Secret Origins #17: Adam Strange and Doctor Occult

Ryan Daly and returning guest Professor Alan review the origin of Adam Strange from Secret Origins #17. Then Michael Bradley joins Ryan for the story of Dr. Occult.

Listen to Episode 17!

Subscribe to Secret Origins Podcast on iTunes!

Sample pages from Secret Origins #17, written Gerry Conway with art by Carmine Infantino and Tony DeZuniga (Adam Strange), and Roy Thomas and E. Nelson Bridwell with art by Howard Simpson and Robert Lewis (Dr. Occult), and a cover by Kevin Nowlan.

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Plus, sample pages from Justice League of America #121 by Cary Bates and Dick Dillin, and More Fun Comics #28 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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Plus, Dick Giordano’s tribute to E. Nelson Bridwell.

Obit

Bonus: “The T-Shirt” front and back, pictures by Ron Papa.

ShirtFront ShirtBack

Check out Professor Alan’s podcasts at the Relatively Geeky Networkhttp://relativelygeekypodcast.blogspot.com

Specifically his Adam Strange coverage on the Quarter Bin Podcast episode 15, episode 18, and episode 21.

And find Michael Bradley’s Superman and Batman Podcast at Great Krypton!http://www.greatkrypton.com

“Premonition” (Theme for Secret Origins Podcast) written and performed by Neil Daly.

Additional music this episode: “Part of Your World (Reprise)” by Jodi Benson; “Magic” by B.o.B. featuring Rivers Cuomo; “Rocket Man” by Elton John.

Leave a comment, Secret Admirers!

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17 thoughts on “Secret Origins #17: Adam Strange and Doctor Occult

  1. Nice stuff. It is interesting that they paired together characters from different pulp genres, both of whom don’t seem to be able to translate well to modern stories for various reasons you and your guests outlined. Personally I like the sound of the Dr. Occult story, and I like how complete it sounds. Often it feels like these stories are treated as exposition dumps about (at the time) current characters, meant to do little more than make readers go “Oh, ok so that’s the deal with the character,” but not actually tell a satisfying story in and of themselves. This one (and Adam Strange to a lesser extent) sounded like it was a complete proper story that just happened to be the origin story. This might be a symptom of the characters not being current at the time and it pushed the writers to not leave it on a “and now you can follow their current titles” note.

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  2. Stop doubting yourself Ryan! The shirt DOES exist, and that’s all JLGL (PBHN) artwork, with inks by Dick Giordano. Garcia-Lopez did seem to take some visual cues on his Robin from Perez, but there are subtle differences, mostly in the laces and belt, as Perez usually gave Dick more laces, and capsules on his belt, ala Burt Ward.

    I picked up this issue of SO just a few weeks back while hanging with The Irredeemable Shagg at my local comic shop, Heroes Realm. It was a dollar. Is that close enough, Professor? Or do I have to do extra credit? If I get an F, my dad will kill me!!!

    I really like the cover as well, but Nowlan always seems to go with muted colors, and I miss Adam’s orange boots, and Occult’s orange coat. What’s wrong with a little orange? Nowlan will be back in SO with interior art on the Man-Bat origin!

    I seem to recall Thomas saying in one of his TwoMorrows books, or perhaps that 100th issue of Alter-Ego that the Adam Strange story began its life as another project, but wound up in SO. Not really sure where it would go, but that’s why Thomas is the sole editor on this one. Maybe it was developed before Roy relinquished the “modern” characters in SO to another editor?

    The Infantino/Dezuniga combo is odd. One of those “great tastes that DON’T really taste great together things”. I just listened to an episode of Pop Culture Affidavit where Tom Pantarese and Andy Leyland discuss the V comic based on the TV series, and those two artists got paired there as well. DC was hot on putting heavy inkers on their older artists in the late 80s early 90s. And it didn’t always work. Just look at the succession of inkers they burdened poor Jim Aparo with.

    I’ve always liked Adam Strange, and much like you Ryan, a lot of it is that visual. I think the modern update from the 2000s was one of the better attempts at something like that. If Geoff Johns had given Adam one of his rainbow GL rings, maybe he would have taken off after his spotlights in 52, etc.

    I remember when Roy revived Dr. Occult in the mind 80s. It seemed like he was going to get a big push, and it just kind of fizzled out, with just a handful of appearances. I did like those Superman stories from the 90s Michael pointed out. As a big fan of the Superman and Batman podcast, it was great to hear him here. Here’s hoping he comes back for that Composite Superman origin, because I know Rob and Shagg won’t do it!

