Friday, September 26, 2008

Single Issue Review: Mystery In Space #90

Mystery in Space was one of the best science fiction magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, featuring lots of entertaining "one-shot" stories, as well as some pretty nifty features such as Captain Comet, and the Star Rovers.

But the big hero of Mystery in Space (MIS) was Adam Strange. An archaeologist by training, he first appeared in Showcase #17 (Nov-Dec 1958) and after a three-issue test run there, was assigned to the cover feature for MIS, starting with #53 (January 1959). While trying to escape some natives in South America, he finds himself suddenly transported to the planet Rann, millions of light-years away from from Earth. It turns out that a scientist named Sardath had sent a "Zeta" beam of energy that had the effect of transporting Adam across space.

Adam meets Sardath's lovely daughter Alanna, and it soon becomes evident that they are falling in love. He also helps save Rann from various perils that seem to pop up whenever he arrives on the planet. Because the Zeta beam wears off eventually, Adam only stays on Rann for two weeks at a time, but armed with information from Sardath as to the locations of future Zeta beams, he is able to return to Rann periodically.

The series was terrific, with entertaining stories and gorgeous artwork by Carmine Infantino and (mostly) Murphy Anderson. Several Adam Strange stories are considered among the finest of the 1960s, including MIS #75's book-length story featuring a crossover with the Justice League of America, Planet That Came to a Standstill, which won the Alley Award for the best book-length story of 1962.

In Mystery in Space #87, Hawkman was added as a feature character. The Adam Strange story in that comic overlapped a bit with the Hawkman story, and Adam even appeared with Carter and Shiera in one panel. Hawkman had been having trouble graduating to his own magazine despite six tryout issues in the Brave and the Bold, so DC switched the artist chores to Murphy Anderson, resulting in a beautiful four-issue run that launched the Winged Wonder into his own title.

In Mystery in Space #90, Hawkman and Adam Strange collaborated to save the Planets in Peril. Shortly after arriving on Rann, Adam is startled to learn that a new planet has entered its solar system. It is rotating around Rann's sun. Even more startling is when Adam sees the new planet:

It turns out that Earth is orbiting at a slightly faster speed than Rann, and thus the two planets will eventually collide. Alanna, Adam and Sardath hop into a spaceship and head towards Terra to find out what's going on, but they return to Rann when they hear that strange objects have suddenly appeared on the surface of that planet. We learn the identity of the villain and the strange objects in these two beautiful panels:

Orin Dargg looks like a classic Infantino villain, with the receding hairline and the smug grin being frequent themes in his characters. And note the action sequence of Alanna and Adam arriving at the location of the Sphinx and other monuments. Doesn't it look like Adam's rear would get a roasting from those jets?

The second chapter features Hawkman and Hawkgirl. They observe as a Zeta beam starts to steal Lake Superior, just as it has the monuments. Heading to Rann in their spaceship, they discover that Dargg is blackmailing Ranagar (the capital city) by holding Lake Superior over their heads and threatening to drop the water and destroy the town.

As usual with Murphy Anderson, the details on the individual panels are exquisite:

In the final chapter, the villain is defeated and Earth sent back to its normal orbit. Adam pops the question:

Overall, the story was excellent, and the artwork outstanding. This is one of the finest comics produced by DC during the 1960s and thoroughly worth reading.

Unfortunately it marked the high tide for the Adam Strange series. Two issues later Mystery in Space was transferred from Julius Schwartz's editorship to Jack Schiff, as part of the shakeup that led to the "New Look" Batman. Under Schiff, the cover feature was handed over to Space Ranger, and the Adam Strange stories began to take on the Monster of the Month Club look that had plagued Batman during Schiff's tenure. Infantino went with Schwartz to help out on Batman, and Murphy Anderson also had a new magazine: