere with another is a standard Fox approach to plot construction. In the Adam Strange tales to come, it usually will be the zeta-beam cycle that interferes with the alien menace. This tale is unusual in that it is not the zeta-beam cycle, but this special sinking island cycle, that does the interfering.
The Earth location from which Adam Strange departs, is itself a sinking island in the South Pacific. This allows Fox to introduce the entire concept, and explain to readers how it works. Later, when Adam gets to Rann, he and Alanna will go to the stories' main setting, the sinking island "Old Reliable" in the Sea of Ybss. Adam will return to it in later tales, such as "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (1960).
Gil Kane's beautiful cover shows Adam and Alanna inside a giant footprint, wondering what has caused it. The footprint, and the shadow of a giant hand, are treated as almost abstract geometric objects, something for Adam and Alanna to study and contemplate. Just as art students, and artists themselves, endlessly study human hands and feet to draw them, so are Adam and Alanna studying them in depth. They are even walking around inside them, a potent metaphor for artists' exploration of these features.
The cover and the title of the story suggests that the origin of this print is a mystery. However, in the story itself, this mystery lasts for around one panel: Fox cuts immediately to the giants, undermining any mystery plot that might have been formed.
Carmine Infantino's art is spectacular throughout this tale. The many shots of the characters and the landscape sinking into water are especially well done (pages 3 and 9), as is the aerial view of the island near the end. When Adam leaves Earth, he is not in his space suit; instead he is wearing an explorer's costume, complete with pith helmet. Also unusual: the shot of the giant's face through the wire mesh (page 6) - one of many Infantino experimental images that show objects in a blurred style.
Chariot in the Sky (1960). Jupiter, Apollo and Hercules turn out to be immortal space beings, who raise havoc when they land on Rann. This story returns Adam Strange to the most literal version of being "Champion of Rann". Just as in "Challenge of the Star Hunter" (1959), the tale that introduced this title, Adam has to challenge directly super-beings from outer space. This story seems simple but pleasant. It lacks the plot intricacies of other Adam Strange stories, focusing instead on a series of small, ingenious ideas.
The numerous challenges Adam meets here recall the trap stories which Fox sometimes wrote. Inspiringly, Adam Strange always uses a mixture of science and ingenuity to meet each challenge. The story also ends with Adam having converted former enemies into friends. This too is inspiring, with a powerful message for real life.
The prologue also has Adam Strange meeting a technical challenge. This challenge is more important than the location of the prologue: it takes place over a lonely stretch of the South Atlantic. The prologue also echoes the rocket scenes at the story's end.
The scenes of single combat during the challenges are unusual in that Adam Strange stands on the ground throughout, without any flying in the air. Infantino's art emphasizes the straight vertical line of Adam Strange's figure.
Just as the non-Adam Strange tale "The Amazing Journeys into Space" by Otto Binder in the same issue had more thematic ties to the Superman stories than to anything in the Schwartz magazines, so does this story echo Binder tales in which Hercules and Samson encounter the Superman family: see "The First Two Supermen" (Adventure #257, February 1959).
The story breaks paradigm by introducing spaceships that can fly between star systems, something that does not otherwise exist in the world of Adam Strange. Fox leapfrogs over this as soon as possible, by having his space travelers leave at the story's end, never to return.
This is one of Gil Kane's best covers. The draftsmanship of the charioteer and his flying horse is outstanding. It is combined with one of Kane's Constructivist cityscapes, at the base of the cover. The chariot is full of the curving solids that appear in Kane's machines. With its small wheels and basically spherical shape, it reminds one a bit of the Time-Car in Kane's "The Paul Revere of Time" (Strange Adventures #77, February 1957). The looped handles also recall the circles on the sphere of the Time-Car. Following such an image, Fox could have made the charioteer a figure of advanced technology, instead a denizen of the past.
There is also a neat idea on Kane's cover, of a ray bolt shooting out of the unicorn's horn: a combination of mythology and futuristic comic book ideas.
The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges (1960). The city of Ranagar is menaced by a giant, destructive Adam Strange. The giant Adam wrecking a city recalls all the giant monsters who destroyed cities in 1950's science fiction pictures, such as Godzilla. The image of a menace who has destroyed a handful of buildings in Ranagar and who is threatening the rest, is one of the archetypal images of Adam Strange. It recurs in story after story.
We are just shown the behavior of the giant Adam Strange at the start of the story. We are not given any explanation, or any history of how the giant Adam Strange came to be. Nor does Gardner Fox tell us how we should respond to this. There is no clear indication of how the story will develop, or what kind of tale it will be. In fact, the story turns into a well constructed sf mystery at this point. It seeks to discover the causes and underlying reality of the bizarre situation we see. There is a bit of a didactic point embedded in this approach. The right response to a strange situation, Gardner Fox is telling us, is to try to understand it rationally, to look for its hidden causes. The true nature of events in the tale turns out to be very different from their initial, surface appearance: this too is a lesson Fox is trying to teach his readers. Gardner Fox suggests that dispassionate reason, and a search for truth, are the right responses to a menacing situation. One should never jump to conclusions, or try aggression or anger.
Fox constructs his mystery plots in layers. The whole process of detection here can be considered as a cycle. The detectives strip away one layer of pretense, then later in the story remove another one, and so on. The layers are often supplied with clues. Often times, this clue is something in the apparent nature of reality that is not consistent. Adam Strange will look at this apparent inconsistency and wonder. Eventually he will decide that the cause of this inconsistency is some false belief he has about reality. He will revise this false belief, and look for a different explanation of the basic situation in front of him. Exploration of the world around him will then lead him to a full explanation of the situation. Another layer will have been peeled away. Clearly, there is a didactic point, structurally embedded in this mystery cycle. Fox is warning his readers that they might have to change their views about reality. A role model like Adam Strange is open minded. He is willing to change his viewpoints. He is a disinterested seeker after truth. He succeeds and helps other people precisely because of his willingness to revise his own viewpoints.
Adam meets the zeta-beam in Earth's upper atmosphere, in order to avoid meeting it in an unnamed, populous city below. This is an interesting sf idea; other sf features include the meteor that Adam dodges. It does not seem to have much connection with the story that follows. However, the quietness of the opening, one of the purest and simplest in the whole saga, sets the mood for Adam Strange's use of reason in the tale that follows. So does the careful thinking and planning that led Adam to make his choice of the atmosphere. It also shows Adam going behind the obvious choice, the point of the zeta-beam's contact inside the city, to a more intelligent but less obvious choice, a meeting in the atmosphere. This anticipates Adam's going behind the surface of appearances in the detective story that follows.
This story is based on one of Gil Kane's best covers. It shows the giant Adam being battled by the ordinary size Adam over the streets of Ranagar. Giant versions of regular series characters had appeared in other DC magazines: see Otto Binder's "The Human Skyscraper" (Jimmy Olsen #28, April 1958). Still, it was quite ingenious of Kane to confront the two Adam Stranges. The buildings in Ranagar are not drawn in Infantino's Art Deco style. Instead, we have some of Kane's Constructivist buildings, made out of pure geometric shapes. This cityscape is one of the best collections of Constructivist buildings anywhere in Kane's art. They are very detailed. There is what looks like an arc of a circular elevated tunnel for vehicles. This circular design anticipates the futuristic plaza of Kane's "Green Lantern's Statue Goes To War" (Green Lantern #12, April 1962).
Adam often looks like a tough guy in Kane's covers. He is unlike Kane's leading men types that show up in Kane's stories; instead he looks like a gangster or a tough urban cop in a crime film. This is true of his face; his gaudy red costume is much more celebratory. Adam's appearance of a film noir tough guy makes one wonder if Kane conceived the character as a sort of inter-planetary policeman. He certainly looks very different from Infantino's refined, ethereal hero.
The Attack of the Tentacle World (1960). Rann is menaced by a small planet whose tentacle arms can reach down to Rann's surface, during a sports competition on Rann. This would be Gil Kane's last cover for Mystery in Space; the next issue the covers would be taken over by Carmine Infantino. The tentacled planet cover echoes the cover of Strange Adventures #6 (March 1951), and its story "The Vampire World". The artist of the "Vampire World" cover is not known; it might be the "Cristo" who did the story. Some of the tentacle art here evokes old illustrations of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1898). So do some of Infantino's saucers in "Mechanical Masters of Rann" (#65, February 1961).
This story is very different from the typical Adam Strange tale. It is close to the Cosmic story that Edmond Hamilton and especially Otto Binder sometimes wrote for the DC sf comic books. In these stories, the heroes influence events on an astronomical scale. The lonely, all-powerful life form resembles in personality other alien beings in Adam Strange, but his actions are very different. He does not play any games, and he is not petty. Both he and Adam operate on a Cosmic scale. This story is rich in mood. It seems to be conveying some sort of allegory, about the mind and the body. It is perhaps related to the Adam Strange tales involving machines and their controlling technologies, such as "Menace of the Robot Raiders" (1959). The machines, such as robots, are "bodies"; the controlling devices are "minds".
There is a running theme of public performance in this tale. These performances all involve skill - we are not talking about acting or theater here. Its zeta-beam opening is in the Floating Market in Bangkok, Thailand, where Adam must be beamed in public. Then there are the sports events, and finally the sf finale, which also involves Adam in a complex, skilled performance.
The sports arena in the story is a classic of Infantino design. It has an undulating, curving top line that looks especially futuristic. When viewed from the front, the two ends of the building top off at one level, while the middle section is at another. This evokes the Art Deco "Rule of Threes", widely used for real life construction in the US in the 1920's and 1930's. In real life, the Rule was usually created by making two different levels out of straight horizontal lines; Infantino is very imaginative to create a building here that invokes this principle through the use of curves. Infantino draws the arena in one of the long horizontal panels that frequently occur in his art.
Infantino's art is good throughout. The flaming hoops event in the sports competition is wonderful (p 4). There are fine Art Deco cityscapes (p 4,5). The panel (p5) showing the planet with four folded, symmetric arms, flying over an alien landscape, is striking. When we get to the surface of the Tentacle World, Infantino creates excellent green rock landscapes. Adam carries Alanna in his arms here, in some of Infantino's most romantic images. The vertical space suit breathing helmets have a distinctive design. Infantino was still using them as late as the cover for #90, towards the end of the series in 1964.
The name of the world here is "Yggardis". This has a feel similar to the names in Norse mythology. Gardner Fox's grave, serious, highly imaginative sf has some similarities to Norse mythology in general.
Threat of the Tornado Tyrant (1960). A villainous scientist from another planet develops his own teleportation beam; he uses it to pull Adam Strange away from New York City, and onto his own about to explode planet. Later, the scientist develops a tornado which attacks Rann. This is one of the first Adam Strange stories in which a second system of teleportation is developed. Such systems both rival and parallel that of the zeta-beam. They tend to form their own cycle, a cycle that is often quite similar to that of the zeta-beam, and yet which shows differences from it. One difference here: the zeta-beam only strikes in the Southern Hemisphere, whereas here Adam is startlingly teleported from just outside his home in New York City. Adam eventually uses the zeta-beam cycle to escape from the scientist and his trap: this is typical Gardner Fox construction, in which one cycle (the zeta-beam) is used to escape from another cycle (the new teleportation system).
