I couldn’t tell you why, but I love horror books published by companies known for superheroes. It might be that I like scratching the clean, smiling surface of a world of mighty men and wondrous women to get a peek at the darker corners of the pristine world they inhabit. To that end DC is introducing into its New Universe an old fan favorite: The Phantom Stranger.
This is not the same Phantom as the original Phantom Stranger. The original Phantom Stranger’s origins were never known. Readers had the choice between 4possible origins.
In the first he is a man spared by an act of God’s wrath that kills his family. Questioning God, he kills himself, but is refused entrance into the realm of the dead, forever to roam the mortal plane.
In the second he is a man who lost his son when King Herod ordered the death of all the newborn boys in an effort to kill Christ. When he learns later that Jesus is to be crucified, he makes arrangements to be the one to flog him. It is Jesus who curses him to wander the Earth until the End Times, but it is the Stranger who decides to become a force of good.
The third possible origin for the character casts him as the last survivor of the universe before ours, before the Big Bang.
My favorite is the fourth one. In it, the Stranger is an angel who refused to side with either God or Lucifer and was sentenced to wander on Earth alone. It’s also the one writers seem to have given more credence to.
The Phantom Stanger issue 0 goes for another story.
The comic opens with Judas Iscariot waking up after his suicide. He is brought before the Council of Wizards, a group of beings who seem to be very close to the Wizard Shazam, if the giant obvious lightning bolt sigil they wear is to be trusted. How is it that mythical champions are working for the Judeo-Christian God? I don’t know, the important part is that Judas is sentenced to wander the Earth with a necklace made of 30 silver pieces and wait until he is needed to repay his debt. What about the blue cape the Phantom Stranger wears? That was Jesus’ tunic.
Fast forward to the present when The Phantom Stranger finally hears the call to make amends. He must help Gotham City police detective Jim Corrigan the man known to comic book fans as The Specter: God’s wrathful right hand of vengeance. I won’t say how, but believe me when I say this comic offers a great origin to The Specter.
On the technical side, while there is some bad blood between the fans and Dan Didio, this issue proves that he isn’t a bad writer. He’s no Neil Gaiman, but the story is solid and, aside from some clunky dialogues, makes me want to pick up the next issue. It’s also not a bad thing that DC Comic’s Editor in Chief is the write. This series will also aim at explaining how magic plays a greater role in this New 52 Universe that started last September. My only major qualm with this issue is that we now know exactly who The Phantom Stranger is but The Phantom Judas doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Brent Anderson and Scott Hanna know the score. You can see they grew up reading the Stranger’s old comics. While the first part of the issue is just ok, the second part in the present is great. The angles, the shadows and the line work are so reminiscent of old DC horror comics I’d actually like the book better if it was in black and white
I really wasn’t expecting much from this and boy was I happily surprised. Anybody looking to get a peek into DC Comics’ spookier elements should do well to pick this up. This title is shaping up to be a great introduction, and reintroduction for some, to the chilling world of nightmares that get loose during the witching hour.