The debut of Animal Man in Strange Adventures #180 (September, 1965) was a very quiet signal that things were changing in the world of sci-fi at DC. The house style was changing and the content found in those titles was about to as well.
Up until #180, covers for Silver Age issues of Strange Adventures had all been remnants of the fifties. They almost always bore the usual mixture of classic late fifties mind-set science-fiction. Each featuring more than a fair share of monsters, rocket ships or alien threats. In short business as usual.
Those covers told of great, colorful, giant aliens (#153, June 1963). There is a certain amount of silliness present such as found on #156 (September 1963) featuring The Man with the Head of Saturn.
One of the great sci-fi plot devices is the confusing lapse in the time-space continuum found on #162 (March 1964), and #167 (August 1964) held an absolute marvelous monster.
Most of the covers along this run featured the graceful art of Murphy Anderson which, regardless of the story or subject (again, the Man with the Head of Saturn…) places them in a category of comic book excellence of their own.
Fans can easily see the growing influence of Carmine Infantino on DC covers on the cover to #162 which features a favorite Infantino trick, the three-section cover, but is closer to a fifties mentality than a more modern, mid-sixties style. #167 features Jack Sparling and holds wonderful echoes of late fifties NYC. Again, business as usual.
But, in the back of the book things were changing. Continuing story lines and reoccurring characters began to slip in. The Atomic Knights, Star Hawkins and The Space Museum began to attract attention from knowing fans. DC was moving in a different direction.
Strange Adventures #9 (June 1951) featured a hero named Captain Comet. He appeared on his fair share of early issues. However, even with that killer, precise and clean art by Carmine Infantino, the issue is from another era… And the character did fade out making way for straight anthology-style covers that last nearly a decade.
Strange Adventures #180 was a quick and almost radical surprise, a blip if you will, in the way that Strange Adventures was being run. The lines were sharp, the action defining and the panels broken up in a style that screamed movement and excitement.
The prior issue #179 (August 1965) featured art by Sparling and, as was his way, looked as if it would be more comfortable a decade earlier. #181 (October 1965) with art by the legendary Bernard Baily is also part of the past. Both feature static, straight-on views, as if they were each shot by a single camera.
Infantino’s art for #180 takes the reader in a different direction, one that points to the future. It breaks from the general tradition.
The cover is broken into three areas. Like his work on the New Look Batman did just a year earlier, Infantino is using the idea of a triptych to bring the readers into the story and action. And he is doing it not just by moving our eye left to right, he uses that three-way division from top to bottom as well.
Carmine just loved dividing the covers into different areas. In many ways all he is doing is bringing the comic page itself, with its individual panels pulling readers along as they read, onto the front of the book.
All of this significantly distances DC’s covers from the simple-single-shot mentality of its last ten years. As great as this looks, it would take a few more months as sales figures start to come in for the designs to really catch on across the company.
Moving top to bottom Infantino (with Anderson on inks) uses the top third for the titles as well as an introductory blurb. Pushed off to the right that blurb is a direct tie to the past.
A simple declaration of what the story is about, it is also a personalized statement. “I was the Man with the Animal Powers!” Not “He” but “I”. The character wants to tell us his story.
The second part of the cover could have come out of the middle of a page inside a comic book. It is a simple panel one, panel two, panel three, then move to the next line.
What is significant is that Infantino keeps the action on the character. Many other artists would have used the animals that are mentioned so as to create a variety to what the reader sees. Infantino keeps the action personal by showing us the man wearing everyday clothes in action with these stunning new powers.
The bottom third focuses on the man in battle with a monster who may look as if it crawled from a lagoon, but is still a very distinct threat. There is a modernity to his appearance. He is miles away from Gorko found just a year earlier on #167.
Less than a year later (remember how long it took for sales figures to come into the office back in 1965) on #190 (July 1966) Animal Man shows up on the cover in full uniform. He is joined by another new hero, Immortal Man.
A year after that Deadman appears on #205 (October 1967). Strange Adventures was now much more in line with DC’s new Silver Age.