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Showcase 19
"Challenge of the Star-Hunter!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND SHOWCASE #19; featuring Adam Strange in "Adventures in Other Worlds"; March-April 1959; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor; both Adam Strange stories in the issue written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, with inks I think by Bernard Sachs. The cover, which looks like Gil Kane pencils and Murphy Anderson inks, depicts a space-helmeted Adam and Alanna in flight and Alanna calling for help; "I'm being pulled into space by a MAGNETIC METEOR!" While Alanna's blue and yellow outfit is similar to what she wore in most of the MYSTERY IN SPACE run, Adam is sporting a rather poorly designed rocket-suit and braving the cold and vacuum of outer space in *short sleeves*.

My previous reviews of semi-"lost", i.e., unreprinted Adam Strange stories didn't seem to get a lot of response, but Tom Orzechowski asked for more, so here's another one. In this case, it's a bit easier to understand why the stories in this issue haven't seen print again since their initial appearance. This was Adam Strange's third and last tryout appearance in SHOWCASE; and while Julius Schwartz did reprint Adam's origin story and its companion tale when he started running Adam Strange reprints in STRANGE ADVENTURES in 1969, he skipped over Adam's appearances in SHOWCASE #18 and this issue in order to move on to his MYSTERY IN SPACE run. The reason is pretty clear. Mike Sekowsky was a talented artist and did well on JLA and many non-series sci-fi tales for the Schwartz SF books...but he wasn't the right artist to breathe life into Adam Strange. That took the sleek and ultra-futuristic artwork of Carmine Infantino, who came on board for the MIS run.

Nonetheless, Adam did get his start in these SHOWCASE issues. The first tale here is "Challenge of the Star-Hunter!" "While his fellow Earthmen must await the future day when they can journey to other worlds, Adam Strange ALREADY knows the fantastic secret of how to travel INSTANTLY to Rann, a planet 25 million miles from Earth! On that world of wonder, he is confronted by a super-alien who can change his shape at will-- who challenges Adam to capture him-- or doom the planet and its people to utter destruction!" The splash panel shows Adam and Alanna studying a pair of alien animals-- a long-necked yellow creature and a smaller, red-maned purple beast-- and trying to figure out which one is the "super alien Leothric in disguise".

The story opens with Adam in Calcutta, India, declaring that he can actually perform the legendary Indian Rope Trick, climbing a rope hovering in the air and then disappearing from the top. The enlightened natives scoff at the "Rope Trick" as a fraud, but Adam extends the rope (stiffened by hidden rods) and then indeed climbs up it and vanishes. His secret, of course, is that he has caught the scheduled Zeta-Beam express to Rann. Arriving there, Adam meets a delegation of grim, robed, oddly Arabic-looking Rannians-- and Alanna. She and the others explain that Rann has been issued a challenge by a super-being named Leothric, and they want Adam to be Rann's champion and fight for them. "And since the champion is permitted an aide, Adam, I shall go with you!" As they are lifted by a "gravity beam" into Leothric's spaceship, Alanna explains that Leothric has demonstrated super-weapons far exceeding Rann's capabilities; their only hope is for Adam to beat Leothric at his game. They meet Leothric-- a red-haired, scaly alien with trumpet-like ears, saucer eyes and three toes per foot-- and learn that he is the last surviving native of the planet Ardvak, has existed for eons in suspended animation, and possesses the powers of super-intelligence and the ability to change his shape. He amuses himself by challenging the inhabitants of other worlds to the hunt; once he was the hunter, but now he finds it more entertaining to play the prey, disguising himself with his shapechanging powers and challenging the hunters to seek him out. If they can spot the real Leothric by identifying some physical feature his beast-self shares in common with his real self, and press a special ring against him, his real shape will be revealed, and Adam and Alanna, along with hundreds of previous unsuccessful hunters, will be released; but if they fail, Rann's inhabitants will be condemned to eternal suspended animation

In the jungles of Ardvak, Adam destroys a giant dinosaur with his ray-gun and thinks he has identified a tiny cat-creature with saucer eyes as Leothric, but he is wrong. For their second try, Adam and Alanna go underwater to hunt Leothric who has turned himself into a sea creature. They find a sea serpent with scales similar to Leothric's, but again it is the wrong choice. Their last chance is in the desert. They split up, and both Adam and Alanna discover a creature with a feature similar to Leothric-- one has a red mane resembling Leothric's red hair, while another has similar trumpet-like ears. Which one is Leothric? Alanna despairs of making the correct choice, but Adam declares that he can identify Leothric by the tracks the two beasts left behind in the desert sand. The red-maned creature turns around to look at its tracks-- and Adam uses the ring to reveal it as Leothric. He has won! How did he identify the real Leothric by his tracks? He didn't-- but when he said he could, and one of the creatures turned around to see how it had betrayed itself, Adam knew that was the real Leothric, the "animal" that could understand what he was saying.