Infantino's art is excellent throughout this tale. The opening night shots of Adam Strange's penthouse apartment show the moon and the New York City skyline through the large multi-paned window. A second panel depicts Adam Strange flying over New York City, as seen from the terrace of his apartment. This is one of the most romantic scenes in all of Mystery in Space.
The panel at the bottom of page 3 depicts Adam Strange standing against the night sky of another world. Stars in Infantino's art are never displayed with mechanical regularity; instead they fall into patterns similar to those in abstract art. Here, the stars form a semi-circular arc behind Adam Strange. The arc's main curve breaks behind Adam Strange's standing figure: to the upper left, it is more curved, and more vertical; to his lower right, it is more nearly a sloping straight line. This makes Adam Strange and the stars into one unified visual pattern, quite striking as a piece of visual design. It perhaps suggests that there is a relationship between Adam Strange and the stars, that he is in touch with the forces of nature. In the background of the composition is one of Infantino's Art Deco buildings, the lab of the scientist, with the telescope jutting from its upper surface.
Much of the second part of the story focuses on the tornado, a typical Fox menace attacking Rann. The tornado is a curving, nearly vertical line. Such lines are the mainstays of Infantino's action scenes on Rann. He often shows them inside equally long, vertical, narrow comic book panels. Infantino has many ways of creating such lines: the trails of vapor left behind by Adam and Alanna's rocket jets often form such verticals. So do the paths of ray guns and light beams. So do weather effects such as tornadoes, rain, snow, water spouts and other essentially vertical phenomena. Infantino will use these slightly curved vertical lines as the structural elements of his compositions.
The illustration on page 6 is a good example of Infantino's approach. Here, we see many ships firing rays against the scientist's space ship. The rays are coming at the scientist from all sides, horizontally, vertically and on diagonals. However, Infantino frames this so that the horizontal rays are largely cut off on each side. By contrast, the tall panel shows the vertical rays in full, lengthy sweeps. So the composition is mainly made up of a series of vertical and nearly vertical diagonal rays. The panel itself is tall, narrow and basically vertical.
At the climax of the duel, there is a different approach. The tornado is attacked by many horizontal beams. These are short nearly horizontal lines, slightly angled away from the horizontal. It is a striking design. Infantino follows this up with a panel showing the tornado dissolving into smoke. These eddying patterns are one of the most purely abstract compositions in Infantino's work.
One can see other standard Infantino art techniques in this tale. Adam Strange is often seen in close-up in the panels, while the other character in the panel is seen in long shot. These close ups emphasize Adam Strange's costume and equipment. We see every detail of his helmet, for instance, or his spaceboots or his ray gun. The costumes of the heroes were a main "drawing card" of Silver Age comics. Readers were fascinated by them, and wanted to see them in as much detail as possible.
A panel on page 6 shows Adam Strange giving orders to Ranagar's assembled aerial battleship commanders. The architecture of the scene is typical of Infantino's depiction of authority figures. Adam Strange is in a large, sophisticated looking modernistic office. He is standing behind a huge desk. Behind him there is a floor to ceiling window, made up out of Infantino's usual many small panes, and there are floor to ceiling curtains next to the windows as well. Infantino often used such modernistic offices for authority figures on Earth in The Flash: business presidents, bank managers, government leaders and so on.
The Beast with the Sizzling Blue Eyes (#62, September 1960). No, this story is not about Mel Gibson. It is about prehistoric Rann monsters that appear and disappear in the present on that planet. It is a pretty routine tale - how many stories have we all seen about rampaging prehistoric monsters? Like most Adam Strange tales, it is at least partially redeemed by Carmine Infantino's art. The cloudscape on the top of page 4 is a good example of this Infantino specialty. Also, some of the curved force fields around the beasts show interesting geometric patterns.
This story has a colorful opening in Sri Lanka. The Adam Strange tales always begin with Adam meeting the zeta-beam at some point in the Southern Hemisphere. Often this was in some wilderness area, away from the prying eyes of men; this story is unusual in that the opening takes place in a densely populated zone. In the early 1960's DC was trying to integrate its comic books with Asian characters; this story is a good example. As in the earlier South Asian opening in "Challenge of the Star Hunter" (1959), the tale wittily evokes imaginative ideas from the subcontinent's mythology. Adam Strange is impersonating a Kolan, a traditional clown spirit of the area. He is dressed in a suit of leaves that cover his head and entire figure; when Alanna meets him, she thinks he is a prehistoric forest creature, echoing this tale's subject of prehistoric animals.
The Weapon That Swallowed Men (1960). The Vantor, alien beings with green cubical heads, attack Rann with a device that turns people into gas and captures the gas in the weapon. The machine can also reverse the effects, and restore captured men or objects to their original state. The weapon here, like many of Fox's menaces, works as a cycle. It turns a person into gas and then back again. Like most of Fox's cycles, the protagonist winds up in exactly the same stage at the end as in the beginning, completely unharmed and unaffected by the cycle. Also, just as in other Fox cycles, he varies the protagonist throughout the story. Sometimes it is a single person turned into gas; later it is the entire city of Ranagar. This too is typical of Fox: he sometimes makes the entire population of a city or a planet go through one of his cycles. In this story, it is somewhat obvious that this will happen, and I am not spoiling anyone's pleasure in the plot. In other Fox tales, the participation of a huge population in the cycle is a startling plot twist, one that this reader did not at all expect. Fox often sneaks such a "mass effect" up on the reader. It often seems emotionally vivid as well: the reader wonders what the effect of such a mass transformation would be on daily life.
At the end of the tale, Adam uses various elements to fight the invaders. The elements were a favorite subject of DC writers; they are colorful and interesting, and one also suspects that the writers felt they were offering an educational experience in chemistry for their readers. The tale reaches a not too believable but emotionally satisfying finale when Adam disconnects the weapons of the alien bullies, and he and the men of Ranagar defeat them through fist fighting. This is similar to the fisticuff finale of an earlier Gardner Fox sf tale, "The Sleeping War" (Mystery in Space #61, August 1960).
Adam leaves Earth twice in this tale. The first time he meets the zeta-beam on top of an Incan temple in Peru; the second cycle does not show his point of departure. The ruins of the Incan temple echo the ruins of the Rann city of Sumuru we will see later in the tale.
Carmine Infantino's art is beautiful in this tale. An early scene shows ruins of Sumuru, the first city on Rann. The walls of the ruins are made up of numerous irregularly sized rectangular blocks. These geometrical patterns recall abstract paintings by Mondrian, and other De Stijl painters who composed their abstractions out of rectangles. Once again, Infantino has found ways to combine complex abstract paintings with representational art - Adam and Alanna are standing figures in the ruins. A later panel shows two ruined towers of the city in the background. These zigzag tower ruins resemble the Art Deco towers of Infantino's futuristic cities. But they too are made up of the rectilinear blocks. They form an imaginative and unusual variation on Infantino's Art Deco architecture.
A striking panel on page 5 shows a series of stones in a perspective sequence, ending in a standing block of square stone. Human figures are facing in two different perpendicular directions. The painting is interesting as a visual pattern, and also for the emotional mood it evokes. It depicts people watching over events, events that are not going well. One wonders if the perspective series of stones reflects a process, a series of events in time, while the big standing stone represents the results of the process, a hard to face blank wall. The series of stones also recall the Middle Ages, and the parapets of a castle. It reminds one of the watchers in Scott's Ivanhoe (1819), and the siege on that castle. The battle scenes in this tale also have a somewhat medieval feel to them. Infantino composes them out of many repeated, similar figures. This is a typical method of composition for him for many of the scenes of mass action in Adam Strange.
When Adam Strange returns to Earth, he often is standing on some beautiful, emotionally restful and romantic tropical beach. This tale contains one such archetypal image, with Adam Strange standing before a single palm on a beach in the Banda Sea, on an islet near New Guinea. This is one of Carmine Infantino's most involving images. The palm seems like a symbol of Adam Strange's masculinity. Also of his oneness with nature. The graceful curve of the palm gives geometry to Infantino's composition.
The Radioactive Menace (#64, December 1960). An evil would be dictator is exiled from an intelligent race of beings on prehistoric Rann; a time warp sends him to the present on Rann, and makes him dangerously radioactive, which contaminates everything he touches. Adam Strange has to do scientific detective work to figure out how to protect Rann from his radioactivity. These detective scenes are among the best in the tale. They are in a Mystery in Space tradition, of showing readers how scientific research is pursued. At one point, the narrator challenges the reader to solve a mystery based on clues in the story. Somewhat atypically, the solution is revealed right away, instead of making the reader wait till the end of the tale.
In some ways this is little more than a "monster on the loose" tale. However, it is dressed up with a number of features. First, neither Fox nor Schwartz can countenance the idea of a monstrous creature. Such an idea seems simply racist to them: the idea that a creature is born bad, biologically destined to be evil. Instead, all intelligent beings in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures are shown with an ability to choose between good and evil. Secondly, Fox and Schwartz believe that most beings are basically good: at the start of this tale, we see the dictator, surrounded by the masses of decent beings who have rejected his rule, and who are placing him on trial. We see a basic faith in the decency of all intelligent beings expressed here. Thirdly, Fox and Schwartz see democracy as one of the ultimate goods, and dictatorship as an ultimate evil. All of these attitudes reflect essentially Enlightenment ideas, such as the perfectibility of mankind, and the importance of democratic rule.
The underground shelters in this tale, full of the citizens of Ranagar, evoke both the bomb shelters of the civil defense oriented 1960's, and the real life scenes of people taking refuge in London's subways during World War II. These are among the few scenes on Rann that show families and children. Most Ranagar crowds in other stories tend to be full of adults.
Adam Strange encounters the zeta-beam over the South Pacific ocean, where he nearly shoots an albatross to get it out of the beam's way. Not only does this recall Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but it also anticipates the Rann story to come, which is full of dangerous, radioactively contaminated birds. Fox explicitly points out at the end how this makes the tale come full cycle, and return to the opening events involving a bird on Earth.
Some elements of this tale anticipate others. Infantino would reuse his design for the aliens here in "The Mirror-Master's Magic Bullet" (The Flash #119, March 1961), although the aliens in the latter tale would be given more unusual hands, as well. Both sets of aliens look a bit like the Abominable Snowman, a myth at the height of its popularity in the 1960's. Fox would repeat the idea of time warp charging prehistoric people with radioactivity in the present in "The Dawn-World Menace" (Strange Adventures #147, December 1962), a story which also involves radioactive winged creatures, this time pterodactyls. We see samples of the aliens' writing here; such scripts of alien languages would show up several times in Silver Age comic books. There were phonetic examples of the Rann language in the dialogue of Adam Strange's origin tale in Showcase, "Secret of the Eternal City" (1958), and we saw the Rann language's script in "Shadow People of the Eclipse" (#78, September 1962).
Mechanical Masters of Rann (1961). Rann becomes run by mechanical robots, who know all the answers about what is good for humans, and prevent them from coming to harm. The story preaches against people relying on mechanical devices, and says that humanity should stand on its own two feet. I feel a good deal of skepticism about such tales: if machines help us, why not rely on machines? Isaac Asimov attacked the clichés in stories like these in the finale of I, Robot. I also disliked the stories' other idea: that disarmament between nations might leave a planet vulnerable to alien attack. In many ways, this story is a war tale.
