Saturday, May 24, 2014



Collects The Phantom Stranger Nos. 6-8 and Trinity Of Sin: The Phantom Stranger Nos. 9-11 (cover dates May- October, 2013)

Writers: Dan DiDio (plot) and J.M. DeMatteis (script)

Artists: Gene Ha, Fernando Blanco, Philip Tan, Zander Cannon, Dan Davis, Andrew Pepoy, and Jason Paz

Colorists: Art Lyon, Ulises Arreola, and Brad Anderson

News of this series being cancelled hit the airwaves of the Internet as I was finishing this book up. It doesn't surprise me that this series is being cancelled, as The Phantom Stranger has never had much luck in terms of long term popularity. While it doesn't surprise me, the news does disappoint me, because with a little bit of a push, DiDio and DeMatteis could have moved this into some really deep emotional territory.

As finally revealed in Volume 1 of this reboot, The Phantom Stranger is really Judas Iscariot, doomed to wander the Earth trying to right enough wrongs as his penance for betraying Jesus Christ. This really puts an interesting spin on the character. There is a wrinkle in it, though, as while doing his duties he takes over the life of Philip Stark, a serial killer who was planning on killing his family when The Phantom Stranger paid a visit. The Stranger desperately wants to be with his adopted family. This is touched upon but a deeper probe of these scenarios, away from the DC Universe at large, coupled with the macabre could have made this series something very special. Instead it is merely a good read.

Then there is the rest. The God/dog entity who seems to both lead and torment The Phantom Stranger is interesting. I kind of hope that they never reveal if the dog is God or merely a servant or angel. The rebooted Doctor Thirteen is the weak link in this chain. I am not feeling it at all, and he seems to only be here for name recognition and the old timer Easter egg factor. Nightmare Nurse seems to be little more than cosplay fodder, something that DC seems to cater to with all of their female character costumes.

Things go well enough in this book until you hit the speed bump that is issue 11, which is part of the Trinity War crossover (available in the Justice League: Trinity War hardcover). While I am glad that it was included here as well, it would have benefited from one of those Marvel-style text recap pages before the issue to help bring the reader up to speed. All of a sudden Batman, Deadman, and Katana are journeying through a limbo of sorts with The Phantom Stranger and you are left scratching your head. Crossovers suck. Endless line wide crossovers interrupted by intermittent “family”/group titles suck even more. These things suck the life out of titles and fans tend to get tired of them and jump ship. The endless series reboots of the past few years should demonstrate why none of these things are good long term solutions to declining readership. In short, the reason why Image is gobbling up DC's market share at an alarming rate is because they don't demand fans buy eighteen different titles to get a complete story. An average fan could buy only Saga or The Walking Dead and go home happy. There is a lesson to be learned here. A shared universe is great. One that demands that fans spend tons of money on it just to barely keep up is a barrier to entry.

Issue 11 aside, this was a fine read with decent artwork by a slew of different artists. It somehow did not feel disjointed, so kudos to all for that. If you have ever been a fan of The Phantom Stranger then this should be right up your alley. I just wish that DC would do an Archives line of the old series.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4 out of 5.

The OCD zone- The branding of this title is confusing, even to a hardcore comic fan like myself. No wonder it scared off any potential casual fans and this series was cancelled with issue 22. I wonder if DC will bother collecting the last 11 issues in one chunky book, two separate trades, or not at all.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Gallery- The Phantom Stranger by Fernando Blanco (2 pages)
Zauriel by Mikel Janin (3 pages)
Paper rating: 4.25 out of 5. Good weight glossy coated stock, perfect for material with modern computer coloring.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. Perfect bound trade paperback.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. Nice thick waxlike lamination which will hold up with repeated handling.


  1. I agree and disagree. First, the disagreement. PS actually has a very dedicated following, which includes me, although, it is not large. When he has shown up as a guest, the appearances have also been well received.

    No, the fundamental problem is that DC seemingly turned PS from a cool, enigmatic hero into Judas. That took away the mystery, while making him an arch- villain, and tied him really closely into a specific religion (religious motiffs also turn off most readers). Then, early stories all read like the "betrayer of the month" issues, culminating in the ghastly betrayal of what should have been the Creeper. By the time DeMatteis took over, I think the only reason PS lasted was because of his seeming central role in Trinity of Sin. That was "readership betrayal", because he wasn't that central at all. [continued]

  2. [continuing]. In my view, DeMatteis' work was generally brilliant. His three part story in which PS goes to search for his family in Hell and Heaven is worthy of award status. I've been reading since the early Silver Age, so I think I know dam'n good when I see it (that's right, I'm old, but I still like a great story). They took readers into realms of spirituality, religious morality and philosophy which I don't think I have seen before (at least on a sustained basis). Unfortunately, that probably turned some readers off, too.

    I agree with you about too many cross-overs. So much time was spent in which PS shared space with others that it was hard to move the character along. By my count, well over half his stories were part of cross-overs, team-ups, or guests of some sort (a fake Demon, Lady Luck from Will Eisner's estate, pre-Raven in the first issue). They also stretched out a long term arc in the story which was finally getting resolved just before cancellation: PS was being deliberately made to act like a dick by God so that he would follow his conscience instead of the word of God (issue 18). Where do you find that in other comics? [continued]

  3. The worst of it is that the theme of PS could have been maintained if the set-up had been different than in issue 0. PS is not the Judas in the Bible. He may have been acting under orders from God so that Jesus could rise, he may not have been involved at all and just thought he was, or perhaps, something else. I'm positive about this (it comes from a close reading and some questions to DeMatteis on his blog). If readers knew it was the character who was being worked over, and were in on the trick, I think it would have promoted readership.

    What could have been done from the beginning was a series of flashbacks and other character (or narrator) comments to the effect PS is on a learning path. That would have clued the readers in to the fact that this version of PS was really a sort of prequel to the earlier Series 2.

    By the way, the reason Dr. Thirteen is in the series is because it lets the reader better relate to the character of PS. It's a literary device, like the way a "kid sidekick" or a Jimmy Olsen helps a reader better relate to a Batman or Superman. Since Dr. Thirteen was known to long time readers, as you noted, and his background in the occult had a history, it made sense to refashion him rather than create someone new.

    PS deserved better than cancellation. Great character, some wonderful stories, but an absolutely horrible launch which effectively killed it in the cradle. Shit.

  4. I totally agree that DC's endless crossovers make some of their collections VERY hard to read. It's also a nightmare trying to coordinate which issue from this trade needs to be read before/after/concurrently with what issue from that trade. I can only imagine how confused the mythical "New reader" would be. Like you said, a text recap page would do wonders to mitigate this problem.
    Great review, Kris. As usual.