Friday, March 17, 2017

Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 2 by DC Comics

Not as much fun as Volume 1
This is the second volume of Strange Adventures reprints in DC Comics’s Showcase Presents series. Published in 2013, this collection reproduces the complete narrative contents of Strange Adventures issues 74 to 93, which originally ran from November 1956 to June 1958. Though I’ve never been a fan of DC’s superhero pantheon, I have always admired their science fiction comics, particularly those from this era. I absolutely loved Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 1, and this second installment contains another 500+ pages of the same brand of bizarre sci-fi fun. Yet while reading through Volume 2, I couldn’t help feeling the series had lost some of its luster. If you like pulp fiction from this era, these stories are still good, but not as delightfully imaginative as those of the first volume. Judging by these issues, the Strange Adventures series appears to have been losing some of its creative steam.

The cover is certainly promising, with its illustration of angry extraterrestrial snowmen shooting laser beams from their eyes. The story it references, “Invaders from the Ice World,” is one of the more entertaining entries in the book. In Volume 1, alien invaders usually came from other planets in our solar system, but in Volume 2 the writers have broadened the scope of possibility to include interstellar villains. To overcome the language barrier, mental telepathy is obligatorily cited as the means of communication in almost every story, a convention so overused it’s even called out in “Secret of the Silent Spacemen.” In addition to alien invasion, intelligent simians are always a great plot device, as in “Secret of the Man-Ape!” and “The Gorilla War Against Earth.” There are some good time travel selections as well, such as “The Paul Revere of Time” and “The Warning Out of Time.” As you can see, even the titles start to sound familiar after a while. “The Amazing Tree of Knowledge!” and “The Amazing Ray of Knowledge!” appeared in consecutive issues. A recurring problem with these stories is that too much time is spent setting up the threat, which only leaves a page or two for the generic hero to solve the problem and save mankind. While the perils are fantastical, the solutions always rely on some everyday principle of science, as if DC intended the series to educate as well as to entertain.

Generally speaking, I think DC’s Showcase Presents series of classic comics reprints is much better than Marvel’s Essentials series in terms of its production values—cover design, paper quality, clarity of reproduction, and so on. This vintage art really looks beautiful in black and white. They don’t draw ‘em like this anymore! The artistic workhorses of the series were Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, and Sid Greene. The three of them probably pencilled at least 90 percent of the stories included here. Towards the end of the volume, however, new talents start to appear that don’t really measure up to their predecessors, like Manny Stallman and John Giunta. As the series rounded its 90th issue, it appears that changes were taking place. The stories in Volumes 1 and 2 are almost invariably six pages in length, yet issue #93 leads off with a 14-page whopper, “Heart of the Solar System.” Perhaps this was a hint of things to come.

Maybe I’ve just reached a saturation point with this stuff, but if DC ever publishes a third volume of Strange Adventures, I’m unlikely to pursue it. I would rather they put out a volume of material from their Mystery in Space series, which seemed to run more creative work less confined by formulaic conventions.
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