‘Strange Adventures #9’ review

Adam Strange, hero of Rann, gained that title through methods the Justice League considers unjust. His actions during Rann’s war with the Pyykt seemed unfair. The Justice League may not publicly say it, but his actions would be considered war crimes by most standards. However, would the public prefer a hero who fights fair that could inevitably lead to another calamity like what destroyed Phoenix, Arizona, or one that treats the Pyykt like the monsters they are? Tom King has basically built his comic writing career off of questioning the morality of superheroes, and the latest issue of Strange Adventures is no exception. Spoilers for the ninth issue of Strange Adventures ahead!

While we do not see what happened to Adam and Alanna’s daughter, her death has been a lingering shadow over their present selves. Their attitude about the war, the way they talk about it with Mister Terrific and the stark difference between who Adam was and who he is now make it obvious that her death broke them. This issue makes it clear that the “harsh” actions Adam took against the Pyykt were in direct response to, not just the torture they put him through as their captive, but the death of his daughter as well. All of this pain and suffering would destroy any normal person, which is likely why so many people on Earth sympathize with Adam’s story.

Adam Strange speaking to Alanna in front of their daughter’s grave in Strange Adventures #9 (art by Doc Shaner)

With the Justice League having finally put out an official statement discussing Adam’s actions during the war and officially revoking his Justice League membership, it is not up to the world to decide whether he is the hero they need. However, the most interesting thing about the statement, is that it seems to come from Batman and not Mister Terrific. Could Mister Terrific’s conversations with Alanna influence his judgement?

Adam Strange chasing a Pyykt ship while Alanna tell him about the Justice League’s statement in Strange Adventures #9 (art by Mitch Gerads)

The art throughout this issue, both from Mitch Gerads and Doc Shaner, feels desolate despite the vibrant colors present throughout. The two portray the dirtiness of war perfectly, and the darker color palette in Shaner’s panels especially showcase how much Adam’s attitude toward the Pyykt changed after the death of his daughter. If it wasn’t for the flatness of the lines and clear detailing of Adam’s face, I might have mistaken Shaner’s art for Gerads’. The tones of the two halves of the story are beginning to blur together as the Adam of the past becomes the Adam of the present as we see first hand the terrible things he has done for the safety of Rann and its people.

However, the most interesting element of this issue is the way Adam interacts with the other members of the Justice League despite their public statement about him. They were once his friends, and he still treats them as such. I especially love the moment between him and Superman. After Superman criticizes Adam’s actions on Rann, Adam responds by implying that had Superman listened to him when he begged for his help, Adam might not have been forced to go to such lengths for victory. His daughter might still be alive if Superman had helped him. Gerads’ artwork in that panel is devastating, as we see Adam yelling with such emotion, likely crying as he says it, while only seeing the bottom half of his face.

It does not feel like hyperbole to say that this is the best issue of Strange Adventures so far. I felt the emotion ripped out of me as I continued to read, feeling empty once I got to the end of the issue.

Rating: 10/10

Buy the comic: https://www.comixology.com/Strange-Adventures-2020-9/digital-comic/926600

2021 National Championship game preview: Baylor vs Gonzaga

Photo via CNN

Despite a NCAA Tournament that saw one team (VCU) lose their chance to progress in the tournament due to COVID-19 issues and a unique schedule, we have arrived at the National Championship game at the Final Four in Lucas Oil Stadium at Indianapolis. Aside from the VCU situation, the tournament has progressed smoothly with the Indiana bubble proving effective in limiting positive tests and allowing the rounds to progress as scheduled.

On Monday, Gonzaga and Baylor, who were supposed to face off on Dec. 5 but the game was canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests, will face off in the National Championship game in a battle of two teams looking for their first ever national title. Here is a breakdown of each team along with a prediction.

Baylor (27-2)

This was a historic season for the Baylor Bears. Not only did they win their first conference regular season title since 1950, but it was also the first time since that season that they reached the Final Four. In head coach Scott Drew’s 18th season with the program, this has been Baylor’s best chance to capture that elusive title after years of underachieving.

