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Thursday, September 22, 2016

DC in the 80s interviews Jack C. Harris

October 2016 is going to be an exciting month for Adam Strange. Not only is he appearing in DC's new Hawkman and Adam Strange: Out of Time mini-series, but DC has collected his Silver Age adventures in an Adam Strange: The Silver Age v1 TPB, and has reprinted the (pre-New 52) Infinite Crisis Rann/Thanagar War TPB. We wrote a quick review of everything that happened to Adam Strange in the 80s and it piqued our curiosity — so we managed to catch up with the first writer to introduce the Rann/Thanagar War, Jack C. Harris, and ask him a few question about his love of Adam Strange, his run as editor on late 70s/early 80s Green Lantern v2, and his work on the late 70s/early 80s DC anthology books.

DC in the 80s: You seemed to have a love of Adam Strange and had a clear direction in mind of what you were doing with him (e.g., the late 70s Rann/Thanagar War, the Star Hunters stories that were never printed, and the Green Lantern v2 Adam Strange back-up features). What was your final vision for Adam Strange throughout the 80s, or did it end the way you planned it to?



Jack C. Harris: Adam Strange and Green Lantern were my two favorite comic book heroes. I loved science fiction and those two features were the most science fiction oriented heroes in the DC universe at the time. The original house ad advertising the Adam Strange issues of Showcase was what turned me on to the hero in the first place. I was intrigued by the image of a man leaping off a boat and being struck by a beam of light that transported him to another planet. Unfortunately, I missed those Showcase issues. I was thrilled beyond belief when I saw an Adam cover featured on Mystery In Space #53 (1959).



The comic was already one of my favorites (along with Strange Adventures), but after Adam became a regular, I never missed as issue. He became my all-time favorite when, in Mystery In Space #73 (1962), my letter on the letters page won me Carmine Infantino’s and Murphy Anderson’s original artwork to "The Multiple Menace Weapon", the double-length tale from Mystery In Space #72 (1961).




Of course, my love of the character followed me in my professional career as well. The very first comic book credit I received, 14 years later, happened after I helped writer Cary Bates research Adam Strange for the cross-over adventure in Justice League of America #120 (1975). I was listed as “Adam Strange Consultant” on the first page. Then, in 1978, I got the ultimate thrill by being given the opportunity to write my own Adam Strange adventure when he joined Hawkman in the three-issue Showcase run (#101-103) for the now-legendary Rann-Thanagar War! I had many other plans for the character too numerous to remember. I do recall, however, one epic tale involving a race of super-aliens from the future; a future so far ahead that there are no words to describe just how many years in the future they actually come from. They were the Zetans…and they have traveled back in time to find the being who founded their race — the offspring of Adam Strange and Alanna of Ranagar. In my tale, the Zeta Beam radiation had affected the DNA of their child so it, and all of its descendants had to the power to instantly teleport anywhere in the universe and later, through time! Too bad I never got to write that one!

DC80s: You were editing Green Lantern v2 when Marv Wolfman was writing and introduced the Gordanians and the Omega Men (among other sci-fi elements, including a revival of the Space Ranger). It felt like there was a definitive push to make Green Lantern more 'cosmic oriented' as opposed to the everyman adventures he was sharing with Green Arrow. Was that your doing as editor? Or was this something you and Wolfman sat down together to discuss? I'm imagining Space Ranger was another character you grew up reading...



Harris: I had left Green Lantern by the time the Omega Men came along (my last issue was #140). I always wanted as much science fiction in Green Lantern as possible, since I thought he was a “cosmic” hero. I loved what Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams had done with the socially aware Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, but once Green Lantern was solo again, I wanted him more sci-fi. As for Space Ranger, one of the reasons he appeared in Green Lantern was that the copyright on the character was running out and we HAD to use him. I had mixed feelings about the character. I had read him from his beginnings in Showcase. Those early stories were co-written by Gardner Fox and I loved them. However, the series in Tales of the Unexpected never equaled the Showcase run, probably because Fox was no longer involved. The things that bothered me about the character were: no origin story, no clear idea of what his special abilities were, and contrived stories wherein his shape-shifting partner Cryll could become any creature the story needed. I wanted to have Space Ranger appear in a few stories where we could reveal his background.

DC80s: I'm a really big fan of anthology titles, and I remember some of my first comic books being an assortment of DC's House of Mystery and Gold Key's Ripley's Believe It or Not issues. As an editor of DC anthology titles in the late 70s/early 80s, what do you believe led to the decline of anthology books? Or was it just a decline in interest for Mystery/Suspense books in general?


Various Mystery/Suspense DC anthology titles edited by Jack C. Harris in the late 70s/early 80s


Harris: I really have no real answer to that. I can only guess. I would think it might have to do with the drive to company-wide continuity wherein stories and series all existed in the same overall universe. Readers seemed to want longer stories, with developed characters, something that was difficult to do in 6, 8 and 10-page anthology stories. I remember getting letters from fans wondering why the Martians in a science fiction anthology story didn’t look like the Martian Manhunter. The hero anthologies such as Superman Family were created because of economic concerns. It was more profitable to produce one larger book with Lois Lane, Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen stories than it was for each of them to have their own title at the time. Of course, that changed as the industry changed. In the end, anthologies were a product of their times.

DC80s: Is it safe to say that after the DC implosion, anything that was cancelled found it's way into other titles as back-up features? I'm thinking about how DC was charging 10 cents more for issues in 1980, but were including an 8-page back-up feature (ex: OMAC, Airwave, etc)

Harris: Most of the cancelled material appeared elsewhere. At that point, it was cheaper than commissioning new stuff.


DC80s: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Harris. I look forward to talking to you again in the future.


-Justin


For your interest:

A really thorough and fantastic interview with Jack C. Harris and the Silver Age Sage, courtesy of the WTV-Zone:

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