Sunday, November 30, 2008

Justice League of America #103 - Dec. 1972

The Phantom Stranger meets The Justice League of America!

In 1972, Len Wein was writing both Justice League of America and The Phantom Stranger, so who better to orchestrate a team-up between the two? The Stranger had met Batman on two occasions in Brave and the Bold, but this was The Phantom Stranger's full immersion into the DCU.

Like the Stranger's solo stories, it opens up with him narrating. In the small town of Rutland, Vermont, a weird ceremony is beginning. A group forms around the old clock tower, and supposedly "Old Mistress Sarah speaks to the spirits--and they tell her dark secrets in return." The "dark secrets" are the names of those who will die in the next twenty-four hours.

Mistress Sarah appears, and begins calling the names of Superman, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Batman, and Green Arrow!
Cut to the JLA meeting at their satellite, wondering which of them called the meeting. Turns out it was...The Phantom Stranger!:

None of the JLAers know him, but Batman vouches for him. The Stranger then explains he senses an evil force brewing in the town of Rutland, Vermont. And the force is being summoned by an old foe of the JLA...Felix Faust!

The team decides to head for Rutland, but they aren' ready to let the Stranger leave just yet:

As the team decides to head to Rutland, we cut to four people on their way there, named Steve, Len, Glynis, and Gerry, who are headed their for the costume parade(seen previously in the classic Batman #237, "The Night of the Reaper"). The parade's organizer, Tom Fagan, meets the JLA and Batman tells him why they're there. Tom then manages to talk the JLA into being part of the parade, on a custom-made power-ring float!

As the parade goes on, suddenly everyone in the crowd is frozen stiff! The team splits up to investigate, and Hawkman and Flash are attacked by three zombified paraders, dressed like Supergirl, Adam Strange, and, er, Commando America!

The demons are inhabiting these people, which give them powers and they actually manage to defeat Barry and Carter! Meanwhile, Batman is taking on another possessed partier, this time dressed in a familiar red-and-blue outfit with a spider on his chest:

Superman and Green Arrow take on ersatz versions of Captain Marvel and the Golden Age Flash, and end up the same way. Oddly, the Phantom Stranger shows up at the end of all these battles, but does not help the JLA out! What's going on here?

After the Stranger is all alone, midnight strikes again. He then takes a small item he took from each hero and tosses it into the whipping winds:

As the JLA recovers, the Phantom Stranger returns and they ask him what is indeed going on. Turns out the only way Faust's spell of possession could be defeated was to use a personal item from each of them as a sort of sacrifice--but those items could not be freely given, hence the Stranger waiting for the JLAers to be rendered unconscious.

The Stranger exhausts Faust's powers, the JLA fight the demons, and our four familiar partiers wake up from their stupor.

The JLA is thankful to the Stranger for helping them defeat Faust and quickly decide to ask him to join
. But...

sg is The Phantom Stranger a member of the JLA or not?

Well, as with most things involving The Phantom Stranger, that's open for interpretation. Some writers have acted as though he was a member, some haven't. I asked Len about it when he did an interview with me for my JLA Satellite blog:
JLA Satellite: There were a lot of membership changes under your tenure. Elongated Man and Red Tornado joined, Phantom Stranger sort of joined, and Hawkman left. Was that your doing or were membership changes something editorial asked for?

Len Wein: Actually, all the new members joining was entirely my doing. Julie just went with the flow. Oh, and thanks for noticing that the Phantom Stranger only sort of joined. He was offered membership but vanished, as per usual, without actually accepting the offer.
Over the years, other writers have just assumed PS was a member, but in my world, he never really said yes.
...since it was Len's idea's to add the Stranger to the JLA's list of guest stars, I'd say he has the final word as to whether the Stranger really was a member or not. So I agree with him that he is not.

Sometimes you just have to take a stand in life.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #22 - Dec. 1972

The Phantom Stranger faces the menace of The Dark Circle!

After trip-hammering through various classic horror settings in previous issues, this time we have the classic Frankenstein scenario, courtesy another beautifully moody cover by Jim Aparo.

