With the end of Forever Evil: Blight in March, last month the creative team of J. M. DeMatteis, Fernando Blanco and Norm Breyfogle began a new arc in The Phantom Stranger as the titular character dealt with some of the fallout of that event, and also began to adjust to the new world that had resulted. In a supernatural team-up with Superman that was quite fun to read, The Phantom Stranger #18 proved to be decent read that promised an exciting new arc in the series as the creative team continued to dabble in more and more supernatural mysteries of the DC universe, and the villains as well.
This week’s The Phantom Stranger #19 continues that as we see the larger plan behind the event that Superman and the Stranger went through last month, and also see the titular character team-up with yet another DC bigwig, albeit a supernatural one: Madam Xanadu, one of the original founding members of the Justice League Dark, although she hasn’t rejoined the team following the end of the Forever Evil: Blight event. DeMatteis’ script here is pretty damn exciting, although he overdoes the exposition a bit, and the artwork is consistent with the previous issues, although there were negatives here and there.
Last issue a crack in reality was what made the Stranger ‘port over to Metropolis and ultimately team-up with Superman to fight all the bad stuff. And it was revealed that the Sin Eater was behind the whole thing. This issue, we see the Stranger investigate another crack in reality, this one in San Fransisco, where Cassandra Craft resides. Cassandra Craft is a character who was introduced in the Forever Evil: Blight event and supposedly has some kind of a prior connection to the Stranger, although we don’t necessarily find out what it is. All we know is that there is some kind of love blooming between the two of them, and that they are both apprehensive of this.
As mentioned above, this issue sees the Stranger teaming up with Madame Xanadu. She pretty much founded the Justice League Dark by bringing together all the different heroes back in the first arc of Justice League Dark when Peter Milligan was the writer on the series. So you could say that she’s been quite an influential figure in the team. However, with the advent of the Forever Evil event, she went missing like most of the other members of the team, only to resurface later as the plaything of Nick Necro and Felix Faust for their Thaumaton project. Now that that’s all over, she’s back to saving the world.
Madame Xanadu’s team-up with the Stranger was really fun to read because of the excellent conversation that the two of them have in San Fransisco as they investigate the reality-cracking disturbance in Cassandra’s bookshop. They seem to have some history together and the way that Xanadu constantly irritates the Stranger was pretty awesome. I love the Stranger sure, but whenever any character puts him down, I love that too.
And in this issue we begin to get an inkling of what Sin Eater’s plan really is in all of this. His plans are tied to that of his master, Non, and when this issue ends, we get a rather dire warning of what is about to come. The relationship between these two is very much like that between the Stranger and the Voice (God), although much more cooperative generally, and that too is fascinating. Whatever they’ve got planned, that can’t be good for anyone. Especially not when you take into account what happens at Cassandra’s bookshop with the three characters there.
Fernando Blanco and Norm Breyfogle are back for another exciting visual outing with this series, and their work here is pretty good. Some of the characterwork appears stiff, especially early on with Madame Xanadu, but it improves later on, so that was a good thing. Fernando handles all the main story pages here while Norm does the scenes with Doctor Thirteen and Zauriel, and while there is consistency between the two artists, they deal with different environments and characters, and those differences help make this is a better book, visually speaking. As for Brad Anderson’s colours and Taylor Esposito’s letters, these two are as good as they have ever been with the series, and the cover by Guillem March and Tomeu Morey is quite excellent.
Interestingly enough J. M. only did the story for this issue while Len Wein did the script. I sure hope that this doesn’t mean that the former is leaving this title because his run has what made this into one of DC’s best titles for me and I don’t really like Len Wein’s comics all that much. Some of the dialogue in this issue does feel forced, and I can kind of see Len Wein at work here, so this issue wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but I do have to say that it was far better than most of other work I’ve read by Len Wein.
All I can say is that I’m looking forward to The Phantom Stranger #20 next month.