Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Classics - The Phantom Stranger #7

I've always liked comics characters who were mysterious.

There aren't many - Wolverine was one of the few, and his mysterious origins were explained long ago. The Phantom Stranger seems to be about to suffer the same fate, as DC's "Free Comic Book Day" publication spelled out some of his backstory.

A terrible mistake - the heart of the character is that we don't really know much about him. Is he an angel, a man, an alien, or a mystical creature? No idea.

We just know that he shows up at the right time and fights against the forces of supernatural-based evil. No power blasts, no apparent powers at all - just someone with special knowledge and good timing.

The character has rarely been better than he was in this series in the early '70s - but as of this issue, he wasn't quite there yet. At this point, his stories were strictly formula - basically a step up from Scooby-Doo cartoons, right down to the teen sidekicks and the cartoonish Dr. Thirteen, whose goal is to debunk any mystical events.

They're faced with the mystery of "The Curse" - a death sentence placed on any man who falls in love with the daughter of... I don't know, the guy who owns a spooky castle by the ocean. The story by Bob Kanigher is just silly, with lots of death and the most improbable of solutions.

Where the issue shines is in the artwork by Jim Aparo, who overcomes the script's failings by providing amazing art. Moody and lush, each character is a unique individual, and their emotions play out clearly. The layouts are fresh and original, and his use of shadows is stunning.

Even better days were ahead for this title, as young writer Len Wein brought some fresh ideas and strong storytelling to match Aparo's terrific art - but we'll save that for another review.

Grade: B+


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