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    1. In All-Star Companion Volume 4, it says Roy edited the Adam Strange story because he assigned it as a fill-in issue of All-Star Squadron. Not sure how or where it would have fallen in with the series.

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  3. Adam Strange was a character I encountered in the very first issue of Justice League of America, that I ever read. Loved the red flight suit/costume and the fact that he used his brain first. Of course, he is purely John Carter (mixed with descendants Flash Gordon and a bit of Buck Rogers), and Alanna is his Dejah Thoris (even more than Warlord and Tamara). When I got to see some of Adam’s own comics, I was blown away. Carmine Infantino was at his zenith on those books, throwing every influence he had in them. They were extremely inventive and wonders for both the eye and the brain. And the dude can rock a fin!

    That 90s Adam Strange was a bleak, awful slog. Adam Strange was a bright, optimistic series and that book epitomized everything wrong with the grim and gritty approach that was being applied to everyone. The 2000s series was okay; but, it didn’t wow me like those old stories or his guest appearances in JLA. James Robinson made great use of Adam, both in the Stars My Destination storyline, and, afterwards. Robinson remembered to have Adam use his brain, and presented him as a true swashbuckling hero, straight out of Edmond Hamilton or Leigh Brackett (or Edgar Rice Burroughs).

    As for Lucas and Spielberg, this is what Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should have been. Indy is transported to Rann and everything unfolds from there.

    Dr. Occult is one of those characters who just kind of exists, somewhere in the past, for me. I’m not much for magicians and sorcerers; so, not much for me here. It’s okay. Siegel and Shuster were definitely channeling the pulps here, rather than Mandrake, as everyone else was doing, in comics.

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  4. Most of the Dark 90’s Adam Strange concept comes from the two-part guest appearance in Alan Moore’s Smalsh-Yegger, excuse me, Swamp Thing (which I wish one of you had read/mentioned.) Which was an excellent story, narrated about half in English and half in Rannese. (Which Moore invented for the story. Not a full-on conlang, but a word-level coded English, which is at least a step up from the character-level ciphers one usually sees in comics. I sort of hope someone who remembers more than two words of it will comment entirely in Rannese.)

    Anyhow, it was a neat story, but like many of Moore’s, didn’t leave the character in a great place. And works better as a revelation for a character with a lot of history than something you do from the start, which is what I think that the 90’s version tried.

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  5. Re: The Dynamite Death Defying Devil; the original Daredevil is in the public domain. Marvel holds the trademark on the name, which is why Dynamite and AC Comics changed the name when they published the character (Dynamite in Project Superpowers, AC in reprints of the Lev Gleason comics). Dynamite doesn’t hold a license, they merely used the public domain hero and gave him a new name. They, thus, own their version. It’s much like the Terror and other Nedor characters, who turned up in Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, while they also appeared in Project Superpowers, a few years later.

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  6. I am not a big fan of Adam Strange. He’s kind of nothing special. He’s a guy with a rocket pack and gun. Give that stuff to me and you could write a comic called ‘Anj Strange’. Okay, I am being a bit harsh. I do like the teleport ray concept of him blipping back and forth. And Alana … well … nuff said. I am surprised Ryan missed commenting on the Adam Strange comic by Paul Pope in Wednesday Comics. Beautiful stuff there.

    My first experience for Dr. Occult was in Crisis on Infinite Earths. He just sort of came out of nowhere and then took center stage around issue 10 or 11, meditating on his symbol with the E2 GL. Who was this guy? I did like him a lot in the original Books of Magic miniseries. But I found the ‘both genders in one body, switcheroo thing’ a bit much. The Vertigo Visions issue is something of a mess.

    Anyways, great episode and discussion as always. Look forward to next week’s look at the annual, an issue that gets a 5 star rating from me.

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  7. I agree with Ryan about Adam Strange. He’s always been one of the DC characters I was drawn to just on appearance alone (some others on my list: Zatanna, Doctor Fate, Hawkman). Then when I was older and read a (very) few of his stories, I fell for the premise as well. As Prof Alan said, it’s such a classic sci-fi/fantasy concept that I can’t help but be attracted to that (as a fan of classic sci-fi tropes and stories). The romantic longing hook of the story between Alana and Adam was always a cool to me, too. And I’m going to channel Shagg here for a minute and state that Alana is HOT. Seriously, if you’re going to name-check beautiful DC women, she has to make that list. I tend to forget about her because of her C or D list status, but it’s clear why Adam longs for her when that damn Zeta-Beam whisks him away all the time. Now I need to find some of the old stories and check those out. I love old school Carmine Infantino and from what I’ve seen of his art on the Silver Age stories, it looks fantastic. And I loved the story line in Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing that featured Rann and Thanagar. Adam and Alana were really interesting in that one, in my estimation. I need to go back and reread those soon!