Leothric frees his hunter-prisoners, as promised, and Adam prepares to send them back to their homeworlds where they will free their people from suspended animation. He himself will remain behind to destroy Leothric's spaceship and insure that he can never play his "game" with another helpless world. Alanna is shocked that he intends to sacrifice himself by remainin stranded on Leothric's world. Not so, Adam reminds her; when the Zeta-Beam wears off, he will return to Earth as always. Indeed, no sooner has Adam fired his ray-gun to destroy Leothric's ship than he fades away back to Earth, and vows: "Just 43 days, 16 minutes, 5 seconds more-- and the Zeta-Beam will strike Earth again-- carrying me back to Rann and my beloved Alanna...."

43 days, 16 minutes, 5 seconds and four ad and text pages later, we have "Mystery of the Mental Menace!" The splash basically reprises the cover scene of Alanna being pulled out of her spacecraft by the magnetic meteor as Adam (still in his clunky-looking and rather inadequately protective short-sleeved spacesuit) fires a ray-gun at the meteor. The story opens with Adam standing in his rocket-suit somewhere on the African veldt, waiting for the Zeta-Beam to strike and wondering what sort of trouble he'll find on Rann this time. Then he spots a hunter with an injured leg in the path of an element stampede. He has a duty to save a life even if it means missing his bus to Rann, so he takes flight with his rockets, seizes the man and takes him to safety. "I say, old chap, who are you? I mean, dressed like that and all?" But Adam has no time to explain himself or defend his sartorial sense, for he still has a chance to catch the Zeta-Beam. Catch it he does, and he meets Alanna, only to breathlessly ask her, "What's wrong, Alanna? What danger threatens Rann?" "Danger? I--! don't understand!" "All the other times I've visited Rann, there's been a menacing danger-- what is it THIS time?" "No menace--Adam-- no menace at all? Rann loves everybody! Everybody loves Rann! As a matter of fact, there really isn't anything urgent to keep you here! So if you want to leave..." "Very funny, Alanna! You know very well the only reason I keep coming to Rann is to be with YOU! The excitement and danger is all--er-- incidental!"

Instead of facing a new peril, Adam goes with Alanna on a tour of Rann to receive plaudits and rewards for his previous exploits. In the sea city of Ys, he receives a diamond key. The ancient city of Kallanoor gifts him with a chest of golden coins. But violating the rule against looking a gift horse in the mouth, Adam notices that the "diamond" key won't scratch glass, nor will it scratch the supposedly softer gold. He discovers that the key is a glass fake and the gold is "fool's gold". He starts to fear they may not be the only fakes; "For all I know, YOU may be false, too!" Alanna gives him a deep kiss, and then asks, "Do you still think I'm a fake, Adam Strange?" "No! That kiss was FOR REAL!" But he still wonders about the "mysterious happenings" (it apparently doesn't occur to him that maybe the people of Ys and Kallannoor are just cheapskates...) Thanks to the helpful editor, we readers learn ahead of Adam that the being behind the odd goings-on is Zakkad, an entity that looks like a giant atom model and dwells on Ekelon, the outermost planet of the Alpha Centauri solar system. Zakkad is "powerful beyond all imagining, able to create matter by the awesome might of his mental powers"...but he lacks one secret he greatly craves, that of teleportation. He can teleport objects, but they arrive at their destination as "pseudo-replicas", and so he dares not teleport himself. But observing Rann he knows that Adam Strange seems to have the secret of teleporting from Earth to Rann. So he schemes to attract Adam's attention by replacing his gifts with teleported fakes. In this way he hopes to lure Adam into the clutches of the "magnetic meteor" he has created to transport our hero to Ekelon.

The meteor grabs Adam and Alanna's space flyer and draws Alanna towards it, but Adam's ray-gun fire sends it flying back towards Ekelon. Adam and Alanna follow it in the space flyer, which is of course what Zakkad wants: "I knew if my magnetic meteor failed to draw you here, Adam Strange-- your curiosity would bring you to me!" Confronting Adam, Zakkad demands his teleportational secret, or Zakkad will use the magnetic meteor to draw the whole planet Rann out of orbit, destroying all life on Rann. But, Adam fears, if Zakkad does get the secret of the Zeta-Beam, "he'll use it to conquer the universe!" There's only one small chance, and Adam gives Alanna instructions to follow while Zakkad is distracted by his answer to the atom-alien's demand. Adam first refuses to aid Zakkad, enraging him into setting the meteor in motion...than pretends to submit, explaining the Zeta-Beam while Alanna secretly reverses the meteor's controls. Instead of Rann, Ekelon itself will be pulled out of orbit. While Zakkad remains trapped on his runaway world, Adam and Alanna manage to escape in their flyer, but by the time the ship reaches Rann again, Adam has vanished, and is wondering what new danger will strike when he visits Rann again.

The bit about the animal tracks in the first story was cute, but in general Gardner Fox's stories as well as the art in this SHOWCASE run aren't up to the standards Fox and Infantino would achieve in MYSTERY IN SPACE. (Some here on the list consider JIMMY OLSEN to be "quintessential Silver Age". Myself, if I had to pick just one title as "quintessential Silver Age," I think it would be Adam Strange in MIS.)