Inside, we are reintroduced to The Phantom Stranger's erstwhile girlfriend, Cassandra Craft:

Meanwhile, the Stranger stands alone (as always) on a rocky cliff, observing a thunderstorm. Suddenly, a vision of Cassandra appears to him, pleading for help!

Back at the creepy castle, the giant, hulking Morgg prepares to torture poor Cassandra...luckily the Stranger is there to stop him!

He lands an uppercut on Morgg, unties Cassandra, and they escape. Except all is not what it appears to be


Later, the Stranger wakes up to find himself chained, dangling in the air. He is met by a group of people, led by a man named Dorian. He explains to the Stranger that they took control over Cassandra to lure the Stranger to them. Their plan is to destroy the Phantom Stranger, and scatter his ashes to the four winds. This group is called...The Dark Circle

The evil ritual begins, with members of the group dancing around a fire lit beneath the Stranger. The flames rise higher and higher until the Stranger completely disappears from view.
Has the Stranger died? Or has he gone somewhere else?

A ghostly image of Dorian appears in this supernatural world, transporting Cassandra there to fight him. If the Stranger manages to kill her, he will survive! But how can he bring himself to do that?

Cassandra attacks the Stranger, and is he unwilling to fight back. He stops struggling and stands in front of her, willing to accept what he does. Cassandra blasts him with a bolt of energy, dissipating the Stranger into nothingness!

Cassandra is satisfied, having won, and begins to walk away. Then...something in her awakens, and she realizes what she has done!

Falling to her knees sobbing, but she is relieved to hear behind her the voice of The Phantom Stranger!

Of course, the Stranger used his powers to create an illusion, betting that the demon inside her would depart once it thought the Stranger was dead. Now that she is back to normal, he takes her hand and they head back to the "real" world.

The Dark Circle is waiting for them, and its Morgg who wants revenge first. But The Phantom Stranger is stronger than he looks

Cassandra can handle herself, and simultaneously kicks Morgg in the knee while karate-chopping him in the neck. Nice! Morgg puts the Stranger in a bear hug, but the Stranger uses his own medallion to throttle the hulking brute! Double nice!

The Stranger then hauls Morrg into the raging fire, which terrifies Dorian. As the place begins to burn down, he mutters something about "our master will not tolerate failure". But the Stranger and Cassandra are too busy escaping to hear him. Outside


...for once, a sweetly romantic end to a Phantom Stranger tale! This story is lots of fun, and I liked ramping up Cassandra to being less a damsel in distress into someone who can handle herself. I mean, jeez, doesn't The Phantom Stranger deserve a little happiness once in a while?
On the letters page, readers are commenting on the introduction of Cassandra, and it includes this charming letter:

...I miss the DC letters pages.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #21 - Oct. 1972

A condemned man comes back to life!

Another beautiful cover by Jim Aparo, maybe my favorite he did on the series. I love the different faces on the witnesses as the guy in the chair gets it.

Inside, we meet a man about to walk his last mile:


...after Johnny Glory has been electrocuted and put into the morgue, two men, named Caddaver(!) and Tork, arrive to take the body away.

We follow the two men on a rainy night as they carry the corpse to a place ominously called Massacre Mountain. They then carry the body to an even more ominous location

This creepy cult chants and dances, and...yes! Johnny Glory lives again!

Turns out Glory and the cult's leader, Cerebus(!!), know each other--Glory was a member of the cult, and in agreement for being revived, Cerebus has a task for him to perform--murder!

The victim in Chandu Gamal, the spiritual leader of a small mid-eastern country who has been trying to move his people away from their supernatural fears and into the modern age. The country's government wants Gamal to disappear, and that's where the cult comes in.

The next day

Gamal is thankful to the Stranger for saving his life (for a guy who doesn't have pupils, the Stranger is exceptional at making friends with heads of state), and they both get into Gamal's car and drive off.

Once arriving at a nearby hotel, Gamal and the Stranger get out. Gamal notices one of his assistants wearing something unusual

...I love that creepy little demon in the middle panel there.

As Gamal tells the Stranger about the medallion, they are met by his beautiful daughter, Indira. Turns out she out seeing the city, along with a nice man she met...Johnny Glory!

Gamal walks off with his daughter, telling her there's something about this man he doesn't like, and forbids her to see him again. Good advice.