Politics aside, this is a good piece of storytelling. The tale is related to other Adam Strange tales, which are often sf mysteries, and which deal with large robots or other mechanical sf objects. These objects are often highly mobile, and move swiftly over Rann's terrain. Sometimes these robots are from other planets; this tale's are from Taragal, the sixth planet of Canopus. Works on these subjects include "Menace of the Robot Raiders" (1959), "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (1960), "World War on Earth and Rann" (1963), "Riddle of the Runaway Rockets" (1963). These stories form a rich and important series of plots. These stories do not tend to rely heavily on the seta-beam; but they do often have war imagery in them, imagery which is often just tangentially related to the rest of the tale. These stories have intricate, complex plots. Their mystery plots often involve hoaxes by some villain, which Adam has to solve.
This tale adopts the opposite approach. It is not a mystery; rather Adam and Alanna are the ones creating a hoax involving the robots. It is like looking at one of these Fox mysteries from the inside, watching the hoax being perpetrated.
Many of the mystery tales in the series are constructed in layers, where one set of plot ideas builds on top of another. We see a similar effect here. First the robots arrive on Rann and behave "normally", then there is an alien invasion, and so on. Each layer of the story adds to complexity of the pattern.
The story opens in Madagascar on Earth, and depicts Adam being menaced by the allegedly real "man-eating plant of Madagascar". No such plant exists in reality; it is a myth that started in the Nineteenth Century, presented as a true fact of botanical lore, and one that has taken in countless people. It has been the subject of numerous tales, including one of Conan Doyle's early stories. The opening, while being a rare example of an Adam Strange opening that Fox has not based on accurate facts, is still an entertaining episode. It echoes the later robots and their walking saucers that Adam will fight off later in the story, which are also traditional science fiction menaces.
The tale has a good scene, where Adam and Alanna go swimming. Their swimsuits are one of the few occasions we see them dressed in Rann clothes that are anything other than their space suits.
Space-Island of Peril (1961). The Corytrix, a powerful alien hatched from an egg, plans to destroy Rann as part of his scheme of global conquest.
This story is unusual in Fox's work for a number of reasons. It is one of the few Fox stories to involve "cosmic engineering". Cosmic stories about engineering on an astronomical scale are associated in sf comics with Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder, not Fox. They are virtually signature stories for Hamilton and Binder. In these authors' work cosmic engineering tends to benevolent, something done by the good guys at the climax of a story to save the world, or to achieve some other noble goal.
Fox startled me right away by having the villain perform cosmic engineering, to further his sinister project of conquest. It is quite rare to see any sort of evil use of the cosmic approach, and at first I wondered if Fox were making some sort of statement about cosmic engineering, showing its evil potential. But soon an even more unusual approach to cosmic tales appeared. The hero Adam Strange counteracts the villain's engineering with an even more imaginative cosmic engineering plot of his own. The idea of cosmic engineering as the subject of a plot / counter plot duel is virtually unique to this tale. It is a whole new structural approach to such stories, created here by Gardner Fox. It is consistent with Fox's interest in plot / counter plot struggles in his fiction. Still, it is very rare to see anything like this melded to the cosmic approach.
Fox often extends his cycles by a change of protagonist: a cycle in which the hero participates will subsequently be performed by another person, or sometimes by a whole planet full of people. A somewhat similar transformation has been developed here. Fox has taken the cosmic engineering story, usually performed by the single group of good guys in a tale, and extended it to the story of dueling protagonists. Now the engineering is done by a "bad guy followed by a good guy, counteracting the bad guy", just as in the standard plot / counterplot tale. This is a "change of protagonists" for the cosmic tale.
Another layer is involved here: the cover idea probably came about first; Fox probably developed the cosmic engineering ideas to explain it. It would have been "easier" for Fox just to set the tale on an asteroid, and avoid any engineering concepts. This approach would not have created any plot however. The cosmic engineering ideas also mean that most aspects of the tale are the result of various characters actually doing something: an approach profoundly favored by Fox.
The finale on the space-island in some ways resembles the traps in other Adam Strange tales. It takes place in a remote location in the sky, one with its unique and ingenious characteristics. And it requires a deep, conscious plan by Adam Strange to cope with its difficult challenges. But Adam is only partially trying to escape from it: he also is dealing with the alien and his threat. So this is not quite a Fox trap. The early scene of the Dancing Waters of Athline, also recalls the atmospheric phenomena that will later show up in some Fox traps.
The opening of the tale involves Adam Strange with botany; this recalls Fox's hero the Atom, who keeps getting involved with the plant world. And the ideas about the primitive weapons used at the end recall Fox's Hawkman tales. See "Menace of the Matter Master" (Brave and Bold #35, April-May 1961), the tale in which Hawkman decides to use only antique weapons. This appeared shortly after the Adam Strange tale, which debuted in March 1961. Here, as in the Hawkman stories, Fox comes up with a sound science fictional rationalization for the use of such weapons. It is an idea that clearly appeals to Fox on emotional grounds. But it is one which he is always careful to justify scientifically and logically. The justifications are different in Hawkman and here in Adam Strange - Fox always comes up with new ideas for each tale. He is overflowing with imagination.
This story has a villain, not just a menace, and a villain who is unusually mean spirited and malicious for a Fox bad guy. Normally Fox has little interest in bad guys, and the colorless villains of the Adam Strange tales tend to be present mainly to trigger an difficult, ingeniously complex menace attacking the planet Rann: Fox's real interest. The villain here is downright vicious, enjoying destruction and spreading suffering for its own sake. Here again, Fox could be experimenting with a different kind of villain for him (such villains are common in the works of other authors). But one also notices that the villain's destructiveness helps explain why he is launching a menace more destructive that actually needed to achieve his goals of conquest in the story. It is this menace that then becomes the center of the story. Once again, Fox's plot needs are perhaps the deep driving factor here, not any interest in villainy for its own sake.
For such a short story, this tale goes through a hugely complex plot. Furthermore, it is a plot that is always clear, and easily understood: no mean feat. The story proper (the fight against the menace after the prologue on Earth) goes through no less than eight stages. Each stage involves a whole new plot construction. The plot stages lead from one into another, like a series of interlocking gears. The eight stages include: 1) the alien life-cycle 2) their conquest of other worlds 3) their history in the Alpha Centuri system 4) The alien's cosmic engineering plans 5) Adam Strange's cosmic engineering response 6) Adam ad Alanna's attempt to keep the alien in place on Rann 7) Alanna's tenure on the space-island, and its surrounding complexities 8) the duel on the space-island of Adam and the alien.
The first four stages revolve around the villain; the last four stages center on the actions of Adam Strange, who keeps coming up with actions that gradually made the situation better. Few of the 8 plot stages are full Fox cycles. The early aliens' life cycle, and their history of conquering other planets are. By contrast, the cosmic engineering ideas are not cycle-like at all. This underscores their difference from much of Fox's other writing.
Only the last stage in the story involves the zeta-beam. Once again, Fox uses the zeta-beam to allow his protagonist Adam Strange do something unique.
Infantino's beautiful cover is made of many sloping diagonal lines. Most of these are nearly vertical lines, formed by the three characters' arms and legs. These are balanced by the tilting horizontal of the asteroid on which they are standing. This "group of verticals ending in one near horizontal" is a classic Infantino approach. The space creature is exactly perpendicular to the tilting asteroid, while Adam's crouching body is more balanced to the true vertical. In the background is a circular arc of stars, wrapping around Alanna. It is a beautiful composition.
Challenge of the Giant Fireflies (1961). This story contains two menaces, both involving fire: first the giant fireflies, then solar fire creatures. The word "challenge" in the title of an Adam Strange story often seems to refer to science based puzzles. Gardner Fox excels at such tales. Next year, "Challenge of the Rival Starman" (1962) will be full of traps that the hero must escape from using scientific knowledge. "Challenge of the Giant Fireflies" is not trap oriented, but it does contain menaces that people must fight using scientific means.
The tale also includes a science fiction based mystery, involving an apparent failure of the zeta-beam cycle. The mystery is logically and imaginatively solved. Fox explicitly invokes "The Beast From the Runaway World" (1959) as an ancestor of this tale: as he points out, it too involves a failure of the zeta-beam cycle. The solution here is also a variant on the earlier tale. Such use of variants is a typical method of Fox plot construction.
The failed zeta-beam cycle begins in a jungle; the second, successful cycle starts out in Antarctica. These two areas are highly contrasted. They are also scenes of pure nature, like the purely natural menaces of the tales to follow.
The Fadeaway Doom (1961). Adam Strange fights a menace that causes people to fade away and disappear; along the way he battles two other menaces, a tiger-unicorn called a tigrabar, and the first appearance of the Dust Devil. The main menace in this tale, the fading away of people, involves Gardner Fox's favorite device, teleportation. This menace has its own cycle, a many stage process its protagonists go through. The teleportation is a variation on the zeta-beam, and its cycle is a variation on the zeta-beam cycle. This is typical of Fox: he tries to develop as many variations on the zeta-beam cycle as possible. Also typical of Fox's plot construction: the way Adam Strange's participation in the original zeta-beam cycle frees him from the villain's teleportation cycle, and gives him leverage to fight it.
In this story, much of the population of Rann goes through the teleportation cycle, and fade away from their homes in Rann. This is a basic Fox approach, to have large groups of population undergo his cycles. This formal plot device has a political significance: the people recall the real life refugees of Earth, and their terrible problems. Alanna refers to them as "the displaced people of Rann". The story builds up considerable pathos. Other writers in Schwartz magazines were also creating stories about refugees, notably John Broome's tale of refugees from Qward, "The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts" (Green Lantern #2, September-October 1960).
Adam Strange gets involved in a plot where he serves as a double of another character, a favorite Fox theme. During this sub-plot, he wears a uniform matching that of another character. Infantino's art does a vivid job on this new costume, a rare occasion in Mystery in Space in which Adam is in another uniform. Also noteworthy: the outdoor staircase in a plaza in Ranagar (page 7), and the close-up of a curving building.
Menace of the Aqua-Ray Weapon (#69, August 1961). People are turned to water, then encased in ice, by the menace cycle of this tale. This is one of the least inventive of the Adam Strange stories. It has a few interesting elements: Adam Strange was trained in sculpture and art as part of his Earth career as an archaeologist; he turns out to be an expert sculptor. This is useful in the plot; it also is an example of the DC Silver Age's reverence for intellectual ability. Adam Strange carves a statue of himself, to fool the bad guys: this is part of the Gardner Fox theme of doubles that runs through his work. A later statue of Adam Strange, carved by the people of Rann, will play a role in "The Metal Conqueror of Rann" (1962).
The story uses the thermal properties of Adam Strange's space suit. This is one of the earliest Adam Strange stories to mention these features; they will be used prominently in such later science-oriented tales as "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" (1962) and "Challenge of the Rival Starman" (1962). At the end of the story, we see Adam Strange in arctic gear, instead of his space suit. Adam Strange regularly but rarely appeared in clothes other than his bright red and white space costume.
Vengeance of the Dust Devil (1961). The Dust Devil returns, in his first starring role: he tries first to conquer Ranagar, then travels to Earth and attacks Melbourne, Australia. The Dust Devil first appeared in a cameo role in "The Fadeaway Doom" (1961), two issues before. Fox and Infantino knew a good thing when they saw it, because he is brought back here as the main menace of the story. The Dust Devil appears in the air, a favorite location for Fox and Infantino. Also, the dust devil's body is made up of complexly patterned clouds of dust, something with which Infantino's art has a field day. Adam Strange gets a new jet-rocket at the start of this story. He had abandoned his earlier pack in the previous story, as part of his counterplot against the menace. This sort of careful attention to detail is a hallmark of the series. It will especially show up in the many small but meaningful variations on the zeta-beam cycle.