Throughout the past decade, Baylor was on the wrong end of March Madness insanity, losing on a buzzer beater to Georgia State in 2014, losing to Yale in the first round in 2015 and getting embarrassed by seventh-seeded South Carolina in the Sweet 16 in 2017 by 20 points. Last season, Baylor appeared to be on their way toward a number-one seed in the tournament, but they did not get their chance to capture March Madness glory as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tournament.

This season, Baylor was dominant in a Big 12 Conference that fielded seven teams in the NCAA Tournament until COVID-19 disrupted their rhythm, starting the season 17-0 before positive COVID-19 tests put their season on pause for three weeks in February. They struggled after the pause, losing to Kansas 71-58 and fell to Oklahoma State 83-74 in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals after struggling against eighth-seeded Kansas State in the previous round.

They still received a number-one seed in the tournament, allowing Baylor to ease into the grind and get their rhythm back. Baylor defeated Hartford 79-55, then took care of the Wisconsin Badgers 76-63 in the round of 32. In the second weekend, Baylor showed they were a force to be reckoned with, defeating Villanova 62-51 in the Sweet 16 and Arkansas 81-72 in the Elite 8 to reach the Final Four. In the Final Four, their defense led the way in their 78-59 win over the Houston Cougars with their bench outscoring Houston’s 32-11.

Baylor is led by their dynamic 3-point shooting, leading all of college basketball in 3-point shooting in the regular season with a 41.8% conversion rate of their shots from beyond the arc. While their percentage has dropped to 38% this postseason, they have hit 46.1% of their overall shots.

Baylor bolsters a productive bench as previously mentioned with Matthew Mayer providing clutch shooting along with Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua provided an energetic and physical presence inside and on defense. However, Baylor’s success is most dependent on their guard trio of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, who all average over 14 points per game. Butler is the leading scorer as he dropped 17 against Houston with Mitchell dishing out 11 assists on Saturday and Teague averages 15.8 points per game on the season. These three will need to be at their best on Monday if they are to defeat the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Gonzaga (31-0)

1976.

This was the last time that a team in the NCAA Tournament won the title undefeated as Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers accomplished this feat in 1976 with a 32-0 record. Since then, four teams have made it to the tournament undefeated and lost: the 1978-79 Indiana State Sycamores with Larry Bird, the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, the 2013-14 Wichita State Shockers and the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats. All four teams couldn’t get it done when it mattered the most and Gonzaga is looking to avoid Indiana State’s fate by having their run come to an end in the national title game.

Gonzaga rolled through the regular season, once again dominating the West Coast Conference without a single blemish as college basketball’s highest-scoring team. In head coach Mark Few’s 22nd season with the team, this is possibly the best chance Gonzaga has ever had to win a national title that has eluded him throughout his tenure. Few has made the Sweet 16 10 times and the tournament in all 21 seasons where March Madness took place. Some notable shortcomings include blowing a 17-point lead in the Sweet 16 in 2006 against UCLA with leading scorer Adam Morrison, losing 73-71, losing 71-65 to North Carolina in the 2017 National Championship game and two years ago, Gonzaga lost 75-69 to Texas Tech in the Elite 8 as a number-one seed. They were among the favorites to contend for the title last season before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the tournament.

This season, Gonzaga entered the Indiana bubble, attempting to win the school’s first national title and cap off their undefeated season. Their first four games saw them completely dominate their opponents, defeating Norfolk State, Oklahoma, Creighton and USC by scoring margins of 43, 16, 18 and 19. However, in the Final Four, their old nemesis, UCLA, engaged them in a battle for the ages. In a game where both teams scored at will, Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs banked in a 36-foot prayer at the end of overtime to give Gonzaga a 93-90 win that no Gonzaga fan will ever forget witnessing.