But later that night, Indira defies her father and sneaks out to see Glory, and they meet on a foggy, quiet street corner. Turns out Indira should have listened to her father

I don't know whose idea it was to add that little musical note in the last panel, to signify Glory whistling mindlessly as he walks away with Indira. No matter whose it was, its a distinctly frightening touch.

Later, Gamal is shocked to find a ransom note! He commands his men to find her, just as the Stranger arrives and says he will do the same. He heads out onto the streets.
We see that Indira is tied down to a table, and Caddaver and Tork are torturing the girl just for the fun of it! Luckily The Phantom Stranger quickly arrives, and uses his mystical powers to smash some scaffolding down right on the heads of these two creeps.

While Gamal wonders where his daughter is, the demon from the pendant, Sikiva, The Death-God, comes through a wall and attacks him!:


At times, The Phantom Stranger felt the right move was to just haul off and punch a demon in the face.

As Johnny Glory deals with what he saw in the mirror, Gamal has a heart attack from all the stress. But the Stranger holds Gamal in his arms, and commands Gamal to live, saying his people need him and it is not yet his time!

Meanwhile, Johnny Glory makes it back to Cerebus, and announces that he knows the truth--he was never really "alive" since being exhumed, he's been dead all along:

...a truly horrifying ending for a gripping tale.

One of Wein and Aparo's best PS stories, a mix of crime thriller and supernatural horror.

I've said before that some of the previous PS stories reminded me of those classic Universal monster movies, but this story--at least the first few pages--is more like those 59 minute-long "B" programmers that Universal used to put out as the bottom half of a double bill, ones that usually starred Lon Chaney Jr. or Lionel Atwill.

Aparo's art drips with mood, and its sort of amazing that the mood isn't broken when it shifts to the middle eastern locale and then takes a hard right turn into pure horror.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #20 - Aug. 1972

The Phantom Stranger has to protect an innocent child who just might be a god!

As you can see, with this issue Jim Aparo took over the covers from Neal Adams. And while its hard to imagine having a better cover artist than Adams, Aparo of course did a fine job, as well.

Inside, we start our story inside a remote hideaway in the Orient:


The Lama's assistant, Kamset, is less than pleased by this young charge's sorcery, slapping him down, then grabbing him and throwing him out a nearby window!
The kid plummets to his death...except, someone is there to save him:

Back in the temple, we see that the Lama is dead. Without a leader, they turn to Kamset to find the newest reincarnation of the Great Lama.

Kamset rounds up his people and sets out for Tibet, where they believe the baby has been born. What the people don't know is that Kamset intends to rule himself!

At the Lake of the Sacred Spirit, they see the face of their newborn master. At that same moment, some local Communist soldiers fire at them, which brings The Phantom Stranger onto the scene!

After knocking out the gun men, the Stranger warns that what they saw in the lake was a deception, and that they will be betrayed!

Kamset attacks the Stranger, commanding some of sort of sea creature to come out of the lake and drag him under

As the Stranger thanks the young boy for saving his life, we see that Kamet has arrived in the tiny Tibetan village on the trail of the newborn. They make their way up a snowy ledge until they arrive at a tiny hut, and inside is a scared young woman and her baby:

Kamset order his people out of the tent to celebrate, and once he's alone with the woman, he asks her what kind of treachery is going on--he believes this child is a fake!

He tries to prove this by wiping the mark off the child, but sees that it is real! He thinks this is some sort of game of the woman's, and he slaps her hard, knocking her against a stone wall, killing her.

He then moves onto the next step of his plan, killing the child(!) and replacing it with his own choice, but he is stopped by the young boy, who is the infant's older brother!

He grabs the child from Kamset and runs off, but Kamet uses his mystical powers to slow the boy down--first by conjuring a wall of flame, then a rock slide on the icy cliff. But then The Phantom Stranger arrives, and does battle with Kamset, whose magical powers seem evenly matched.

Finally Kamset hauls off and punches the Stranger, and makes a final mad grab for the child:


sg of my favorite Phantom Stranger stories (I love the whole Lost Horizon feel to it) and of course Aparo executes it perfectly.