The tale's two part construction, first on Rann, then on Earth, is oddly satisfying. Fox's stories are full of doubles: here it is cities that come in pairs, with Melbourne and Ranagar serving as doubles of each other. The plot in both cities operates in parallel, with nearly the same events happening. It is pleasing to see Adam Strange operate on Earth, and in the same role as on Rann, as a Champion who defeats menaces. On Earth, he does not wear his Adam Strange space suit. Instead, he is clad in explorer's clothes, befitting his Earth profession of archaeologist. His white shirt has epaulettes, and large patch pockets. During one scene in Melbourne, he is wearing it with a coat and tie - the typically well dressed, dignified middle class hero of Infantino and Mystery in Space.
Melbourne is a good choice, because it is a Southern Hemisphere city, like all of the locations used by Adam Strange to meet the zeta-beam. Melbourne is the Southern city closest in characteristics to a typical North American city familiar to most readers of Mystery in Space. Its attack and possible destruction by the Dust Devil would presumably alarm readers the most. It is also a place of great dignity, having a distinctly British feel. Such a sophisticated setting is appropriate for Adam Strange; when shown actually living on Earth, he is usually in his penthouse apartment in New York, or in some museum: always an intellectual location of great sophistication. The young lady in the electrical supply shop in Melbourne also comes across as a vivid character, despite her brief appearance. As a friendly, scientifically sophisticated woman who helps Adam Strange, she appears in the same sort of role on Earth as Alanna does on Rann. She and Alanna function as Fox doubles.
We also get to see a close-up of one of Ranagar's ringed buildings (page 4). Infantino has often shown such rings in outline in his horizon cityscapes of Ranagar, and other futuristic cities. The rings form a tilted ramp around the building. It is not clear what functional uses the rings have, but they are certainly beautiful and striking looking.
The Challenge of the Crystal Conquerors (#71, November 1961). Crystal beings from another planet attack Rann. This is the first double size Adam Strange story; after it, most of the Adam Strange tales would be two-parters. This is one of the duller and less inventive Adam Strange tales. This first two-part tale seems padded and plot thin. Fox would immediately correct this in his next few stories, stepping up the science fiction content, and introducing major concepts of time travel and space travel. These stories would be among the most ambitiously plotted of all Adam Strange tales.
"The Challenge of the Crystal Conquerors" has a good cover, showing Adam Strange and his crystal double trading places, changing into each others' appearance. Doubles are a perennial Fox theme, and Infantino's art fully captures the fascination of doubling. Infantino's interior art has its moments, too: page 5 has well composed melting and criss cross firing panels. The close ups of the crystal beings on pages 14 -15 shows Infantino's ability to make up large designs out of mosaics of small elements: here diamond shaped diagonal facets. Such art is close to abstract paintings composed of repeating elements, such as Mondrian's. This abstraction is combined with a representational approach: the diamond patterns represent the surface of a crystal being.
There is some unusual art on page 13, showing the underground conduit. These panels are schematic: they show a cross sectional view of the water, the conduit, buildings and so on. They are like a blueprint, or an architectural drawing or schematic. Silver Age comics sometimes included such diagrammatic art. They helped readers understand what was going on, showing them the overall layout of the action in the story. Such schematic pictures are only possible in the medium of the comics: movies and television are almost always restricted to what purports to be a "realistic" view of the action. Comics, by contrast, can include diagrams and other multi-media material as part of their storytelling. These panels were presumably a collaboration between Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Fox's script would presumably indicate the main storytelling features to be displayed in the diagrams, and Infantino would turn this into a full fledged work of art. Or perhaps they discussed ideas for the panels directly and in person. I have no idea what the facts are here: I'm simply guessing.
The Multiple Menace Weapon (1961). Adam Strange travels to the far future, first on Earth, then on Rann; future inhabitants of Rann have brought him from the past to fight a weapon that keeps importing different kinds of dangerous alien animals to Rann - the "multiple" menaces of the title. Two months before, John Broome had sent Green Lantern to the future to battle an alien invasion in "The Challenge From 5700 A.D." (Green Lantern #6, September-October 1961). This Adam Strange story has a similar premise. In both tales, it is the desperate inhabitants of the future who bring an "ancient" hero to their time to fight a menace the men of the future do not know how to handle. There are some differences in approaches between the two stories, however. The Green Lantern tale is a drastic change of pace for its hero in that he is asked to be a general leading a space war, a very different task than anything GL had attempted in most of his stories. And frankly, it didn't work very well - it is one of the poorest GL stories. By contrast, Adam Strange is fighting exactly the sort of menace in the future that he faced on Rann in our time. It makes perfect sense for the baffled inhabitants of the future to summon him - after all, opposing this sort of menace is exactly what Adam Strange specialized in - he was the Champion of Rann.
Another difference between the two tales involves what the inhabitants of the future know about the past. In the Green Lantern story, the future men have the ability to monitor the past on TV screens, seeing everything that took place. This is typical of Broome's sweeping approach in Green Lantern. People typically have vast powers: Green Lantern himself has the most extensive powers of any super hero, and the other characters he meets tend likewise to be nearly omnipotent. So nothing about Green Lantern or his life is a mystery to the men of the future. By contrast in Fox's Adam Strange tale, people of the future have few detailed records about the past. Adam Strange has become a legendary figure to them the way Robin Hood or King Arthur are today. Fox develops some very interesting perspectives on this. These form some of the most charming parts of the story. Fox's approach perhaps recalls that of Otto Binder in such futuristic tales as "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958), in which he shows us what the present looks like from the perspective of the future. Binder's future characters at least have good historical records, however; Fox's approach makes Adam Strange even more legendary.
The opening of the story gives a rare glimpse of Adam Strange doing his work in New York City, where he lives on Earth. He is driving a station wagon. Today, station wagons sound passé and un-hip. Presumably this was not true in 1961, and they were considered suitably glamorous vehicles for a super-hero to own. Green Lantern's jazzy convertibles look a lot cooler today.
Gardner Fox's approach to time travel is also personal. He has future scientists bring Adam Strange to the future by using a variant on the zeta-beam they have invented. This time travel zeta-beam has its own cycle, pulling people into the future, and back. The story points out several interesting differences between the time-travel zeta-beam cycle and that of the original zeta-beam. In all cases, the events of the time-travel cycle are variants on the original zeta-beam cycle. It is typical of Fox's plotting that he would seize every chance to include variants of a cycle in his stories. Similarly, many of the menaces in his tales involve teleportation, and they also have cycles that are variants on that of the zeta-beam. Fox's story construction centers on such variations of cycles: sometimes he introduces new cycles, such as the time travel one, that vary existing cycles; other times he looks at the zeta-beam cycle itself, and tries to find holes in its logical structure that allow new variations on it to appear in the tale at hand.
Infantino does a good job at depicting futuristic cities, both on the Earth of the far future, then on Rann of the same future time. At first, one does not see what options he will have: he is already using his full repertoire of futuristic stylings on the Art Deco cities of 20th Century Rann, and where can he go from there? But he has a few tricks. The future New York City is seen from closer up than are most of Infantino's cityscapes; and Infantino stresses its baroque elaboration into a riot of Art Deco forms. Later, when we get to the future Rann itself, all the cities are floating in the sky. Their repeated patterns of jagged horizontal lines in the sky anticipate other celestial patterns, such as the waves in the sky in "The Super-Brain of Adam Strange" (#87, November 1963). There is a beautiful Art Deco landscape at the bottom right of page 14.
The Invisible Invaders of Rann (1962). An army of invisible men attacks Ranagar. Infantino's cover shows a soldier whose equipment is visible, but whose body is not, fighting Adam Strange at the top of a long, curving staircase. These soldiers duly return in the tale. Infantino's covers tend to contain a science fiction idea. This idea will be further developed in Fox's plot.
Ranagar was full of outdoor staircases, many of them curved or angled. They were a striking architectural feature of the Art Deco city of Ranagar. Ranagar is full of beautiful, refined looking public gardens and plazas; these staircases are often part of them.
The climax of this tale is a textbook example of Adam using his presence on Rann to interfere with a menace's actions. Adam pulls it out of left field here. His behavior is an example of some doing something by seemingly doing nothing. This is a Tao like situation. It appears infrequently in other works, but it is always an interesting concept. It builds up suspense: the reader can see the tale is going somewhere, but cannot figure out where. The whole thing is a distinctive story structure.
The fighting with the invisible army invaders on Rann is echoed by the Earth opening of the tale, where Adam dodges bullets from guards over a diamond mine in the South African Veldt. Both planets' fight scenes are off-trail, unusual variants on conventional combat. Many Earth openings in Adam Strange have a meditative quality, where as lonely Adam confronts some remote wild part of the Earth. This story is a contrast; there is a frenzied encounter with armed men. The feel is enhanced by the time constraints under which Adam is operating: he has just ten minutes from his last appearance on Earth to meet the new zeta-beam.
The Spaceman Who Fought Himself (1962). A double of Adam Strange appears on Rann, one who is unable to communicate. This story draws on elements of earlier Adam Strange stories. The double who appears, being mistaken for Adam Strange himself, recalls "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (1960). And Alanna's use of the menticizer to train him revives a device first seen in Adam Strange's origin tale in Showcase, "Secret of the Eternal City" (1958). One wonders if Fox had been rereading some of his earliest Adam Strange tales. In a story like this, which changes the Adam Strange mythos, it is appropriate that Fox has drawn on earlier key tales in Adam's origin.
This story falls distinctly into two halves. Each half has its own distinct plot, and individual tone. I enjoyed this story very much, but found the first half to be richer and more beautiful. Each half has its own departure from Earth. The somber, emotionally delicate opening shows Adam rescuing a Polynesian girl in a lone canoe from a Pacific typhoon. This woman is as brave and as solitary as Adam himself, in exploring the wild places of the universe. She is a sort of double for Adam's own situation throughout the series. This opening has less to do with the story that follows, than with the whole Adam Strange series of tales. In the tale's second half, Adam leaves from the Arunta desert in Australia, an out of the way place that echoes the second half's theme of exile. The Australia location also suggests a certain tie of Adam to civilization - Adam often draws on help from Australians in the series.
The story's second half is one of Fox's variations on his teleportation cycle. Here aliens build a teleportation machine. Adam gets teleported, but once again his zeta-beam cycle interferes, freeing him from the aliens' sinister teleportation plot. The tale ends after Adam has used the aliens' teleportation machine to bring him to Rann again. This story is, I think, the first time that Adam Strange has been brought to Rann by anything other than the zeta-beam. Fox fully recognizes what this means: that Adam is now on Rann permanently. He will not fade away. This is a radical change to the basic cycle that dominates the tales. One wonders how long it took Fox to develop this as a concept. Did he just get the idea while writing this tale? Had something like this been in his mind for a long time, and had he been saving it for a major story? One would love to know. However, the very next story will modify the implications of this tale. Even here, Fox shows that the teleportation machine has permanently used up its power at the end of this story. Therefore, it will not be used for any more trips, and it will play no future role in Adam Strange's mythos.