    Dr. Occult…um, well, my only real reading experience with him comes down to the Moore Swamp Thing story you guys discussed (fantastic issues, but the Dr. is clearly forgettable in it) and his Who’s Who entry. That’s it. His origin here seemed convoluted, but maybe I just focused too much on the ridiculous aspect of him being named “Doc” and then working to get a degree (PhD, I assume?) so he could rightly continue calling himself “Doc.” Seriously? I dunno, I love saying “Because comics” to this sort of nonsense, and there are so many other sillier, far-out things that have happened in comics that I love, but for some reason this one seems a bridge too far for me. It seems unnecessary more than anything.

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  8. I’ve always adored Adam Strange, and I don’t get the constant comments about his ‘retro-ness’ being a problem. That original look is sleek, perfect, classic. Every ‘update’ simply looks clunky, referencing the original while never approaching the glory of it. And while I’m as gay as the next guy (if he’s, like, you know, gay), the original Alanna was HOT! The latest version looks like a man, by comparison.

    Alanna was great in that she was more a partner than a damsel in distress, and respected by Adam. Adam was great because he always solved problems with his brains, while flying around zapping beasties with his raygun. No update was needed; Alan Moore needed a severe slap for twisting Sardath’s motivations. As for that Richard Bruning prestige series, with Alanna dying and Adam hooking up with that Mavis Trent-alike tart, ugh! Glad that was roundly retconned away again.

    I agree, Doc Occult was good in Superman, and I think he might make for a fun TV show, if Rose were treated as a proper partner and we saw plenty of that groovy disc.

    Has no one at DC ever done anything else with The Seven? Maybe a DC Cult Wars crossover involving the Namba Parbat lot, the Kobra bunch and Ra’s al-Ghul’s mob. Mind, as RAG and Kobra bore me rigid, I’d not be buying.

    As you’ve mentioned your theory in the Constantine TV show yet again, Ryan, I shall once more recommend you try a few more episodes, as it improved hugely.

    Anyway, thanks for another terrific episode.

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  9. I’ll join the ranks of those who love Adam Strange, but I agree he does lack that killer modern story. I got really excited about the second feature until I realised I was mentally preparing for the origin of a different doctor, one Terrence Thirteen. I would have liked to talk about Doctor 13 for a bit. Oh well.

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  10. I’d love for DC to publish some of the pre-Superman Siegle and Shuster work like Dr. Occult, Slam Bradley, etc. Are any of these old stories reprinted anywhere?

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  11. I could have sworn I owned this issue of Secret Origins, but I recall at least considering buying it for a buck this year at a con just in case and deciding against it. I figured, even if I don’t own it, we’re talking about two characters I don’t feel strongly about in stories thrown out of continuity from a company that’s alienated me. I feel about Kevin Nowlan the way it appears most feel about Mike Mignola, a guy who can deliver so much nighttime cool in so few details, except Nowlan can also bring the detail and the sex appeal.

    Like seemingly the majority hereabouts, I took to the visual of Adam Strange more than the character, and as is their way, DC keeps changing the visual instead of enhancing the character. The thing is, science fiction got started in prose during a time when that was the only way for an audience that often lived its entire life never having traveled outside their state could experience the foreign and fantastic. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were such big hits as newspaper strips because they were essentially the first sequential visual representations of science fantasy, beyond covers and spot interior illustrations. Both begat movie serials, beginning the transition of the most popular medium for consumption of science fantasy to celluloid from newsprint. Even still, Adam Strange arrived before widespread access to television, and told complete stories in full color for a dime. You could succeed on that variation of the formula back then, but Strange’s fortunes turned for the same reason as Buck’s & Flash’s: they’re one-dimensional characters. Their worlds may be even more visually colorful than Star Wars, but the personalities are anemic and the stories dispassionate grade school science puzzles. Adam Strange would be a solid infotainment mobile app game for K-6, but he’s a pretty lame comic book character.

