Phantom Stranger #41
This piece is dedicated to Chris from Chris and Reggie’s Cosmic Treadmill podcast. Their recent episodes discussing Action comics weekly have inspired me to write about this issue, which I picked up at the Baltimore Comic-con in September. I’ve never read an issue of this particular volume of the Stranger, so why not start with the final issue. Interesting fact, according to the indicia it is volume 8 but if you count the number of Phantom Stranger series, it is volume 2.
Writer – Paul Levitz
Artist – Fred Carrillo
Editor – Joe Orlando
This issue is the third part of a story co-staring the greatest ghost in DC Comics, Boston Brand, the one and only Deadman. The story starts with the Stranger telling Deadman who he is and where he comes from. The Stranger is being cryptic and Deadman is pissed because he wants some straight answers. Having not read the previous parts of the story I am as lost as Boston Brand is.
The story shifts to an old man, Dr. Nathan Seine sitting and thinking while cradling a skull in his lap. He is joined by Cassandra Craft and a male companion. While the captions tell the reader that this is taking place at the Sander’s school for the blind, Ms. Craft looks a little out of place. She’s wearing a sexy pink one piece, a belt riding low at her hips, and a matching pink cape. It seems like a bit of a crazy get up for someone who is apparently a teacher for the blind. She questions why Dr. Seine requested to see them and he responds by aiming the skull at them and zapping them with lighting bolts telling them they can die.
It is safe to say at this point I have no idea what is going on. Thankfully that is rectified pretty quickly.
Over the next few pages Seine provides plenty of exposition to catch the reader up. It seems that the good doctor blames the Phantom Stranger for the death of his wife and his blindness and he wants revenge. He intends to use Ms. Craft as a sacrifice to some Nether Gods in exchange for them destroying the Phantom Stranger. The demons that have appeared tell Seine that they accept his offer but they are not going to stop the Stranger. Instead they are going to provide Seine with the power to do it himself. Seine accepts the offer while Cassandra thinks to herself that she has nothing to fear as long as her friend the Phantom Stranger lives. She uses her physic abilities to send the Stranger a message that she needs help. Seine imbued with the power of the Nether gods grows in size and declares himself a Nether god on earth.
We shift back to the Stranger and Deadman still arguing when the Stranger receives Cassandra’s physic message. In a disappearing act worthy of Batman, The Stranger teleports away just as Deadman was going to try and inhabit his body. The Phantom Stranger reappears in the room with the giant Dr. Seine, Cassandra still tied to her altar, and the Nether demon. Stranger blasts the Nether god making short work of him and then defends himself against two golden dragons that Seine has conjured.
As the dragons start to get the best of the Stranger he summons Boston Brand to aid him. Deadman has no idea what is going on and tries to possess Cassandra’s companion whose been lying motionless on the floor since Seine first blasted him. Boston does not realize that the man in blind and he cannot look into his eyes, which he needs to do in order to complete the possession. When Seine see the lifeless corpse of the man moving, Boston is trying to get the unconscious form in front of a mirror so he can do his thing, Seine simply blasts the guy, killing him, before Boston can figure out what to do.
By now the Stranger has recovered enough from Steine’s first attack that he can retaliate. In what amounts to quite a power play from the Stranger, Steine begins to shrink and lose the power the Nether gods granted him. Steine, having not defeated the Stranger, is dragged off the the portal he communicated with the Nether gods through for his punishment. Deadman, still angry but about how the guy he tried to possess was killed, blames the Stranger for what happened. Stranger is pretty nonplussed about the situation and, blowing off Deadman, goes to revive Cassandra. After she comes to, the Stranger wisps her away in cloud of pink smoke leaving Deadman to rant in an empty room.
Bonus Story – “Will the Real Black Orchid Please Stand Up”
Writer – Michael Fleisher
Artist – Fred Carrillo
Script Continuity – Russell Carley
An attractive blond woman is tied to a safe door with a lit fuse headed toward her. Four other women dressed as the Black Orchid wait around the corner for the explosion. The captions explain what came before. Apparently the woman tied to the safe door is a young heiress, Ronnie Kuhn, who was duped by a group of women calling themselves the Black Orchid Legionnaires into trying to rob the world bank by telling her they were going to fight crime.
The real Black Orchid shows up and frees Ronnie and then throws the rigged safe door through the bank ceiling high into the sky where it explodes safely. She jokes to Ronnie that she could have just blown out the fuse but there might be a talent scout for the Justice League around so she decided to show off what she can do. The Black Orchid then leaves Ronnie to go after the impostor Black Orchids.
Black Orchid traps several of the impostors on an elevator by breaking the cables and then carrying the elevator car away. In an amazing bit of early fourth wall breaking, the narration panel describes the effortlessness of Black Orchid carrying the elevator car as if it were as light as a pot of lobsters to which she thinks to herself, that they are disgusting lobsters. Take that Deadpool. Ronnie takes out the last impostor as the Black Orchid is just getting back to her. Black Orchid flies off leaving Ronnie to deal with the Police. As they take away the Legionaries one officer comments to Ronnie that she ought to wear her mask if she doesn’t want people to know she’s the Black Orchid. She tries to deny it but the good-natured cop doesn’t believe her.
Personally I have always liked the Phantom Stranger. I enjoy when he shows up here and there to cast judgement or help out. I like the design of the character with the modern fedora, dark suit and Gothic cape. When he is drawn well he is an imposing figure. I might be one of a very few but I had a good time reading the New 52 Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin, and Justice League Dark series. I liked the idea that he was the biblical Judas Iscariot wandering the earth trying to atone for his sin. Those stories treated the Phantom Stranger as a mystic character and mixed a little modern religion in without being preachy.
I also really like Deadman. Usually I like the character more when he provides some comic relief or is just a regular guy who happens to be a ghost trapped in our world. The angry Boston Brand in this comic works okay, I just happen to prefer a more light-hearted dead guy.
As I was reading this issue I did not realize it was the last of the series until I got to the letters pages in the middle of the comic and read the announcement that the book was cancelled due to poor sales. I cannot say that it surprises me though. I think that the Phantom Stranger suffers from the same problem that other characters of his ilk do. It is challenging to have an ongoing series where the main character has to bridge the line between superhero comics and horror comics. Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing and the Hellblazer Vertigo comic were probably the exceptions to the rule.
Honestly this story was just okay. I was able to pick up what was going on well enough once the villain started his monologue but I really don’t know why Deadman was even there. Other than yelling at the Phantom Stranger all he does is mistakenly get a blind guy killed, through no fault of his own. The story is a little rushed and does feel like Paul Levitz was told to wrap everything up quickly as he was not getting another issue to write. There were several highlights though.
The first is the Black Orchid back up. The story was funny and odd. There were a bunch of pretty women running around in pink, skin tight costumes, with sexy black underwear on the outside and what’s not to love about that? I find it hard to believe that this character with super strength, could fly, and was funny was not more popular, but I guess if she was only showing up in the back of Phantom Stranger comics with poor sales she was not getting a lot of exposure.
The other highlight was Fred Carillo’s art in both stories. The Phantom Stranger story evokes the creepiness of the horror comics from this era while the Black Orchid story features a strong female character with some good action. I’m not familiar with Fred Carillo’s work but I’ll keep an eye for it in the future.
Normally I would close with a neat ad from the book, and there were plenty in this issue, like the the one for Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. action figures. Instead I am going to finish up with the letters pages that carries the announcement of the cancellation.