This story anticipates "Shadow People of the Eclipse" (#78, September 1962) in that it involves an exile world, an empty, depopulated planet to which people are sent in near permanent exile as part of evil alien schemes. Exile worlds are suited to Fox's writing in several ways. Most of his aliens, however nefarious, show a reluctance to actually take human life. Killing is rare in Fox's world. Human life is not depicted as cheap, unlike much dreadful 1990's sf. Exiling people to another, barren world is a way for aliens to get people out of the way, without actually harming them physically. Fox builds a whole story around a group of aliens who non-murderously conquer other planets in "The Dreams of Doom" (Strange Adventures #32, September 1961). Exiling can also be viewed formally as a Fox cycle. A person can be exiled to another planet; eventually they can return home; the two events together make up a cycle in the Fox sense. Fox loved to build his Adam Strange stories out of cycles, so using an exile cycle was a natural for his story telling imagination.
Infantino's witty cover shows the two Adam Stranges fighting a duel with each other. It looks exactly like High Noon in a gun battle in a Western town. The towers of Ranagar form a low frieze in the background, just where the saloons and hotels of a Western town would be. This image is quite funny. Like many of Infantino's covers, it emphasizes doubles. Also notable: the surging waters of the Pacific typhoon (p3), one of Infantino's typically rich seascapes, full of fascinating geometric patterns in the waves. Infantino also gets good geometric patterns out of the straight lines in the tale's climax, with many rays making a star pattern (p13).
The Planet That Came to a Standstill (1962). Adam Strange teams up with the Justice League to fight Kanjar Ro, a villain who uses Rann's triple suns to give himself Superman-like powers. Kanjar Ro allies himself with Rann's Northern barbarians, a Viking-like people, and gives them the ability to inflict paralysis on people, in this three part story. This is a sequel to Fox's "The Slave Ship of Space" (Justice League of America #3, February-March, 1961). That tale introduced Kanjar Ro, and his battle with the Justice League. It also introduced Kanjar Ro's Cosmic Ship, a spaceship in the form of a galleon that allows its occupants to "row" their way across space on cosmic currents. This is the first interstallar space ship that shows up anywhere in the Adam Strange tales. Spaceships would be an alternative to the zeta-beam, allowing people to journey between Earth and Rann. The Justice League will remove the Cosmic Ship at the end of this story, and it will never be seen again in the Adam Strange mythos. Fox will fully exploit its powers for this one time story, however. The people of Rann do have more limited spaceships that allow them to journey from one planet to another within their solar system; we see these in "The Planet and the Pendulum" (1958) and "Planets in Peril" (1964). All of these spaceship stories have the word "Planet" in their title.
Both this tale and its predecessor, "The Spaceman Who Fought Himself", each deal with space travel as alternatives to the zeta-beam. The two tales are linked; "Planet" refers to "Spaceman" twice in its narration. This tale partly undoes the results of the previous story, which made it look as if Adam Strange could stay on Rann permanently. Instead, Adam decides at the end of this story that he will regularly take part in the zeta-beam cycle again. This is typical of Fox's cycles: they tend to be very resilient and persistent. One can modify they and use them ingeniously, but rarely can one evade or end them. Even before this finale, Adam leaves his permanent residence of Rann, and takes part in another zeta-beam cycle. He does this to defeat the villain Kanjar Ro. There are some real paradoxes here. In theory, Adam wants to be free from the zeta-beam cycle, and just live on Rann permanently, as a regular citizen. But in practice, his participation in the cycle is what gives him much of his power. He repeatedly uses the zeta-beam cycle to interfere with various menaces threatening Rann. When he does not take part in it, he is just another ordinary mortal, one with a limited ability to influence events.
This is a pleasant if uneven story. The scenes with the Justice League seem padded, if inoffensive. But the early trap involving the Aurora Borealis is superb (pages 4 - 9). These scenes involve Adam and Alanna trying to escape a trap while flying through the air. They create a whole aerial landscape, a skyscape through which Adam and Alanna travel. Like the other trap story of the same year, "Challenge of the Rival Starman" (1962), Adam and Alanna exploit the special thermal properties of their space suits to survive and escape. As in all of Fox's trap stories, the heroes use scientific knowledge to escape the trap. Infantino's art is superb here too. The Aurora Borealis is made up of many repeating irregular figures; it is one of Infantino's abstractions composed as a mosaic of repeating elements.
Throughout the series, Adam Strange's main weapon is his ray gun. At one point here, he tells Alanna to set her ray gun on stun. This is exactly the same command as would be used later on Star Trek.
Fox creates two new cycles, just for use in this single tale. One involves the paralysis and release of characters by Kanjar Ro's immobilizing gong. This is a typical Fox menace. As usual in Fox cycles, at the end of the cycle the victim is fully restored to their original state, as if nothing had happened. Fox varies the protagonists affected by it, throughout the tale. The other cycle involves Kanjar Ro's giving himself Superman-like powers.
The immobilizing gong is explicitly compared in the story to the Sirens of Greek mythology. Fox based several of his menaces on these ancient legends, with two tales involving Cyclops like villains. Both the Sirens and the Cyclops are found in the Odyssey of Homer, which was also a big inspiration to the writers of the Superman family, notably Robert Bernstein and tales of Circe.
Adam meets the zeta-beam here near the ruins of Zimbabwe in Africa. At first glance, this seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the story. However, Fox often uses ruins in stories that feature a change or expansion to the zeta-beam mythos, as this one does. After all, Adam Strange is an archaeologist, and such ruins are his chief scientific interest. Perhaps Fox found them especially fascinating.
Infantino's art is rich and beautiful throughout this story. He makes spectacular patterns out of the flange on Adam Strange's helmet. Page 24 shows the flange, and circular arcs on the helmet itself, as forming a series of nested circular arcs. The abstract geometric patterns formed are especially beautiful. There are also night scenes in the tale, and the final panel shows Alanna's bedroom. Both images anticipate the next Adam Strange tale, "Challenge of the Rival Starman".
The waving lines radiating out from the gong occur on the cover, and were probably dreamed up by Infantino himself, before the story was written. They are in the tradition of radiating circular patterns that often show up in Infantino tales. The cover shows Adam Strange's body, with its leg extended, composed along one of the circular rings. This is in the classical tradition of European portraiture, to align the human body along circular arcs. Adam's other leg and one of his arms are perpendicular to this, along radii of the circles. A jutting piece of machinery is parallel to this leg. His eyes are also directed to the center of the rings. The background of the cover shows a row of Art Deco machinery, in the typical Infantino futuristic style. This machinery is drawn head on, with its surface parallel to the plane of the panel. This means it creates a purely 2D effect, without any perspective. Its strong straight lines, like those of the gong frame on the left of the cover, make a pleasing contrast to the circular arcs of the radiation. This juxtaposition of circles and rectangles includes the two basic geometric forms. Although there are a few titled angles in the top of the machinery, it almost entirely consists of rectilinear segments, like a painting by Mondrian. There are often tube like effects and regions in the machinery, giving it a sense of "flow". The eye can move horizontally along these regions, and there is a sense of connectivity and movement.
Infantino's interior art often shows a "multiple axis" construction. There will be two or three main, strong lines, with most of the line segments in the art parallel to one of these axes. Page 3 offers some good examples. In the first panel, everybody is standing straight up: one vertical axis. Everyone's head is tilted at nearly the same angle: a second axis. Kanjar Ro's arm is pointing, and a crack in the barrier is exactly parallel to this arm: a third axis. These three line directions make up the chief compositional elements of the picture. All of these axes are at slight angles to one another: they are three nearly vertical lines. This is fairly typical of Infantino: he often composes around such slightly tilted lines. Their intersections can produce a "diamond" effect, like a harlequin's coat. The lines also have a role to play in the storytelling. Kanjar Ro's arm is the only element parallel to the crack: it suggests that Kanjar Ro has a special affinity to the crack, not shared by the other characters. Since he is about to escape from the others through this crack, this suggestion tells the story, and it does so in a visual way.
In the next panel, Kanjar Ro is traveling straight up, while the other characters are all tilted at various angles. His body, arm and wand are all in one straight line. It is a striking and beautiful image. His sense of escape and special motion are emphasized by being the only vertical in a sea of tilted angles. His verticalness suggests that he is involved with some force. His behavior seems more mathematically pure than the other characters', and there would have to be some special force to explain this. Once again, Infantino's art is telling a story visually, all the while it is creating beautifully composed images.
Another example occurs on the lower left corner panel on page 19. Adam is about to strike the gong. His body and neck are along one titled axis, his leg and the gong mallet along another. Two diamond shaped lines along the top and bottom of the gong offer further tilted vertical axes. By contrast, most of the gong and the gong frame offer a series of strong vertical lines. Once again, all of these lines are much more vertical than horizontal.
The second panel on page 17 shows a similar design, but one in which the two long axes are horizontal, not vertical. There are also some short vertically tilted lines towards the margins of the panel. Infantino often included such cross angles towards the extremes of his compositions. These cross lines tend to be short, and oriented in the opposite direction from the main bundle of similarly oriented lines that make up the bulk of the composition.
Challenge of the Rival Starman (1962). A champion of another world forces Adam Strange into duel so that he can study his fighting technique. This is one of the most enjoyable Adam Strange tales. It is constructed as a series of traps, from which Adam and Alanna must escape. Fox was always at his most ingenious in his trap tales. The traps emphasize scientific knowledge and brain power in their solution, both of which are far more interesting to this reader than violence. Traps unfortunately only show up in a handful of Adam Strange tales.
The story and the art have a wonderful poetic quality. The tale includes one of the few night scenes on Rann in the series, showing Adam Strange asleep in his bed room. Night scenes in Adam Strange are always infused with intense romantic longing. The characters always seem to be expressing the most delicate feelings. There is a great sense of mystery in the night, and a sense of yearning for yet unattained feelings and unexplored life changes and experiences. Carmine Infantino's ability to convey such poetic moods is a considerable artistic accomplishment. It is done with artistic economy: the night scenes are often very brief. He can set a powerful mood of romantic feeling in a single panel. Infantino's night scenes often evoke "classical" civilizations. The night scenes on Earth in "Threat of the Tornado Tyrant" (1960) evoke all the magic of New York City in the 1930's, the city as seen in old movies. The night shots in "Challenge of the Rival Starman" take place in a curtained bed chamber that recalls 17th Century Dutch paintings, and other early European bed chambers. We also see the building in which Adam Strange is sleeping from outside, in the mysterious night. This is one of the clearest evocations in the entire series of where Adam actually lives. It gives him a "home", with all the rich emotionalism that this word implies. Seeing the home at night evokes special feelings of nesting and emotional rooting. We also see his bedroom windows from within and without; these too have an emotional resonance.
This story is constructed in part as a "guided tour of Rann". Readers in the letter columns had suggested that such a tale might be interesting; Schwartz had replied that a tale without a menace might be dull. Here the guided tour is woven into the tale. The story as a whole has a light hearted, festive tone. We also see in one panel what appears to be a classical past on Rann, that resembles Ancient Greece on Earth. Infantino's art here is excellent. Paintings showing the classical past of Greece and Rome were an important part of traditional European painting. Infantino gets to contribute to that tradition here. We will get a much more detailed flashback to Rann's ancient history in "Riddle of the Runaway Rockets" (1963).