    My angle would be to kill off Adam Strange in a meditative piece like The Death of Captain Marvel so he doesn’t come back, then transfer most of his trappings to Alanna Strange to effectively gender swap the property. Their daughter is half-human, which in itself would be reason enough for the Rannian to maintain ties to Earth, but they also still need our world as a stud farm. Rann! Needs! Semen! It’s a hook unto itself. Then I’d do something like “Futureshock: Crisis of Infinite Timelines” where viable properties from DC’s catalog of former futures would all end up on one planet/star system/Whatevs which Alanna Strange would police. Not entirely dissimilar from Countdown to Infinite Crisis or Futures End in cast, but closer to Annihilation in effect. I can’t name anybody else from Rann but Sardath, but I know Kamandi, the Atomic Knights, Manhunter 2070, and OMAC, most of whom have done faceplants in contemporaneous reboots but would be nifty supporting players in their classic forms in a shared continuity. You could even work dudes like Monarch and Batman Beyond in there, if you felt the need, and I wish there was a pill or a cream to clear that up for you lot. So, in summary, single but ready to mingle parent Alanna Strange as Starlord of a modern day Futureverse generated by a crossover event with actual repercussions, perhaps as an ensemble piece or team book ala Guardians of the Galaxy.

    Folks sometimes forget that I’m a duly deputized policeman over DC Comics podcasts, and I’m afraid that I have to issue a citation to Ryan Daly for overuse of a personal opinion. I’ll let you off with just a warning over telling everyone repeatedly in detail how you prefer the multiverse to the Post-Crisis timeline as it relates to Golden Age heroes, but giving us your theory on the cancellation of Constantine on two consecutive episodes is way over the line, mister. I still kind of agree with you, but through repetition I’m wavering because it occurs to me that a lot of the trouble was it’s coming out on NBC. Not only did it do perfectly fine CW numbers, but that neglects the issue of its failing to recognize that it was a watered down adaptation of a mature readers series. On cable with cursing and nudity and more graphic violence, Constantine could have been an upgrade on Supernatural instead of a downgrade on a lesser Keanu Reeves movie. Anj has said that the show was somewhat faithful to the early Jamie Delano issues, which reminds me that I didn’t much like those and strongly favor the Garth Ennis run. Plus, the early years of Hellblazer coasted on familiarity with the character’s highs as a very popular Swamp Thing supporting player, while the show had to start cold (even if you count a tenuous Smallville connection through the Helm of Fate.)

    The only issue of Who’s Who I ever bought new off the stand featured Dr. Occult as a highlight entry, and I’d jump on a project that reflected the appeal displayed there, but no such book seems to exist. The sample pages offered for the origin story look like a hasty Marshall Rogers effort for a low selling genre anthology in the 1970s, where what I like about Occult is that he appears to be Dick Tracy bypassing his proto-Batman rogues in favor of the outright supernatural. That direction is a far cry from the fruitful offspring of Carl Kolchak that sank Constantine in the mire of “hip” modern monster fighters. You do a completely straight, sober, humorless and grisly police procedural along the lines of Law & Order with Dr. Occult as the Joe Friday type lead, except with vampires and werewolves replacing the rapists and murderers. Get into the loopholes employed in succubi solicitation, or whether zombies meet the legal standards for understanding their Miranda readings, or the difficulty in getting a search warrant against a child-baking witch when the Wiccan Anti-Defamation League has the ear of city hall. Spend more time looking at the dire circumstances of chupacabra victims. Batton Lash meets CSI. Also, merging Dr. Occult with Rose Psychic means we lose a veteran female supporting character, not that we gain some sort of quasi-trans hero. Finally, perhaps Roy Thomas created “problems” in this origin by refusing to excise contributions from E. Nelson Bridwell that he simultaneously could not allow to stand unanswered, so he for instance kept the “Doc” name but still felt the need to make him an actual doctor? Just a theory.

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  12. Still grinding away – this is just about the worst podcast to get late on – but an excellent episode for sure! Good job, guys!

    Adam Strange is a character I love in concept, but don’t actually care for in actuality. Even if he IS Canadian these days (what’s the point anyway, since he necessarily wants to leave that country to seek the Zeta beam/Rann?). Probably came across him first in Who’s Who.

    As for the Golden Age Constantine–I mean Dr. Occult, I first met him in those All-Star Squadron issues and I was fascinated by the idea that his one-shot costume was one of Superman’s building blocks (it was referenced there too, if I’m not mistaken). I love it when they use him, but he should be a lot more important to the DCU’s history (a bit like the Crimson becoming the legendary first “mask”, revered by other heroes).

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