Syfy’s Krypton is set in Superman’s world, but if you’re hoping to see the Man of Steel make an appearance, you’re going to be disappointed. Krypton is a prequel set generations before little Kal rockets to Earth. His grandfather, Seg-El, is the hero who must decide whether to save his planet from destruction or ensure its demise, securing Superman’s legacy.
That doesn’t mean that other DC characters won’t pop up on the show, however. Brainiac, a malevolent artificial intelligence and a classic Superman villain, is all set to serve as Krypton‘s big bad. Doomsday, who killed Supes in both the comics and in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is slated for an appearance. Time travel leaves the door is open for more niche characters, like Hawkwoman, Nightwing and Flamebird, and the Omega Men, to show up, too.
Krypton‘s most important established character, however, is one that you may not have heard of. Earth’s own Adam Strange will join Seg-El as Krypton‘s co-lead, played by Shaun Sipos. And if you don’t know who Adam Strange is, don’t worry. See, unlike almost everyone else, Strange isn’t a superhero. He’s just your run-of-the-mill space adventurer–and he’s awesome.
Stranger in a strange land
Superheroes weren’t always as popular as they are today, even in comic books. After World War II, the public’s interest in superheroes took a big hit, and by the time the 1950s rolled around, most of DC’s superhero comics had been pulled from shelves. Sure, DC still published books starring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but the rest of their line-up was made up of other genres: westerns, romance, horror, so-called “funny animals,” and, of course, science fiction.
That’s why, when DC editorial director Irwin Donenfeld decided to create two new characters in 1957, they were space heroes, not super ones. As the story goes, Donenfeld called a couple of his best editors into his office and told them to create two new features. Jack Schiff, one of the architects of Batman’s early adventures, was put in control of Space Ranger, a masked crimefighter who lives in the future. Julie Schwartz, meanwhile, was charged with coming up with a more contemporary hero.
Schwartz reached out to writer Gardner Fox and artists Murphy Anderson (who designed the costume) and Mike Sekowsky (who handled interiors), and together they created Adam Strange. Showcase #17, Strange’s debut issue, lays out the basics. While exploring, a wealthy archaeologist named Adam Strange is zapped by a “Zeta-Beam” and finds himself transported to Rann, a planet in a neighboring solar system. There, Strange hooks up with Alanna, the beautiful daughter of Rann’s chief scientist, and helps fight off an alien invasion. Adam doesn’t get to celebrate for long, however. In his moment of triumph, the Zeta-Beam wears off and Adam returns to Earth.
In Showcase #18, Strange finds another Zeta-Beam and returns to Rann, where he picks up his signature jetpack, laser gun, and red-and-white costume. From there, things fall into a familiar pattern. Strange spent the better part of the next decade headlining DC’s science fiction anthology, Mystery in Space, and most stories unfold the same way: Strange rushes around the globe trying to find the next Zeta-Ray and travels to Rann, where Alanna’s father Sardath tells him about the latest crisis. Adam solves the problem, and then returns to Earth while he’s busy flirting with Alanna.
If you’ve read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series (or seen the big screen adaptation), that premise should sound familiar, but Schwartz, Fox, and eventually artist Carmine Infantino made Strange their own. Schwartz had a background in science fiction–he worked as a literary agent for Ray Bradbury, published one of the first sci-fi fanzines, and revitalized The Flash in 1956 by giving his origin story a sci-fi twist–and Strange’s adventures challenged the status quo with stories that respected both real science (to a degree) and the audience’s intelligence, and by making Alanna Adam’s equal in almost every way.
Fox, meanwhile, loved working on the series, and his enthusiasm is clear on every single page (Infantino wasn’t a huge fan, but he’s a professional, and his contributions work just fine). As far as pulpy space adventures go, it didn’t get much better.
How Batman killed Adam Strange
Sadly, Adam Strange’s success didn’t last. In 1963, Schwartz and Infantino were tasked with revitalizing DC’s flagging Batman franchise and forced to leave Strange behind. While their replacements weren’t exactly slouches (Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel wrote a few Adam Strange stories, among others), fans didn’t respond well to the changes. Adam Strange disappeared from Mystery in Space after issue #102.
Adam Strange has been a bench player ever since. The character pops up occasionally in miniseries (2004’s Planet Heist is particularly great) and makes cameos in the DC Universe from time to time, but he hasn’t had a regular home since the ’60s, and has only made a handful of appearances in DC’s animated offerings. Krypton will be Adam Strange’s first foray into live-action.
Strange also suffered from misguided attempts to make him more “relevant” in the ’80s and ’90s. In the pages of Swamp Thing, Watchmen scribe Alan Moore tried to answer the biggest incongruity with Adam Strange’s origin story: Why does a race of super scientists need the help of a primitive Earthling like Strange, exactly? Moore’s characteristically grim n’ gritty answer–that radiation had rendered Rann’s men sterile and that Strange was brought to the planet to breed, not save people–paved the way for 1990’s Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds miniseries, which features both the birth of Adam’s daughter and Alanna’s death. Both stories have been more or less ignored in Strange’s later appearances.
That brings us to Krypton, where it looks like Adam Strange may finally get his due. It’s unclear whether Rann, Alanna, Sardath, Zeta-Beams, and the rest will appear on the show, but if you think about it, Adam really is a perfect fit for the show. He’s basically Superman in reverse: a hero from Earth who travels to a distant world to fight for truth and justice, with a great supporting cast and a premise that’s both specific and flexible. Heck, Strange even flies, courtesy of his jetpack. In other words, if you can’t have Superman, Adam Strange really might be the next best thing.