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Mystery In Space #1
writers: Elliot S! Maggin and Grant Morrison
artists: J.H. Williams, Jerry Ordway and Mark McKenna

Of all the fifth week/extra-special/cool summer events tried by publishers over the years, "DC Comics Presents" has to be the coolest. Inspired by classic Julius Schwartz covers, which were often commissioned before any stories were written to match them, the cream of the crop of comics talent would create a new story to try and capture the spirit of the Silver Age. Even better, it's not just the cream of the crop of who's hot in this month's Wizard. Some of the old guard are coming back to pay tribute to the late Schwartz.

So all of the line, with one issue coming out each week, has a bittersweet tinge, as it memorializes a giant of the industry and hearkens back to simpler times. But this week's entry, Mystery In Space, has special weight to it.

First, it proves how utterly viable, fantastical and gripping the character of Adam Strange can be. No wonder we're getting a relaunch in the Fall.

In both stories, writers Maggin and Morrison highlight the things that made Adam a popular character in the early space age, and manage not to make them seem silly. Especially Morrison, who gives the intrepid archaeologist an excuse for wearing the red jumpsuit. It confuses the monsters of Rann, who are always attracted by the appearance of a Zeta beam. Maybe you have to take it on faith, but it seems reasonable for a comic book, and far more satisfying that Will Pfeifer's recent dismissal of Robby Reed's origin in HERO.

The two writers also offer very different tales. Maggin's entry is straightforward adventure, with one of those eleventh hour pseudo-scientific explanations that were characteristic of his work on Superman back in the seventies. Even if you don't believe in Rann's special geologic signature, the rest of the story holds up surprisingly well. The comic relief of a kid and a donkey accidentally transported to Rann works without being overly cute. Heck, it makes one wonder why Maggin isn't seen more often in the pages of comics today.

Of course, he then has to be contrasted to the guy we can't get away from in comics, nor do we want to: Grant Morrison. People, if for no other reason, buy Mystery In Space #1 to read a Morrison story that you can grasp in one sitting. There's an all-too chilling sense of modern paranoia, but leavened by hope and heroism.

Oh, Morrison still has to push the post-modern envelope just a little bit, as Adam Strange hallucinates running commentary on the development of his own feature in the National Periodical offices, but it only serves to underscore that sense of wonder that comics once routinely had. And that Morrison recaptures time and time again, even if you often scratch your head afterward.

Back to that bittersweet quality. Maggin uses The Elongated Man and his wife Sue in the story. No doubt he was unaware of Sue's fate in Identity Crisis, and the story here could easily be from some unspecified point in the past. But Maggin gives Sue a lot of life here, making the case for both her and her husband as characters almost as strong as Adam Strange. Brad Meltzer would agree, but now it's too late.

The art is great, especially by Williams. Ordway is a superb draftsman, but McKenna dulls his impact with the inking. Maybe it's because we just saw Ordway inking Byrne on JLA, where the art almost made up for the badly done story, but the guy is capable of more flash than McKenna lets him show. And yet, McKenna clearly has skills as an inker. Throw him over on Outsiders and let's see what happens.

If this summer event continues to be this kind of quality, these books are going to be keepers, the kind that when you go through your collection you have to stop and re-read. Buy the individual issues rather than waiting for the trade (though yes, Virginia, there will inevitably be one), because they should be savored the way Julie would have put them out in the first place. It's a fine tribute to the man who treasured imagination, and will cast a shadow spurring comics on for quite some time to come.


Derek McCaw

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