Saturday, September 8, 2012

WGTB reviews Phantom Stranger

Unlike most of DC's books during 'Zero Month', The Phantom Stranger #0 is the start an ongoing series with #1 arriving in early October. Not being a big ghost/vampire comics fan, I'm not normally one to pick up supernatural books. Yet for some reason the Phantom Stranger has always fascinated me and I always enjoy reading his stories when I can. 
(Warning: some spoilers below)
DC Comic's Phantom Stranger Vol. #3 #0 (November 2012) Written by Dan Didio, Art by Brent Anderson and Inks by Scott Hanna. $2.99
Maybe it's because the Phantom Stranger is one of DC’s most established yet mysterious characters. First appearing in The Phantom Stranger #1 (September 1952) he was created by Silver Age legends John Broome and Carmine Infantino, and is one of those comic characters who seems to pop up every decade or so in an ongoing or mini-series. All along he's had a relatively simple yet effective modus operandi: appearing to someone in need of assistance and providing them with some guidance before they make a catastrophic error in judgment.  
Image from The Phantom Stranger #34 (Vol. #2 December 1974) This issue saw the Stranger showing up bandy wits with Organized Crime and included a cyborg. Classic Bronze Age.
Which is how The Phantom Stranger #0 proceeds for the most part. It begins with a short account of the trial found in The New 52 Free Comic Book Day Special Edition #1 in which it is explained where the Stranger received his supernatural abilities and further establishes his origins in that era of time and area of geography where people spoke Aramaic. At his trial he is condemned by the Council of Wizards to wear silver coins around his neck and the humble robe of the person he betrayed. The Roman Catholic in me saw this as pretty obvious, but at the same time it wasn't so over the top as to be a distraction. That said, I would have preferred his origins were not tied to a certain religious creed-story which might make him less accessible to people not of that specific religious bent. But the point is made: the Stranger did a terrible wrong to someone who was both good and had powerful friends. 

From DC's The Phantom Stranger #0 (Vol. #3 November 2012)
We then fast forward to contemporary times where the Stranger helps someone about to make a grievous error. Because I wasn't able to get the Free Comic Book Day edition, I wasn't exactly up to speed with everything in this previous Stranger story. But that wasn't too problematic as the plot generally followed the familiar pattern of many The Phantom Stranger stories, except towards the conclusion we see another DC supernatural stalwart and a conflict is set up between the two. This will undoubtedly be carried forward in the next issue.

For the most part I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the series. While Dan Didio's writing didn’t knock my socks off, it was neat seeing the account of the Stranger’s origins, something DC has long kept close to their chest. As mentioned, the Jesus connection was a little too religious-specific for my tastes, but that aside, it was an okay origin story. Long-time comic book artist Brent Anderson's work was mature in its tone and despite the fact that there wasn't anything to exclaim 'Wow!' about in art, it captured the cool and creepy of the protagonist and worked well with the mature theme of the story. 
Great Modern Age art from Mike Mignola in The Phantom Stranger #1 (Vol. #3 October 1987) In this story the Stranger heads to Gotham City. 
So pick up Phantom Stranger #0 and see if you like it. I know you have already if you're a fan, but for non-fans the $2.99 price-point makes it an easy purchase for a brand new series. I can't guarantee you'll get past issue two or three, but #0 is a decent story to start it off and The Phantom Stranger may just be a strong addition to the cache of DC's supernatural books. 


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