Tom King’s gotten quite the reputation over the last 6 or so years of his career writing comics. At this point, most current readers know where they stand on his work, love or hate. Fortunately for me, I fall pretty firmly on the “love” side of that scale, having thoroughly enjoyed all but one of his comics. And with Doc Shaner and Mitch Gerads on art, Strange Adventures promised a lot even before the first issue released. However, for people expecting something as deep a dive into depression as King’s Batman or Mister Miracle, Strange Adventures #1 does not aim in that exact direction. This feels like something new.
If there’s one thing Tom King does really well, and one thing that I’ve loved in every single comic of his I’ve read, it’s structure. King has a knack for structuring each individual issue he writes in such a way that every page feels as if it has purpose, and that comes in full display throughout this issue. King’s gotten infamous for his usage of the 9-panel grid throughout his bibliography, and it seems his response was to simplify it a bit – this entire comic is told through the 3-panel grid, with some additional subdivisions on certain pages. With Doc Shaner’s art on the Rann segments, this especially evokes Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier, which is always a good thing to be reminded of.
The specific structural choice of this comic is the asynchronous storytelling. The three-panel structure allows for a lot of scene-switching within individual pages in a way that doesn’t come across as disorienting, and the choice to have Gerads draw the Earth segments and Shaner draw the Rann segments prevents it from ever getting confusing. King also switches his dialogue style between the two settings – on Earth it’s the more standard style King’s gotten known for with his Batman and Mister Miracle, but on Rann it’s a more Silver Agey style that works really well with the more lyrical delivery King provides.
The plot of this issue isn’t exactly a weak point, but I’m finding I don’t have much to say about it. It’s the standard Tom King first issue – scenes of a more idyllic life juxtaposed with scenes of anxiety and dread. In this case, there’s the additional layer of the Rann scenes, which begin as the former but transition into the latter as the issue goes on. The last page drawn by Shaner is haunting, in particular because of the ambiguity the rest of the issue gives it. It’s very easy to see how this issue’s story draws from King’s own background as a former CIA operative who served in Iraq, but in this case it’s so blatant that it becomes impossible to really discuss beyond that. That’s not to say it’s not a good story, it just unfortunately doesn’t have much for me to concretely say about it.
Honestly, at the end of the day, if you like Tom King’s standard work, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, it’s still worth a shot because Doc Shaner and Mitch Gerads really are some of the best artists working today. This is a well-crafted comic at the very least, and it’s looking to be another strong entry into the bibliography of all the creators involved.