Ray-Gun in the Sky (#77, August 1962). A giant ray-gun appears one day on Rann, hanging motionless in the sky. Gardner Fox tales often had menacing skywriting from the villain. However, this tale with its surreal menace floating inactively but threateningly in the sky, recalls the paintings of Magritte, where strange objects float menacingly in the heavens. The sheer mysteriousness of the object seems overwhelming: who put it there? what will it do? is it a threat? Its enigmatic quality echoes the enigma of nature: we do not know what things in nature mean, we have to figure it out after intense scientific search.
Meanwhile in this story, Rann scientists have succeeded in modifying the zeta-beam cycle so that they can directly summon Adam Strange from Earth. The last time he was summoned in this way was by scientists of the future, using their own, differently modified zeta-beam cycle in "The Multiple Menace Weapon" (1961). Gardner Fox remembers this parallel very well, and calls attention to it in the narration of the story. He also causes the two summonses to occur on parallel tracks, with the same New York City policeman being involved in both cases. This is an expert comic touch. It also emphasizes the similarity of the two modified cycles. Variation is a fundamental structural principle in Fox. Infantino has clearly used the same model for the policeman in both stories. He is seen in clearer detail in this second tale, closer up and from more numerous different angles.
This story has similarities to the next Adam Strange story, "Shadow People of the Eclipse" (#78, September 1962). Both involve strange things appearing in the skies of Rann. Both involve a race of aliens who menace Rann. Both also have an alien of another race who is terribly all-powerful, and who exerts a controlling role on the alien beings. It is unusual in Fox stories to have two alien races who are working at cross purposes to each other. Fox develops all sorts of plot combinations here, as the way that one alien interferes with the activities of the other alien recalls structurally the way one Fox cycle often interferes with another cycle.
The end of the story is constructed as a "box within a box" effect. A key event in one Fox cycle, that of the modified zeta-beam, only occurs when an event of the ray-gun cycle takes place, which in turn only occurs when one element of the alien being cycle takes place. This sort of causal linkage between cycles in rare in Fox. He is always superimposing cycles, but typically by having one cycle interfere with another cycle. Here, the events are linked together, with one happening only if an event in another cycle is occurring. The events are preconditions of each other, with one event being possible only if another is taking place. It is an interesting idea, and I'm glad Fox experimented with it once. However, it seems more labored than his original approach, and less convincing. The linkages seem pulled out of thin air. There are insufficient clues for the reader to logically predict them based on previous elements of the story. This gives them a somewhat arbitrary quality.
This tale has a beautiful splash panel, with its depiction of curving fingers. Some of the aerial art is also very good, with Adam shown riding the gun, as if it were a giant flying horse. There are also rare shots of Adam in the Earth clothes which he is wearing when he is summoned by the modified zeta-beam at the start of the tale; here he is wearing a windbreaker.
Shadow People of the Eclipse (#78, September 1962). The Vantor, alien beings last seen in "The Weapon That Swallowed Men" (#63, November 1960), return with a weapon that turns people into shadowy beings. As usual, the Vantor have a weapon that seems to attack people's substance: before they turned people into gas, now they make them shadowy. As in the earlier story, their weapon involves a whole cycle. In this case, after becoming shadowy, the protagonist disappears from Rann, and winds up elsewhere. (I do not want to spoil the plot).
This tale is unusually multi-centered: there is a long prologue on Earth, showing an eclipse in the Mato Grosso, then a preliminary menace before the main menace on Rann, then scenes on another planet later in the story. All three of these events are thematically linked, involving eclipses and shadows, although there is no causal linkage: the eclipse in the Mato Grosso has no direct relationship to the eclipse weapon on Rann, it is just a coincidence. Such thematic linkage sometimes occurs in the work of Robert Bernstein, as well as in that of Gardner Fox. Usually the opening scenes of Adam Strange on Earth prefigure the coming events on Rann. One possible explanation: Gardner Fox became fascinated by the idea of eclipses, and tried to work them into his story in every way possible. Also, the opening eclipse on Earth could serve as exposition for his young readers, showing them what an eclipse was and how it worked.
In Gardner Fox tales, the villain often leaves a message for the hero by sky writing. This is tremendously dramatic: usually it is seen by large crowds below. This story is unusual in that the sky writing is not in English, but in the Rann language. We see the Rann script in the sky, written in letters of fire. Alanna translates for the reader, and for Adam: she typically has the role of expositor in the tales, explaining the background of everything going on on Rann.
The Metal Conqueror of Rann (1962). A villainous being who can inhabit any inorganic object animates Adam Strange's metal statue. As usual in many Adam Strange tales, the villain's menace here forms a cycle, a multi-stage process anyone subjected to the menace goes through. And once again, the zeta-beam cycle interferes with the menace: it allows Adam Strange to fully escape, and Alanna to partly escape from the menace, in ingenious ways. Gardner Fox pushes this interference to its logical limit: again and again in this tale he extracts whatever escape from the menace he can for Adam and Alanna, by using subtle but logical extensions of the zeta-beam cycle. This formal ingenuity, this desperate battle to push the zeta-beam cycle as far as it can go, mirrors the content of the story, the emotional and dramatic progress of the tale. Adam is trying desperately to rescue the doomed Alanna from the villain. He tries everything, and the many small steps allowed him by exploiting the zeta-beam form his only leverage. So form reinforces content in this story.
The romanticism of this tale is the most intense in the Adam Strange series. Two images in this story are especially powerful. One takes place after the villain has caused Alanna to vanish. It shows a wide expanse of emptiness. It is one of the few nearly blank panels ever drawn in comic books. It successfully conveys the emptiness that Adam Strange feels after Alanna has been removed, and the sense that the world with Alanna is an empty world. Infantino often included wide swaths of blank spaces in his drawings; they made a dramatic counterpose to some figure or object shown in the rest of the panel. These white spaces are one of Infantino's stylistic signatures. Here, he has pushed these blank spaces to an extreme, making them take up a whole panel.
A second image shows the body of Alanna, turned to stone by the villain, laid in a crypt like area in a wall. Adam Strange is mourning her, and hoping against hope that she will somehow be restored to life. These images recall Romeo and Juliet, and the scenes at the end where a sleeping potion has caused Juliet to go into a death like trance. The crypt is a rectangular area, within a large flat wall. The wall fills the whole panel of the comic; the crypt is a rectangle descending from the upper edge of the panel, with blank space all around it on the left, bottom and right sides of the panel. The lack of "support" for the crypt, the way it is supported from above with no lines connecting it to the base and sides, gives a pronounced visual effect. Other aspects of this image: the fact that the characters are literally up against a stone wall emphasizes the desperateness of their position. Also: Adam and Alanna are both in the same plane of the picture as the wall and the crypt. This gives the image a frieze-like quality. Such friezes are traditionally associated with funeral sculpture in the last several hundred years of Western art, and Infantino evokes this tradition.
The Deadly Shadows of Adam Strange (#80, December 1962). Adam Strange's shadows temporarily develop an independent life of their own, and try to attack him. This is a sequel to "The Beast with the Sizzling Blue Eyes" (#62, September 1960); both share the same villain Mortan, who will also return in "Puzzle of the Perilous Prisons" (#91, May 1964). Although Mortan appears in three stories, he is a singularly unmemorable villain. Fox and Infantino are far more interested in the menaces he unleashes, such as the shadows here, than in any aspect of Mortan's personality. Mortan also seems like something of a twerp. Fox definitely was not interested in glamorizing villains: his bad guys all tend to seem a bit pathetic, and definitely not someone the reader admires.
This tale is pretty ordinary. It is most notable for the sequence in which Adam Strange is caught in a pit, and rescued by the brave Alanna. Alanna shows real guts here, and it is an interesting feminist moment. There were not many scenes in the entertainment of the 1960's in which women rescued men, through physical action and bravery. There is also some good art by Infantino showing a blank wall in the ruins of a Rann city, on which Adam's shadow becomes independent.
On Earth, Adam Strange develops a fever while doing archaeological work in the jungle, and blurts out his secret about journeying to Rann. No one believes him, however, regarding it simply as a fever induced delusion. This is a rare episode showing Adam Strange as an Earth archaeologist, and a rare scene of Adam protecting his secret; other super heroes spent endless time concealing their secret identities.
Adam Strange invents an invisibility method in this tale. The careful Fox establishes that it will not be easily reused again in future tales - he does not want invisibility to become part of Adam Strange's standard operating procedure, which would drastically change the character of the series. To prevent this, he uses an approach similar to that of "Ray-Gun in the Sky" (1962). He makes the invisibility method dependent on the shadow technology of the story, which serves as a pre-condition to it. And this shadow technology is something that is only known by the villain of the tale, not Adam. This means the two technologies will reappear together in future stories, or not at all. Fox actually wrote a sequel to "Ray-Gun in the Sky", "The Cloud Creature That Menaced Two Worlds" (1963), in which its suite of dependent technologies reappeared, but he never developed a similar sequel to "Shadows". Perhaps if his stint on Adam Strange had survived beyond 1964, he might have done so. In any case, neither the invisibility nor the shadows ever made a return appearance in any Fox Adam Strange tale.
The Cloud Creature That Menaced Two Worlds (1963). In this book length story, Rann's ancient dictator Alva Xar is revived and tries to take over the planet; meanwhile, a sinister cloud creature is formed; also Adam apparently meets Alanna on Earth. Richly plotted story that draws on "Ray-Gun in the Sky" (#77, August 1962). The two tales are so closely linked that one should not try to read the one without the other. Every plot idea in "Ray-Gun" is extended and made deeper and more imaginative in this sequel. It is if Fox were achieving more creative imagination in his further development of the material. Both stories also explicitly build upon material in the first Adam Strange story, "Secret of the Eternal City" (1958). In that tale we first learned about the ruinous war 1000 years ago between Rann's city-states; Fox is showing his pacifist convictions here, and holding up a warning to his present day readers to avoid war in the East-West conflict of the era. These three stories form a trilogy dealing with Rann's history. Among the plot ideas linking "Ray-Gun" and "Cloud Creature":
Much of the story takes place on Earth. There are travelogues in the story, showing off wonders of both Earth and Rann. The Land of a Thousand Smokes (p18) is beautiful; so are the Tyroolian marshes (p20-22). Infantino loved to draw marsh scenes, with numerous reeds blowing in the wind. On Rann we also see the floating city of Parmaleen, and a beautiful garden (p 25). The dialogue reveals a most unusual fact: there are no bridges on Rann.
The Betti Smythe portions of the tale show Fox's interest in doubles. Fox's doubles go very deep. They are not merely physical doubles, but mental ones as well, having all the ideas, feelings and memories of their originals. The sf ideas here recall an earlier non-series tale written by Fox, "The Case of the Counterfeit Humans" (Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952). The two Cyberay guns in this tale also serve as Fox doubles.
World War on Earth and Rann (1963). Adam struggles against would-be dictators on both Rann and Earth, each of whom is blackmailing cities with weapons. Both the title and the cover of this story are misleading. The cover makes it look as if wars are being fought on both planets. Actually, the story is about dictator wannabes who are threatening war. Adam spends most of the story, not fighting, but trying to figure out the technology behind the blackmailers' threats. Fox subverts the cover, by turning what is billed as a war story into a detective tale.
I think the cover of this tale should have been resisted at all costs. It is cheap and exploitative to turn the horrors of modern warfare into proposed entertainment. By contrast, the actual story in this issue is one of Fox' better tales.
