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The Reread Reviews — DC Comics Presents Mystery in Space #1

by  in Comic News Comment
The Reread Reviews — DC Comics Presents Mystery in Space #1

I finally get around to a Grant Morrison comic. Not only that, but a comic that features the writing of Morrison and the art of JH Williams III. Of course, they both work on different stories here, but that still should mean this is a decent comic, right? Well, let’s see! (As always, spoilers.)

This week, I’ll be discussing DC Comics Presents Mystery in Space #1 by Elliot S! Maggin & JH Williams, III, and Grant Morrison & Jerry Ordway, one of eight Jules Schwartz tribute books DC put out after his death in 2004. The premise is that each story is inspired by a classic Scwartz “concept cover,” (in this case, Mystery in Space #82) which Alex Ross does his own version of for this issue.

The original by Carmine Infantino:

The Alex Ross version:

I bought this when it came out because of Grant Morrison. I enjoyed the issue well enough, but have only ever reread the Morrison story since that first read (until now). It’s not that I disliked the Maggin-penned story, it’s just that I didn’t really care. I thought it mediocre and not nearly as interesting as Morrison’s. Maggin’s story concerns a fictional African nation and their theft of some of Adam Strange’s technology. It also features Ralph and Sue Dibny, and is rather competent. Morrison’s story is very metafictional, switching between close-ups of the Infantino cover with commentary about Schwartz, and a plot by the US military to start a war with Rann. It’s easy to see why the second story would appeal to me more than the first.

There isn’t a whole lot that jumped out at me in this rereading. The Maggin/Williams story is a bit busy and the sort of thing you wouldn’t be surprised to come across in an old Silver Age comic. It’s not bad, but not great. The use of African geopolitics is a little out of step with these characters, who seem utterly surprised that such things could ever happen. In fact, Adam Strange comes off as a bit of moron throughout. When he returns from Rann and finds himself in New Zealand, he seems unable to figure this out on his own despite it being kind of easy to figure out given the accents and sheep — how many places in the southern hemisphere are there that have such characteristics? There’s something charming about his bumbling ineptitude…

I love Todd Klein’s lettering, which warps around the words, not being stuck in the traditional oval shapes. He used this lettering on Desolation Jones, too, which somehow works with Williams’s art to give the whole thing a very classic, pulp-looking feel.

The Morrison/Ordway story is more complex in the way in which it’s told as Morrison uses his story to reflect upon Adam Strange and the broader culture context in which he was created. Not only that, but he also treats Rann as a truly alien place where even the residents are quite different despite looking like humans. Here are a couple of pages, which show Strange on Earth, remembering an adventure on Rann, while Morrison plays with captions and thought balloon, and really creates a dynamic forward momentum to the story…

If anything, Morrison’s story almost seems like a response to Maggin’s (despite not being one, of course), as Morrison does his best to demonstrate why current politics and views don’t work with these old, Silver Age concepts. The US military trying to start a war with Rann, because they think the planet is full of soft, weak people — the major in charge of the invasion even mocks them at one point for having an archaeologist as their hero — but, the soldiers quickly die at the hands of the Sandstormers (sandstorm monsters that live in the desert) because you need to wear bright colours to confuse them. The soldiers in their khaki uniforms just blend in. That sort of mentality just doesn’t work on a fantastic world like Rann where its inherent nature is grand and ludicrous.

I’m not sure Morrison’s attempt to contextualise the story in the Cold War is as effective. While certainly true, he never really manages to make that element fit into the story he’s telling, especially as he throws in Vietnam. I like that Morrison delivers a strong, almost fully formed conception of Adam Strange (one that kind of makes you wish he do more with the character), but he just can’t make the metafictional story about Schwartz work with the main story, leaving it hanging there a lot of the time, off on its own.

This issue is worth checking out. I actually have a feeling that all of these tribute books are worth a look (this was the only one I bought). Apologies for the short post this week, but life got in the way. Next week, I’ll begin making it up to you with a four-part, month-long series of posts on 52. Since June is the off-month between Trinity and Wednesday Comics, it seems the right time to revisit that book. I have the trades, so each week will be one of them. It should be fun.

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