In the world of anthologies, there are a small handful that are truly rare. I'm referring to the kind that have no dud stories, where every single one jumps out at the reader and grabs their attention. You don't see them often. And with "Strange Adventures," I was desperately hoping that to be the case.
Alas, it's not.
"Strange Adventures" #1 is in many ways a typical anthology; some creators stand out above the rest for knocking their contribution out of the park, but so many others just don't measure up. And at the end of the day, what was hopefully going to be great is ultimately just average.
There are two stories that rose above the rest, though. The first is "Partners" by Peter Milligan and Sylvain Savoia, with two young boys who have a unique relationship that are trapped with one another. It delivers everything that it should; a clever premise, a build up to a climax and a short epilogue, the lack of relying on a "twist," and beautiful, crisp art. It's the sort of story that holds up to a re-read, because Milligan and Savoia give us a lot to relish. In many ways it's a textbook example of how to write and draw a short story that works the whole way through.
The other big winner, surprisingly, is Jeff Lemire's "Ultra the Multi-Alien: The Life and Death of Ace Arn," where Lemire takes an obscure character and turns him into a poignant figure whose humanity is slipping away, bit by bit. It's a character piece rather than a plot-driven story, but don't think that you won't be engrossed. It helps that Lemire's art is tightly integrated into the script; the two pages where we see the four aliens-as-quadrants of Arn's body, followed by four overlapping body outlines with Arn as a tiny crumpled body in the center are perfect, bringing Lemire's ideas to life in a visual manner that wouldn't have been the same with just words. This little vignette packs a lot of punch, and makes you feel bad for a character that up until now was, at best, a joke.
The other contributions are much more variable, especially due to far too many relying on a single "gotcha!" twist at their conclusion. As a result, they often rely on the artists to do the heavy lifting. For instance, Selwyn Hinds' "Case 21" is a slightly dull story, one that fails to build the correct amount of emotional resonance to make the twist matter. The art by Denys Cowan, though, made me ultimately remember how much I love Cowan's angular art, especially when drawing such a high-tech setting. So we get artists like Juan Bobillo, Inaki Miranda, and Ross Campbell providing some memorable art, but the stories themselves just don't quite click.
Two of the more high-profile stories close out the book. Paul Cornell and Goran Sudzuka offer up, "A 'True Tale' from Saucer Country," which feels like it's a teaser to a larger series down the line. If so, this isn't a bad little introduction to a conspiracy world involving alien appearances, but as a stand-alone it doesn't hit the mark as well as it should. There's just not enough of a hook for this one to exist in a vacuum from part of a greater whole. (Once again, though, great art.)
And then, of course, there's Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's first chapter of their new story "Spaceman." Unlike their "100 Bullets" and "Jonny Double" collaborations, though, this one failed to grab me. There's a germ of a great idea here, about children being bred to withstand high-gravity environments, but it's buried in a whole lot of dialogue that goes nowhere slowly. I'm a big fan of their past comics, but this one just isn't coming together in its eight pages. As a teaser, it utterly failed to make me want to buy "Spaceman" #1, and that's a bad sign.
At the end of the day, "Strange Adventures" delivers two great stories, and then a lot of pieces that look good but aren't quite as strong in the writing department. It's a shame, because I'd have cheerfully come on board for an annual 80-page "Strange Adventures" anthology if it had top-notch stories. Based on this outing, though, I'm fine with this being just a one-shot.