Sunday, July 16, 2006

Strange Adventures #209

Strange Adventures #209, July-August 1969, National Periodical Publications (DC Comics)

yesterday's post, I mentioned Star-Spangled Comics, an old DC series featuring B-list characters' adventures, like the Star-Spangled Kid, "Batman's two-fisted partner" Robin, and Tomahawk. Of course, that series was one of many like it, and today's review of Strange Adventures #209 is proof of the "compilation" comic trend of the Golden and Silver Ages. As much as these issues kept fan favorites like Adam Strange in the spotlight, in this case through reprints of earlier stories, I'm sure their true purpose was to keep struggling writers and artists in the business. "Space Cabby" is an interesting concept, but I doubt Otto Binder, Gil Kane, and Bernard Sachs could've kept an entire series afloat, even with Kane's clout.

The cover boasts the series as Adam Strange Adventures, but the first page's fine print drops the "Adam," possibly revealing that the addition of the proper name, and more importantly its familiarity with fans, was to boost fledgling sales. Adam Strange isn't even on the cover; rather, we're treated to Joe Kubert's "The Cave Men of New York!" from the secondary Atomic Knights tale. The feature tale is typical Adam Strange: a zeta-beam transports Strange to Rann, where the reunion with his love Alanna is interrupted by an invasion of giant alien robots. The piece is predictable but fun, and in an American age where an escape to the moon was on everyone's minds, I can understand why Adam Strange, the one man on Earth that "already knows the secret of instantaneous space-travel," was so popular. He was, after all, just a normal guy with some scientific smarts in a world advanced enough to grant him a jet pack, an easy-to-relate-to foil. Unfortunately, although we haven't reached jet pack status yet, Adam Strange offers us nothing more than nostalgic camp, nowadays. We have telephones smaller than the fin on his helmet. We've passed him by.

The Atomic Knights' view of the future isn't so bright. Similar to
Mighty Samson, the Atomic Knights are lost in a post-war radiation-ridden world, and in this episode, they're in search of a food cache below an abandoned New York. In the raid shelter, they combat cro-magnon men, quickly (and unsurprisingly) revealed as atomically de-evolved human beings. The Knights, literally protected by medieval armor that shields radiation "due to a peculiar molecular structure, aged by the centuries since it was made," redeem the cave men's lost humanity and split with some supplies, sustaining their bodies and their spirits. Although this tale doesn't pack as powerful of an apocalyptic punch as Mighty Samson, I enjoyed the yarn and was grateful that it ended before the concept ran out of excitement. I hope to pick up the next installment sometime, in which the Knights "glider-fly west and discover . . . the lost city of Los Angeles!" With no memorable mention of the west coast in any of these post-war pieces I've read, I've feared that California wouldn't survive a nuclear holocaust!

Finally, my favorite story in this threesome was "Space-Cabby," not because of its plot twists or insightful social commentaries, but because the hero is a genuine cheap ass! Finally, a protagonist I can relate to! This episode begins when Space-Cabby needs a new atomic battery for his taxi, so he visits a second-hand space-ship parts shop and knowingly digs to the bottom of the bin where "they always hide the good batteries!" Later, we see the Cabby lodge on an asteroid for the night with his own inflating tent because, and I quote, "Space-motels are too expensive!" Eventually, the Cabby helps cops uncover and capture a gang of space-thieves, and when the police confiscate his newly purchased atomic battery for evidence, he gasps, "You mean I have to buy another one out of own pocket?" Awesome! Of course, the cops give Cabby a reward for his efforts, but his constant complaining about the price of his chosen profession is more memorable than his unwitting exploits as a hero! I hope to hitch a ride with Space-Cabby in the future . . .

And his tale is an interesting lead-in to the editors' note at the end of the issue. In the apparently personally typed missive, the editors apologize for the three-cent increase in the title's cover price, bumping it up from twelve to fifteen cents! Culturally, their explanation is hilarious, disclaiming, "Everything costs more today than just a few years ago. Your parents have to pay more for food, clothing and rent." When I started collecting comics over ten years ago, the cover price for an issue of The Incredible Hulk was one dollar. Now, nearly tripled, I feel lucky to find a back issue for that price. I don't remember ever reading a letter from an editor explaining the need for a price hike in my decade-plus of collecting, not that I needed one, but this retrospective puts things in perspective. The readers were a critical part of the complete comic book experience, back in the day. Hell, Space-Cabby's tale ends with the blurb, "Want more Space-Cabby stories? Your demand is our command!" If I were a kid back in '69, with everything happening in our country that year, I would've felt empowered by that invitation! The editors let me in on their financial decisions, and I have a say in what goes in these comics?

Just goes to show. Characters, even a compilation of B-list characters, don't carry a series. The readers do. What's really strange is how often we forget what we're capable of.

San Diego in three.

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