Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Classics - The Phantom Stranger #4

I'm hard-pressed to explain why I picked up this issue of The Phantom Stranger.

Cover dated November - December 1969, it looked like another one of DC's supernatural books, like House of Mystery or House of Secrets. They were usually anthologies, with three short tales of the supernatural that felt like watered-down tales from TV's The Twilight Zone. I have to admit, I never had much interest in those books (though obviously many readers did like them).

I suspect I was pulled in by the Neal Adams cover. Even though I was a die-hard Marvel fan by the end of the '60s, I was also a fan of Adams' artwork.

In reading this issue today, I get the sense that the writer (Robert Kanigher, according to the letters page - there are no credits) and the artist were fighting for control of the issue.

The main feature is split into three virtually unrelated pieces. Dr. Thirteen is a scientist who debunks supernatural events, making him a natural counterpart to The Phantom Stranger, who is all mystery and apparently has supernatural powers. Dr. Thirteen inadvertently releases the evil spirit Tala, who randomly appears through the story.

The Phantom Stranger's mission is to show up and thwart Tala's evil, and the Doc is there to try to debunk everything that happens. So Tala brings monsters to life, and the Stranger fights back. An ancient woman haunts a house, and her story is introduced and dismissed in record time.

The whole issue would be a complete mess if not for the art. Adams creates some amazing images here, from photorealistic shots of airplanes, stunningly beautiful women, intense confrontations and some great surreal images of the title character.

This comic always had great luck with its artists, as Adams was followed in future issues by the great Jim Aparo. Its luck also improved when Len Wein took over the writing chores. Instead of stories filled with random events, Wein established a supporting cast for the Stranger, and found a balance for the character, making him less omnipotent but just as compelling.

I quickly became a fan of the character, but it was in spite of the story in this issue. But I'm glad I stuck around - when handled properly, the Phantom Stranger is a terrific character - and as the '60s waned, he was one even a Marvel fan could enjoy.

Grade: B-


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this was my "first" issue
of Phantom Stranger, too...and I
liked it! But the early issues were
a mess as no one seemed to know what to do with this character.
Len Wein and Jim Aparo did indeed
make this "ghost" solid!

Sam Kujava