Gonzaga relies on a consistent and dominant starting five. Their star freshman, Suggs, has already proved himself as a school legend regardless of Monday’s result with his shot against UCLA. Suggs, who is projected to be a top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, does it all with 14.1 points per game (PPG), 5.5 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists per game. Forward Drew Timme, who scored 25 against UCLA, is the dominant big this season that Gonzaga has always bolstered, averaging 19.2 PPG with 7.1 rebounds per game. Winger Corey Kispert averages 44.5% from 3-point land this season and with his 18.8 PPG, he will be instrumental if Gonzaga is to win the national title. Joel Ayayi, who had 22 against UCLA, and Andrew Nembhard provide Gonzaga quality production from the guard spot.

Prediction:

Against UCLA, Gonzaga struggled to guard the dynamic offense of UCLA, forcing the Bulldogs to win in a shootout. Considering the dynamic guard play of Baylor, it is hard to imagine Gonzaga slowing down the Bears’ offense. Gonzaga will have to win in a shootout and they will if Timme can dominate inside and the 3-point shooting is on point. I see Gonzaga hitting clutch 3-pointers down the stretch and outlast the Bears to finish their perfect season in a game reminiscent of 2016’s national title game between North Carolina and Villanova.

Score: Gonzaga 81 Baylor 80

Johnny’s Surprise of the Week: the St. Louis Cardinals

Photo via MLB.com

A crisp and cloudy Opening Day on Apr. 1 at Great American Ballpark brought an opportunity for the St. Louis Cardinals. 

This opportunity was not to only win the game, but to also show the league that this team was different. 

The difference St. Louis was looking for, of course, was in their offense. Over their four previous Opening Day contests, St. Louis failed to run up the score and tally double-digit runs. In fact, over the team’s past 17 Opening Day games (dating back to 2004), St. Louis only scored 10 or more runs once (they beat Milwaukee, 10-1, on Apr. 11, 2016). 

Now, scoring double-digit runs on Opening Day is certainly not a requirement for every team, and is definitely not one for St. Louis. Even still, the Cardinals, with their revered regular season and postseason success over the years, have only mustered together a 7-10 Opening Day record dating back to 2004. Over the same span, St. Louis, with their nine-run margin of victory against Milwaukee in 2016, averaged 4.29 runs per game during the 17-game stretch. 

While not elite, it is definitely not putrid. However, it was all moot when looking at what the Cardinals did against the Cincinnati Reds to open up the 2021 campaign. 

Against a capable Cincinnati ace in Luis Castillo, St. Louis had their work cut out for them, but it did not matter. Over the course of the game, St. Louis erupted for 11 runs on 10 total hits. The Cardinals did not gradually find their groove as the game wore on, either. No, they came out guns a ‘blazing right away. After an umpire review determined that Paul Goldschmidt collected a ground-rule double as opposed to a four-bagger in the first inning, the floodgates opened. The next five batters reached base, either via hit, hit by pitch or error. Just like that, St. Louis found themselves with a six-run lead with only one out. 

In the first inning. 

After an additional one-run second inning and a four-run fourth inning, St. Louis sat nice and pretty with 11 runs. This would be enough to hold on for the 11-6 victory. It was the first Opening Day game where St. Louis scored 11 or more runs since Mar. 31, 2003, when the team held on to beat Milwaukee, 11-9. 

A statement win of this magnitude might not seem like much in the grand scheme of a 162-game season, but for St. Louis, it just might be. Their blockbuster trade to acquire Nolan Arenado certainly paid off offensively, as the star third baseman collected two hits, scored a run and drove in another. The three-hole production by Arenado, combined with their two-hole veteran phenom in Goldschmidt (who collected four hits and three runs scored with one score driven in), gave St. Louis a two-three punch that combined for six out of the 10 hits the Cardinals mustered together. To think, this was without even looking at the production surrounding the pair.

Sure, it would not have been the end of the world if St. Louis lost this game (or even won it by a closer margin). It is only one game, so knee-jerk reactions should be kept to the absolute minimum. 

However, the Cardinals made the most of the opportunity. This result might just show their difference this season.  

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