His rendering of Kamset looks more than a little like Boris Karloff when he played Fu Manchu in the 1932 classic The Mask of Fu Manchu:

I know there's only so many ways to go visually with a Fu Manchu type, but I can't help but think Aparo saw the movie at some point in his life (he was born in 1932--coincidence??) and it influenced him when it came time to visualizing the villainous Kamset.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #19 - June 1972

The return of the Ice Giants!

As mentioned on the letters page, issue #8's "Ice Giants" story was so well received that a sequel was specifically ordered up, this time written by Len Wein, and again drawn by Jim Aparo:

Time passes, and a total of seven men have disappeared since the project was started.

Two of them, Stone and Blake don't get along--Blake doesn't like the environmental damage the new oil pipeline is doing, but Stone reminds him he didn't ask for Blake's opinion.

Blake drives off, enraged, when an earthquake hits beneath him. He and the Jeep fall into the giant crevice, but he is saved at the last moment by...The Phantom Stranger! But before Blake can ask who the Stranger is and how he got there, he disappears.

He makes his way home, where his wife Carol is waiting for him. She doesn't quite subscribe to his ecological point of view, after he suggests that their lives aren't worth much when compared to the ecology of the planet.

The next day, back on the project, Stone and Blake go at it again, and another earthquake hits. Carol falls and twists her ankle, and is unable to get out of the way of a falling crane.

But of course, The Phantom Stranger is there to save her. As Stone and Blake approach, they hear a loud voice saying this is their final warning:

Stone tells the Stranger he'll move the pipe, but reveals he is just lying after the Stranger leaves. This leads to yet another fight between Stone and Blake, and another earthquake hits!

The two men and Carol fall into the crevice, and they see something terrifying and amazing

The Ice Giants show how oil is dripping down into their lair, and are none too happy about it. Stone is nothing if not confident, and he actually tries to attack one of them, only to be slapped away.

Stone and Carol are put in a prison cell, while the Ice Giants have different plans for Blake.

Inside the cell, The Phantom Stranger reappears, and helps them escape. He then helps blind one of the Ice Giants long enough for them to escape, and they overhear Blake talking with the head Ice Giant--apparently they are in league together!

The Stranger points out this probably isn't a good idea:


...the end.

Interesting story here, where you sympathize with Blake and his environmental concerns, but then he goes way overboard. And, well, the Ice Giants are just cool. Silly looking, but cool.

This issue also features a Dr. Thirteen story, "The Voice of Vengeance!", and a Mark Merlin reprint, "Captive of the Cat Curse."

Since the Merlin story is from the 60s, it ends on a half-page, so we got a fun little teaser for the next issue:

sg, I wish they still did these. So much fun.

I've mentioned this before, but The Phantom Stranger didn't get a lot of advertising from DC, but once in a while they reminded people about the book:

Not one of their best ads, but what the heck. I'm glad to have it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Adventure Comics #419 - May 1972

Another adventure with the original Phantom Stranger!

The second of two Phantom Stranger reprints, this issue features the story "Dead Man's Hand", from The Phantom Stranger (Vol.1) #3, by John Broome, Carmine Infantino, and Frank Giacoia:

I've said it a couple of times before, so forgive me for repeating myself, but man did Carmine Infantino do some excellent work in this series.

One the next page we have this sequence featuring Wild Bill Hickock drawing the infamous "dead man's hand":
...that's just a fantastic sequence, brilliantly executed. I love the all-black backgrounds, the shifting perspectives, the uncomfortable close-ups. There's more artistic skill displayed in these four panels than I've seen in entire comics by other artists.

Anyway, the cowpoke telling the story, Hank Wheeler, later sees a ghostly form in the sky as he heads back to his hotel. When he arrives there, two bullets come flying into his room, barely missing him!

Instead, they whiz right by him, shooting through a deck of playing cards nearby.

As if that wasn't weird enough, a package arrives for him, containing two linked nooses...forming an "8." Then, as he stands by his window looking for his would-be assailant, another playing card flutters down into his window--luckily (?) its a "3", so the dead man's is not yet complete.

The next day, Hank goes on at the rodeo, but is spooked when he sees the number on the bull is 8!

