Adam Strange is a war hero who defeated the alien Pykkts, but Mr. Terrific is about to discover the dark truth about the Justice League hero.
Tom King’s run on Strange Adventures is his latest limited series focused on an underappreciated classic comics character, in this case, the space adventurer Adam Strange. Earlier projects include his and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Vision comic and the 2017 Mister Miracle series he made with artist Mitch Gerads. Both of these earlier series won the Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, and Gerads once again partnered with King on Strange Adventures.
Each of King’s previous maxiseries explored deep psychological and philosophical matters. Vision was a domestic drama that questioned what it meant to be human, while Mister Miracle dealt with the traumatic horror of living in a world where violence, tyranny, and misinformation have become normalized. In Strange Adventures, King examines what it means to be a war hero.
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The story opens with Adam Strange back on Earth after a successful military campaign on the planet Rann, where he helped the Rannians defeat the enemy Pykkts, even releasing a successful book about his exploits. At one of his book signings, a man begins screaming about the war crimes the Rannians committed against the Pykkts. When the man is found dead, apparently shot by a laser gun, Strange is naturally a key suspect.
Batman asks Mister Terrific to investigate the murder. Terrific eventually agrees, but his investigation leads him to begin questioning just what happened during the war. It begins to look like the Rannians took part in a genocide against the Pykkts. Strange’s wife, the Rannian woman Alana, does not help matters as she openly flaunts her disdain for both the Pykkts and the investigation. When Mister Terrific travels to Rann and even learns the Pykkts’ language, he is thwarted the moment he tries to access their accounts of the war.
Throughout, flashbacks reveal moments of conflict when Adam fought alongside his wife Alana. Some of the battles had moments of heroism, but most were grim brutal struggles that revealed the horrors of war. The only clear easy victories came from dishonorable actions, like when Adam and Alana murdered three Pykkts during peace negotiations for speaking their own language. To justify this murder, they chose to interpret the Pykkts’ native speech as an act of aggression.
Alana and Adam’s daughter was reportedly killed during the war, though the circumstances surrounding the child’s supposed death are shrouded in mystery, suggesting there is something more nefarious being concealed. While the loss of a child might lead parents to commit war crimes against the people responsible, this would make too neat and easy of a narrative.
Tom King is a former CIA operative and his writing frequently explores the complexities of war. His work with DC Comics, in particular, has looked at trauma, propaganda, and how soldiers live and die by the arbitrary whims of their commanders. In Strange Adventures, King seems to suggest something else entirely: that in war, there are no costumed heroes fighting the good fight against evil. That is mere propaganda, for war is too complex for such gaudy heroics. One becomes a hero through triumphing over their enemies, but such victories are only possible through monstrous acts of violence.
Adam Strange, the winner of the Rannian War, quite literally got to write his own version of history. When Mister Terrific begins an investigation that might expose the complexities of just what really happened, he is immediately stopped. The Rannians seem willing to do anything to keep Terrific from learning the truth of the Pykkts’ suffering. Pykkt documents are declared illegible, and when Terrific learns their language, he is still denied access to these documents. In the aftermath of the Holocaust that ended the Pykkts, their voices are suppressed, while Adam Strange gets to profit from the book about what a hero he is.
The parallel is no accident. Strange Adventures repeatedly uses imagery and terms that invoke the specters of the Holocaust and Nuremberg Trials, adding an additional layer to the suppression of the Pykkts’ language, as it seems to intentionally echo the destruction of Jewish books and culture by the Nazis.
There is a fine line between being a war hero and a mass murderer. When the wars exist on a planetary scale, the casualties will be catastrophic. Victors like Adam Strange might try to think of themselves as heroes, but there is no washing away the blood on their hands, no matter how they try to cover it up with ink.
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