There is both an Earth story here and a Rann story. The two plots work in parallel, and Fox cross cuts between them, by having Adam travel back and forth between the two planets. This use of two parallel stories, each of which has much in common, is a Fox tradition: see "Vengeance of the Dust Devil" (1961) or "Siren of the Space Ark" (1964). To fit in all this material, including two cycles of the zeta-beam, Fox makes some simplifications. In neither cycle do we see or learn about the place in the Southern Hemisphere where Adam meets the beam. This is very unusual in Adam Strange tales. Another possible reason for this absence: there is already an unusual amount of action set on Earth in this tale. Perhaps Fox felt that adding zeta-beam take-offs would overbalance the proportion of Earth to Rann material.
The Rann story is an impressive sf mystery. Adam tries to understand how the giant lens used by the dictator is being controlled. In this, the tale resembles an earlier sf mystery in the series, "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (1960).
Every time Adam Strange travels to Rann, there is a crisis. There is no logical explanation of this fact throughout the entire series: it just seems to be a gigantic coincidence, or fate. Fox had already milked this coincidence for comedy in "Mystery of the Mental Menace" (1959), and he returns to his spoof mode here. Both of these stories show some welcome self-satire. Fox comes up with some new implications of this coincidence here, and he combines them with some witty references to real life Earth politics of the 1963 era. The zeta-beam also usually wears off exactly when Adam has resolved the crisis: this coincidence is noted here too, and comes in for some gentle ribbing.
Infantino does a good job with the New York City scenes. Adam Strange's apartment is appropriately filled with books. Adam is always presented as a thinker in the tales, someone who solves problems by using his brain. So he is clearly a great reader. As usual, the New York scenes are filled with a great yearning by Adam to go back to Rann and Alanna. Here, this yearning is expressed not by night, but by a rain scene, with a trench coated Adam walking the rainy streets of the city (p 5). There are also some impressive Rann cityscapes (p 10) and the aerial view of the Rann city-state Berengaria (p 13).
The Emotion-Master of Space (1963). A villain who can control people's emotions brainwashes Adam Strange to be his friend; later Adam fights a dragon like creature called a Kalulla. The first half of this story is richer than its second - the Kalulla and the attempts to poison it are fairly ordinary. The Emotion-Master reminds one of the Mule in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy (1941-1950). Both characters control others by inducing positive feelings in them. The Mule was a mutant with telepathic powers, but the villain here uses a machine called the Emotionizer.
Infantino shows some unusual art in his depiction of the Misty Lands (page 4), a Rann landscape full of curling clouds. We see Adam and the officer he meets shown in outline through the mist. Infantino regularly included such experimental art techniques in his stories - see also the reflection in the chemical pool in "Riddle of the Runaway Rockets" (1963). The multi-colored wind that opens part II (page 7) is also beautiful. Infantino also shows us the beautiful gardens of Alanna's house (p10). Such garden, park and plaza scenes are a recurring part of the beautiful, gracious life people live in Ranagar.
Adam leaves Earth here south of the New Hebrides in the Pacific ocean. We witness the formation of a new island from a volcano. Such geological formations anticipate the Misty Lands scenes to come on Rann.
Fox often included scenes of Rann men working day and night to implement one of Adam Strange's ideas. These ideas are always for machines that will fight the menace that is threatening Rann. Usually these men are scientists, and their crash programs remind one of the giant scientific R&D projects funded by the military that first took place in real life during World War II, such as the efforts that led to the birth of the electronic computer, or the Manhattan project. These real life programs usually took years of work: Fox's versions usually last just a few days, or even 24 hours - a bit of dramatic license perhaps. This story is a bit different in that the team of men are not scientists; rather they are master craftsmen who work at one of Ranagar's giant forges. Infantino depicts them as stripped to the waist, to cope with the intense heat of the forge.
The Powerless Weapons of Adam Strange (1963). The Dust Devil returns, escapes from his prison in Australia and uses the zeta-beam to go back to Rann. He has the ability to turn any weapon Adam Strange tries to use against him to dust, thus the title of the story. This is the third tale about the Dust Devil. It is unusual for Fox to have a villain return so many times. It is not the Dust Devil's personality that interests Fox - he is not trying to create a series villain like the Penguin or the Joker. Rather, it is the technological properties of the Dust Devil as a menace that Fox likes.
The chief merit of this story is all the ingenuity Gardner Fox expends on the zeta-beam. Fox also uses his technique of doubles: here the Dust Devil can split in two. Fox combines this with the zeta-beam to create ingenious plot patterns. There are two complete cycles of the zeta-beam in this story: such plotting in cycles in typical of Gardner Fox's construction.
Adam meets the zeta-beam twice in this tale: once near those strange rock formations, the Devil's Marbles in the Australian Outback, and later in the sands of the Kalahari in Southern Africa. Both of these locations are an appropriately sand filled, desert like location, making a natural background for the Dust Devil. Fox comes up with interesting variations on the zeta-beam cycle in both instances. His dialogue underlines this, pointing out that this is the first time such variations have occurred. Such variations in the structure of a Fox cycle are usually fully conscious, and highlighted by Fox as a key component of his story.
Riddle of the Runaway Rockets (1963). A Cyclops-like creature called the Borg that was first created in ancient times revives and threatens modern Rann. Meanwhile, machinery on Rann runs amok. This is one of the most poetic of all Adam Strange stories. It is unusual in that it does not reflect many traditional Gardner Fox themes: the zeta-beam cycle does not vary, the zeta-beam has nothing to do with defeating the menace, there is no teleportation, and doubles play no role in the story. Instead, the tale is all original invention, and charmingly so.
Once again, this is a Gardner Fox mystery story, dealing with a mystery of control. It is in the tradition of "Menace of the Robot Raiders" (1959), "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (1960), and "World War on Earth and Rann" (1963). Fox's plot eventually becomes quite complex, with different layers of control contained inside each other, like Russian dolls.
The Borg is not the first Cyclops like menace Fox had created. Fox echoes the classical Greek associations of this character by making much of the first half of the story be a flash-back to Rann's ancient, classical past. The Borg's behavior falls into cycles, like much of everything else in Fox. He is activated, runs amok and wreaks havoc, and is finally deactivated, returning him to the quiescent state he had at the beginning. Fox shows us two whole loops of this cycle, one in the flashback to Ancient Rann, one in modern times. The Borg recalls the robot menace in the first Mystery in Space episode, "Menace of the Robot Raiders" (1959).
Adam eventually defeats the Borg, by taking advantage of a feature of modern Rann not present in ancient times. This is an Adam Strange tradition - to use a slight edge to maximum advantage, enabling Adam to do the unexpected. Usually, this edge comes from the zeta-beam, but here it derives instead from the architecture of modern Rann.
The story is another Gardner Fox tale, in which people must fight with ancient weapons, instead of modern or high tech ones. Fox employed such ideas extensively in Hawkman. Here, the concept gets a different rationale from the Hawkman stories - Fox loved coming up with logical reasons for this approach.
The opening has Adam meeting the zeta-beam at an unnamed atoll in the Indian Ocean. The locale is less significant here than the incident with Adam's jet rockets, which anticipates the trap in the later story. Both the opening and the trap also wind up with Adam in the water. The trap here (pp.-10) is in the classic Fox mode, and involves Adam and Alanna in the air, a favorite trap locale. The trap is the subject of Infantino's cover. The cover art shows the malfunctioning jets; the cover dialogue refers to the rigidity which afflicts the heroes - it is unclear whether this rigidity is part of the cover concept, or was added later to reflect the story. In the tale, Fox extends the malfunctioning rockets to a whole world of malfunctioning machines. This is typical of both science fiction, which always tries to base itself on broad scientific principles, and Fox's own writing, in which a "change of protagonist" on a large scale was a personal approach. Here not just rockets take part in the misfunctioning machine plot, but other kinds of machinery do as well.
The idea of the inside and outside of the human body, which plays a role in the rigidity sub-plot and trap, gets echoed later on in the discussion of the Borg, and whether he has inner and outer mechanisms in his robot body.
Carmine Infantino's art shows innovation. There are giant figures of Adam and Alanna in the flashback sequences; they flow across all the panels of the page, sometimes behind the panels, sometimes in front of them. These are "narrator" figures, telling the story we see in the panels. The giant figure of Alanna caused a sensation in its day; according to Schwartz in a later letters column, it attracted more letters than any other single page in the history of Mystery in Space.
Also noteworthy is the panel on the last page, showing the figures reflected in a shimmering pool of chemicals. The outlines of the characters are systematically broken up in beautiful ways, to depict this reflection. Infantino had used unusual techniques before, for example, the "sketch art" used to depict another dimension in his non-series sf tale "Mystery of the Moon Sniper" (Mystery in Space #46, September 1958).
The Spires of Spleeth (p7) show Infantino's skill at depicting rock formations. On the same page, the rise of the Borg from the ground is full of beautiful patterns of rocks and earth, forming complex jagged lines in the images. The portrait of Adam here in the ruins of Moorl, is a rare instance showing Adam without his helmet.
Infantino's version of Ancient Rann is also creative (p4). It is full of elegant, complex cities, like modern day Ranagar. These cities have elevated pedestrian walkways - a staple of futuristic sf cities - and elegant parks like modern Ranagar. But they also incorporate architectural features recalling Ancient Greece and Rome, such as pavilions and columns. This is an unusual fusion of styles. Infantino depicts ordinary citizens in classical togas, while the fighters are stripped to the waist, like the craftsmen in "The Emotion-Master of Space" (1963). Once again, this somehow creates a working class image for them.
The portraits of Adam Strange near the end (p14) are some of Infantino's most muscular and glamorous. They have an erotic charge, as they focus on Adam's relation with Alanna.
Attack of the Underworld Giants (#86, September 1963). The zeta-beam lands Adam Strange not at Ranagar, but near the frozen North Pole of Rann, where he is attacked by giants who live in a city underneath the ice. The zeta-beam variations are interesting - there is another one involving his landing back on Earth - but otherwise this tale is fairly labored. It does relentlessly exploit Gardner Fox's interest in teleportation, so it might have some interest to those studying variations in teleporting in Gardner Fox. Teleportation is Fox's favorite theme in his Mystery in Space tales. This is partly because of the zeta-beam cycle: it and its variants are a principal structural feature of his tales. But it is also because teleportation supports his interest in polarity: the relationship between two doubles. In this story cities are exchanged, their inhabitants are switched around, and even sizes are exchanged. There are perhaps some plot approaches and ideas here in common with an earlier non-Adam Strange Fox tale, "Secret of the Scarecrow World" (Mystery in Space #48, December 1958) .
The Super-Brain of Adam Strange (#87, November 1963). Adam Strange evolves into the large-brained man of the far future and he becomes completely indifferent to everyone around him, including Alanna. This plot gambit had already been heavily used in DC comics, for example in "The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #22, August 1957), written by Otto Binder. It has never been more anti-intellectual than here, where the smart Adam Strange is a very unpleasant Adam Strange. This is largely a poor tale, except for one aspect: the giant waves that appear in the sky are an interesting menace. The mystery of their origin follows a similar pattern to the mystery plot in "Riddle of the Runaway Rockets" two issues previously. The waves seem like an almost abstract pattern fused in with the realistic art of the rest of the story: such a fusion of abstraction and representative art is typical of Carmine Infantino.