The bull starts to buck wildly, throwing Hank off. But before the bull can trample him he is rescued by...The Phantom Stranger!:

After the rodeo, Hank meets up with his fellow riders, where they are taking up a poker game. Hank agrees to sit in, but then the Strange reappears, asking to sit in for him.

The man dealing, Jim Pomeroy, ends up with the dead man's hand himself. He doesn't react well to this, and pulls his six-shooter on the Stranger:
...and so ends another adventure with The Phantom Stranger!

I chuckle at the idea of The Phantom Stranger at a rodeo. I'm sure he blended right in.

Like the previous issue of Adventure, this book is filled with fun stuff. There's the lead Supergirl story (by John Albano, Tony De Zuniga, and Bob Oksner), the second part of the classic O'Neil/Toth Black Canary story, a Zatanna solo adventure by Len Wein and Dick Giordano, plus The Enchantress by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell.

This was it for The Phantom Stranger in Adventure, though. While more stories from the original series would be reprinted, the Stranger himself never set foot in DC's (then) longest-running title.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #18 - April 1972

The Phantom Stranger faces a legend from the bottom of the sea!

This issue's story grabs you right off the bat, for as you can see Jim Aparo is nowhere to be found. Instead, Len Wein and Tony De Zuniga bring us "Home Is The Sailor":

With the ship back in the harbor, The Phantom Stranger assures the young, beautiful Lorelei is safe. She tries to ask the Stranger who he is and how he got to her boat in the middle of a storm, but he is his usual cryptic self and takes off, disappearing into the mist.

Lorelei makes it home, and her grizzled father is waiting for her. She tells him about this wonderful, kind man who saved her, but he is incredulous and unkind, commanding her to "stop living in a dream world."

Lorelei is lonely and miserable, so much so she says "I think I would give up my soul to find someone who'd love me!" Her father is angry at her near blasphemy.

There's a moment of silence, then a knock at their door. On the other side is a Navy man named Hans Vanderdecker, who says the raging seas have led him to dock at this small town. He says he's lost.

After a warm cup of tea, he heads back to his ship, but not before asking if he coul see Lorelei again, and leaving her with...a black orchid?

Lorelei chases after Hans, and hours pass. Lorelei's father is worried:

Even though the Stranger warns the father to stay out of it, he ignores the advice, and makes a plan...

Meanwhile, Lorelei and Hans get to know one another, and talk of dark secrets each of them has. Hans tells her a story of a sea captain from long ago who was also terribly lonely.

Then one day he met a beautiful woman, and they fell in love and were married. But the captain had to go back to sea, and he promised his bride he would return. But during one journey, the ship got thrown wildly off course, and the loneliness slowly drove the captain mad.

He convinced himself that his beautiful bride did not wait for him, and when he finally got home

Hans and Lorelei's private moment is interrupted by her father, who tells him never to touch his daughter again!

Lorelei is so embarrassed she runs off, and the father is attacked by a giant squid!

Luckily The Phantom Stranger arrives and help free him, then disappearing into the mist once again. The Stranger tells him this great beast was a manifestation of the father's dark thoughts, but he's having none of it, and resumes his quest for Hans.

He grabs a gun, but watches helplessly as he sees Hans and Lorelei take off in Hans' ship. The Stranger arrives again, grabs a small motor boat, and heads out to follow them himself.

As the seas rage, we see the ship carrying Hans and Lorelei change into the legendary Flying Dutchman! When the Stranger gets close, Hans seems to command a lightning bolt out of the sky and right at the Stranger.

But of course The Stranger escaped, and hops up onto the Dutchman. He zaps Hans with some sort of spell, keeping him from touching Lorelei. But he manags to drop a tarpaulin onto the Stranger, as if that would stop him:

...okay, that first panel is a little awkward.

Anyway, Lorelei punches the Stranger, saying she wants to be with Hans, whether he's a ghost or not! She is in love for the first time, and will go wherever the Dutchman takes them

...the end.

A sad, melancholy tale, made more so by De Zuniga's moody art. I don't know whether this was a scheduled "break" for Aparo, or Wein wrote this story specifically for De Zuniga's strengths, either way it works.

This issue also features not one but two Dr. Thirteen adventures, plus another Mark Merlin story. On the letters page, DC assures Phantom Stranger readers that Jim Aparo will return in the next issue.

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