Monday, July 27, 2015

Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 1 by DC Comics

Pushing the envelope of the Fifties’ imagination
As far as comics go, I’ve always been more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy. However, I’ve always felt that one area where DC had Marvel beat was in the science fiction genre. The collection Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 1, published by DC in 2008, confirms their long, rich tradition of sci-fi excellence. This volume reprints issues 54 to 72 of Strange Adventures, which were originally published from March 1955 to October 1956. I don’t know why DC chose to begin this reprint series with number 54 rather than number 1. Perhaps they felt like everything prior to these issues was too antiquated to appeal to a 21st-century audience. Whatever the basis for their decision, I won’t argue with it, because this is a fantastic collection of vintage sci-fi comics.

Through the first half of the book, the stories are almost exclusively about visitors or invaders from other planets, and always planets within our own solar system. Representative titles include “Movie Men from Mars,” “The Rock-and-Roll Kid from Mars,” and “Science-Fiction Convention on Mars.” Fear not the domination of the red planet, however. Each of our eight solar neighbors in turn gets their shot at conquering Earth, only to be thwarted by spunky American heroes. Without fail, each of these stories cites mental telepathy as the obligatory miraculous reason for the intelligibility of alien speech. Sprinkled amidst these space visitor stories are a few tales of time travel, as well as stories in which scientific principles or gadgets are used to commit or solve crimes. In the second half of the book, the ratio is reversed, with the science-crime and time travel tales taking precedence over the alien invasions.

Although this time period straddles the boundary between the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics, by today’s standards the days of the six-page story were generally not great times for comic storytelling. It was hard for writers to develop satisfying narratives within that restrictive page count. Even the much-lauded titles of this era always had a fair amount of duds sandwiched between their classic tales. That’s why the consistent quality of these Strange Adventures stories is all the more remarkable. Over the year-and-a-half time span of these issues, the 61 stories maintain a level of quality that almost never drops below a 7 on a scale of 10, with numerous entries reaching an 8, 9, or 10. There’s only one or two stinkers that just don’t make any sense, like the baffling “I Was the Man in the Moon.”

The art is reproduced in crisp black-and-white, which in my opinion is superior to scanning the fuzzy color pages of the actual finished comics, which were often of poor printing quality. This is classic comic art at its best, with a film noir-like judicious composition of lights and shadows that you no longer see in today’s Photoshopped comics. The bullpen of recurring artists includes the greats Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane, but even their lesser-known colleagues turn in top-notch work.

This collection is a wonderful celebration of the power of the imagination. Although the stories seem dated and campy after all these years, the diverse array of fantastic premises these writers came up with is truly amazing. Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi pulp fiction or of good old-fashioned comic art, these early issues of Strange Adventures are an absolute joy to read.
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