Amazing Thefts of the IQ Gang (#87, November 1963). Writer: Gardner Fox Art: Murphy Anderson. The brainwave soaked stone Adam Strange brings to Earth and deposits in the museum where he works accidentally turns a minor crook into a scientific genius. This Hawkman tale, set entirely on Earth, appeared in the same issue as "The Super-Brain of Adam Strange". It is a sequel to the earlier tale, although the two stories are very thinly linked. Adam Strange makes a cameo appearance here. Hawkman meets him, in his Earth role as museum curator and archaeologist, but does not learn anything about his space travels. Hawkman himself is a curator at the fictitious Midway City museum, and is visiting New York in the story. The main effect of this encounter, is that when Hawkman and Adam Strange have their joint adventure in "Planets in Peril" (1964), they are already acquainted.
Adam Strange is described here as working for the great real life Metropolitan Museum in New York City. At this point, DC's legal department must have woke up, because in the next issues this is not mentioned again. In "The Cloud Creature That Menaced Two Worlds" (1963), we saw how a whole Adam Strange wing was added to the museum in which he worked, showcasing his archaeological discoveries.
The Robot-Wraith of Rann (1963). A wraith-like, gaseous figure inhabits a robotic body, and menaces Rann. The wraith is derived from Thanas Pral, the Rann inventor we met earlier in "World War on Earth and Rann" (1963). The wraith in this story is similar to the Dust Devil. Both are amorphous beings. Both involve Adam in aerial duels. Both are drawn by Infantino using many vertical panels. Both involve chemistry in an attempt by Adam to make them more tangible.
This story opens with Adam Strange taking a package containing a dress for Alanna with him on his interstellar travels; the dress container is on a long chain. The "object on a chain" anticipates the device he uses to detect a trap in "Planets in Peril", and has similar high quality Infantino art. And the concept, putting an object on a chain out of the reach of the zeta-beam, anticipates the vast imaginative reaches of "Planets in Peril", and the science fiction imagination it brings to the zeta-beam world.
Adam meets the zeta-beam near the Inca ruins of Fort Sacsahuaman in Peru. Fox had a special love of Inca locations: they show up in Adam Strange's origin story, "Secret of the Eternal City" (1958), and in "The Weapon That Swallowed Men" (1960). Their presence here is perhaps related to the fact that Fox is extending the zeta-beam mythos, which he first created in that origin tale. Infantino draws the stone walls of the ruins with a similar approach to the one he used in "The Weapon That Swallowed Men". We see every rectangular block of stone in the walls, and they fit together in a complex pattern that recalls the abstract art designs of Mondrian. The effect is strikingly beautiful, another example of Infantino fusing abstraction with the realist art of the story.
Siren of the Space Ark (1964). Adam meets a Lorelei like siren, a woman named Brittis who travels alone in a giant space ship controlled by electronic brains, and who tries to use her powers to lure him into being her consort after she conquers Rann. This story is somewhat unusual in Adam Strange in being all concentrated on romance.
This romance story immerses Adam and Alanna in an underwater world. The water seems to express their romantic longing. It also serves as a womb symbol, and symbol of life. It echoes the zeta-beam site, the Diamantina River, Australia.
This is the most Star Rovers like of all the Adam Strange tales. The Star Rovers were Gardner Fox's other sf series for Mystery in Space, and it was inevitable he might use their approach on an Adam Strange tale. The Star Rovers tales were constructed of a series of three parallel sub-stories, one for each Rover, followed by a climax story that wrapped up all the details of the plot. Here Fox has two parallel sub-stories, followed by a resolution section. The two parallel tales focus on Alanna and the Siren Brittis respectively. The plots of the two tales precisely echo each other, as in the Star Rovers parallel sub-tales. Also Star Rover like is all the lying that goes on in the stories. Just as many of the Star Rover sub-tales are lying hoaxes, here the second tale is all concocted by Brittis. The first story also has a creature with mental projection abilities, like the disembodied intelligences in the Star Rovers tale, "Who went where -- and why?" (1963). He too creates lying illusions. As in some of the Star Rovers tales, the heroes have to use reasoning to see through these hoaxes. Also Star Rovers like: the explorations of the natural wonders of an alien planet, and the attempt to escape from traps thereon. There is much about Rann here, and further travelogues of that planet.
A second cycle in the tale involves the engagement ring. Fox keeps returning to this mini-cycle, and exploiting it in new ways. This ingenious use of small cycles also recalls the formal precision of the Star Rovers stories.
Planets in Peril (1964). Art: Carmine Infantino (parts 1 and 3), Murphy Anderson (Part 2: Hawkman's section). Adam Strange and Hawkman have a joint adventure, in which they rescue both the Earth and Rann. This three part story is one of the most imaginatively plotted of the Adam Strange tales. It develops a whole science fictional theory of the zeta-beam, and uses it to create many plot developments. This tale is the climax of the whole Adam Strange series.
In this story centered on the zeta-beam, we paradoxically do not actually see Adam use it to journey from Earth to Rann. The story opens with Adam already on Rann with Alanna. We do see Adam returning to Earth, to a similar palm tree covered beach as the Banda Sea islet return point in "The Weapon That Swallowed Men" (1960).
Infantino's art is also at its peak here. The two traps at the end show special skill. In the first, Adam Strange whirls a metal object around on a cord, looking for a magnet. The art recalls the classical imagery of the Discus Thrower. Infantino's art is in full Renaissance mode, representing the musculature of the human body with classically trained perfection. It is very beautiful.
The second trap is one escaped by Hawkman and his wife. Here a panel showing Hawkman, bending down and gathering up dust from the ground, recalls the work of William Blake. This image is also a breathtaking look at the human figure. Later in this sequence, many panels show lights beaming up towards the sky. The diagonal lines of the lights make fascinating abstract patterns. Infantino's is a style that combines figure painting, abstraction, and architectural imagination, all in one harmonious blend. It is a synthesis of many traditions in art.
This has one of Infantino's best covers. A flying Adam is a series of straight diagonal lines, all moving in exactly the same direction. His space helmet extends straight up vertically, the only counterbalancing feature. There are also a series of short lines perpendicular to Adam's body: his belt, his forearm, the base of the helmet. This is the classic image of Adam flying, and makes a fitting climax to the Adam Strange covers. In the background are close-ups of Rann and Earth, which are about to collide. The straight lines of Adam's body are contrasted with the circles of the two planets. Adam is not quite perpendicular to the two circles: he is a little more vertical than that. On Rann, we see a full landscape, showing two Art Deco cities, with much countryside between them, mainly plains - the grasslands over which Adam has had so many adventures. These are some of the most detailed aerial views of any of Infantino's futuristic cities, showing a virtual city plan of the layout of the buildings. Earth is shown with a relief map of North America on it - the traditional way of depicting Earth on Mystery in Space covers, before satellite photos revealed that Earth features were often covered by clouds.
Puzzle of the Perilous Prisons (#91, May 1964). Alanna gets charged with radiation, and flees from Adam Strange, so he won't be harmed. The last Adam Strange story by the Fox / Infantino team. The story seems to be written around its cover, which shows Adam Strange trying to decide which of two duplicate Alannas to free from small jail cells. The imagery reminds one of Frank R. Stockton's classic story, "The Lady or the Tiger?" (1882). Unfortunately, the tale woven around this is far fetched and barely self consistent. Fox introduces the concepts of negative and positive zeta-beam radiation; had he continued the Adam Strange series, he might have eventually made something interesting out of this. The checkerboard design behind the letters on the splash page is a nice Infantino touch.
At this point the magazine was reassigned to another editor, Jack Schiff, who introduced a new team of writer Dave Wood and artist Lee Elias. Editor Julius Schwartz, Fox and Infantino all left, and began working on the "New Look" Batman.
World That Vanished (Hawkman #18, February-March 1967). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. Hawkman's search for his missing home planet of Thanagar, which has vanished along with Hawkgirl, takes him to Rann, and a second team up with Adam Strange, as well as a battle with the villainous Manhawks. As the story points out the Manhawks previously appeared in the Hawkman tale "Masked Marauders of Earth" (The Brave and the Bold #43, August-September 1963).
In this story Rann scientist Sardath develops a machine that bathes Adam Strange with a new type of radiation. It allows him to stay on Rann permanently, but will eventually destroy him if he returns to Earth. This plot is a brand new Fox cycle. One can call it the nucleonetic cycle, after the name of Sardath's machine. It has three key elements:
This is a drastic change to the original paradigm of the Adam Strange stories. In fact, it renders their most important feature, the zeta-beam cycle, null and void. One has mixed feelings about this. It is quite interesting to see Fox develop a whole new cycle. But one misses the old zeta-beam cycle, which was the basis for the brilliant Adam Strange tales in Mystery in Space.
When Fox created cycles, he often made ingenious variants on them. Fox comes up with a whole series of variants right in this tale. Fox uses one of his most basic approaches, the change of protagonist. When the new cycle is introduced, Adam is the main protagonist, the one who is flooded with the radiation. Fox soon introduces variants on this choice of protagonist. He also shows how space travel can interfere with and modify the cycle. Fox did this previously in some of his best Adam Strange tales, showing how space travel can modify the zeta-beam cycle. Please see "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" and "Planets in Peril" for examples. Here, in "World That Vanished", he shows space travel modifying the new nucleonetic cycle. Fox often displayed some of his best ingenuity one such space travel modifications. Here Fox's ingenious approach makes an appropriate climax to the story.
The nucleonetic cycle also has elements that echo in reverse elements of the earlier zeta-beam cycle. Just as the zeta-beam cycle kept Adam Strange based on Earth, and made it difficult for him to reach Rann, so does the new nucleonetic cycle keep Adam based on Rann, and makes it difficult for him to go to Earth. There is a change of polarity or direction here: from Earth to Rann in zeta-beam cycle, from Rann to Earth in the nucleonetic cycle. Both cycles have their points of similarity. Both flood Adam's body with radiation, in both the radiation was originally developed by scientist Sardath.
As in other Hawkman tales, Fox has Thanagarian inventions play roles in this tale. The Truth Machine is like a mini-version of the previously developed Absorbascon. The Thanagarian duplicating machine resembles the duplicating technology previously introduced in Fox's non-series sf story "Mystery of the Twin Spaceships" (Strange Adventures #101, February 1959). Here it helps to modify the nucleonetic cycle. Fox loves doubles and duplication.
Anderson has some good portraits of Hawkman here. One (p3) has Hawkman's mask slipped back on his head, revealing Carter Hall's full face. The titled mask adds geometric elements to the composition. Another shows Hawkman with mask (p11), with a slightly tilted head. Anderson's splash also shows Hawkman and Adam Strange symmetrically arranged on opposite sides of the page; this is a typical team-up composition for Anderson, who often depicted Hawkman and Hawkgirl in similar poses. Hawkman is seen more from the front, while Adam Strange's body is twisted towards the rear. The face of vanished Hawkgirl shows in outline in the upper left, with the stars shining through, in the manner of one of artist Virgil Finlay's dream women. The circular trail of exhaust from Adam Strange's jet-pack also adds to the composition, as well as providing a familiar aspect of his visual characterization.
The opening chapter of the tale is rich in sf images, with rare panels showing the Hawks' spaceship (p3), and wedding festivities on Rann.