The Phantom Stranger #18 (Comics Review)

A few days ago I finally finished my read-through of the Forever Evil: Blight event, all 18 issues of it, which ran across no less than four books, two of which (Justice League Dark and The Phantom Stranger) were written by J. M. DeMatteis and two (Pandora and Constantine) by Ray Fawkes. With the event now over, it is time for these books to go their own way and The Phantom Stranger is right at the forefront, being the first book to get launched after the end of the event in the previous week. DeMatteis’ run on the title has been nothing short of stellar and with his new arc on this title, he looks set to continue that streak.

The Phantom Stranger #18 deals with a mystic breach in Metropolis and we have the titular character dragged into the event, along with his compatriots Doctor Thirteen and the wingless Angel of Heaven, Zauriel. Coming off an event as heady as Forever Evil: Blight, I’d wondered how DeMatteis would approach the title and he hasn’t disappointed. He plays on all the existing characters and even brings in Superman for a great cameo that heralds some really big things. Usual penciller Fernando Blanco is joined by Norm Breyfogle on the pencils and between the two of them they turn out a great looking book.

The Phantom Stranger 18The Phantom Stranger returned to basics this month after the ending of Forever Evil: Blight. The main Forever Evil event is still on though, as the final issue in the series has been inexplicably and frustratingly delayed by two months, so we don’t know how that has all ended out and what has happened to the Crime Syndicate and the greater evil that had kicked their asses on Earth-3 and driven them to Earth-1. But, that’s pretty irrelevant at the moment. The Phantom Stranger #18 is a fully-contained story that provides a very nice jumping-on point for readers as it picks up the lingering threads of Forever Evil: Blight and then runs off with them in new directions that I found gratifying.

The bulk of this issue deals with Superman being confronted by ghostly spectres of all the people that he has “killed”, people like the deceased Doctor Light and people he just could not save in time, as part of their daily lives in Metropolis. Stranger confronts the ghosts and provides Superman with some advice, and this sets the stage for a really cool showdown in the end, and even all the way through the middle portions of the issue.

DeMatteis gives a great characterisation for both Superman and Stranger in this issue. During the events of last year’s Trinity War, the two heroes didn’t really get a chance to interact and that changes up really well in this issue. He provides a good hook for the story here, dealing with the unexpected death of Doctor Light and its great to see  Superman get involved with supernatural stuff, which doesn’t often often.

The resolution of the story itself is a bit too sudden, but I liked where DeMatteis was going with it, developing an overall larger story. But still, I would have liked to have seen the Stranger’s efforts here rewarded in a substantial manner, rather than the light-handedness that happens here. Its a done in two thing, more like, so that seems to be strange. But at the same time, bringing back Cassandra Craft into the story is a great positive and I can’t wait to see where DeMatteis goes next with her story, and how he explains this mysterious connection between the two of them, which was been quite teh mystery since her introduction early on in Forever Evil: Blight.

As I said above, Norm Breyfogle assists usual penciller Fernando Blanco on the art this week. Brad Anderson continues to be the colourist on the issue, with Travis Lanham doing the letters as always. The switch in penciling styles between Blanco and Breyfogle can be jarring at times, but it is also undeniable that the latter has a good handle on the characters and that he sticks to what has come before. There were some minor inconsistencies here, such as how Zauriel is drawn just before Doctor Thirteen arrives to warn him and Stranger about a new breach in the mystic web of the world. The colours as always were some of the highlights of the whole thing, so its great to see the series still going strong like this.

Overall, this was a nice decompressing issue, and hopefully this will be a short crossover so that we can get more and more such issues.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Phantom Stranger: Volume 1, #10-13, #14, #15.

10 thoughts on “The Phantom Stranger #18 (Comics Review)

  1. I really wish people would read this terrific book. It’s just started a new story arc, so if anyone is unfamiliar with the character, 18 and 19 are good starting points.

    Some people have written that they are turned off by the origin in which Phantom Stranger appears to be Judas the Betrayer in the Bible. He’s not (but he thinks he is). What he actually is remains a mystery.

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      1. Would it make sense for God to help someone who really did betray his son? Uh, uh. In the last 10 issues, there was one occasion where he agreed to be punished in Hell for eternity, but God let him out. On another occasion, he was obliterated from existence for defying God, but God brought back. I don’t think God would show that much restraint with someone like Adolph Hitler.

        Personally, I think he is the collective spirit of conscience (the little voice in all of us, times everyone). But, I hope it stays a secret.

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      2. How does it make sense the way that the Spectre is created? Why get the Stranger to betray another man once again? I mean, if you start looking in absolutes like that, then what happens to Chris doesn’t make sense either.

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      3. The Stranger betrayed others at the direction of God, while the motivation of God would be to stimulate the Stranger’s sense of “disgust” so he would once again be a force of moral courage.

        Assume for the sake of argument that the Stranger is actually the spirit of universal conscience who has come to believe he has done something terribly wrong. By God forcing the Stranger to do things which were immoral, a force of pure good (the Stranger) would logically be shocked to reject the instructions of God and find his own righteous path (Remember the slogan in the Second Series? “Follow Me”). Look how everything ties off–God rewards him with two coins removed when he makes his own decision; brings him back from non-existence when he acts with moral courage, keeps feeding the Stranger his power even when the Stranger defies him, or even the first story where the Stranger is not permitted to save a little boy from a car accident and then betray Trigon’s daughter. What happened to Chris is a template of how this God acts–manipulative in the extreme. It really all fits; it’s just complex.

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