Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Phantom Stranger #33. Deadman's Bluff.

Phantom Stranger #33, Jim Aparo, Mike Grell, DeadmanI always thought the Phantom Stranger was the comic book equivalent of those tin foil trays that meat pies come in. You always think you should do something with them other than just throw them away - maybe wear them as a hat or something - but in the end, you can never decide on just what.

In the same way, DC never seemed too sure what to do with the Phantom Stranger.

Here was a character who, thanks to his status as man of mystery, was nice and shiny but what exactly was his purpose?

If Marvel Comics' Dr Strange was the master of mystic dimensions, the Phantom Stranger was master of the single dimension, as he appeared to have no existence whatsoever outside the pages of his own comic and, in some issues, didn't even seem to have an awful lot of existence within them.

Phantom Stranger #32, a ghoulish raid
Thus it was that, in some tales, he was an active participant, in some a mere narrator and, in others, he'd simply appear during a lull in the action to give one of the participating characters a lecture that, while no doubt wise, was of no more practical use to them than a chocolate teapot.

Still, it didn't really matter as, despite dressing and talking like a wally, the Phantom Stranger was cool, maybe even more so than DC's other men of mystery the Shadow and the Spectre. While they might turn you into wood and chop you up or just plain shoot you, the Phantom Stranger would merely lecture you to death, which seemed an altogether more civilised, though annoying, trait.

Phantom Stranger #32, Deadman on a fridgeHere, it was Deadman's turn to get a good nagging, as, monomaniacal as ever, he was out to find the man who killed him. Given his mystical powers, the Phantom Stranger could probably have found out who killed Deadman and told him.

Instead he insists on turning up at the tale's climax to lecture the vengeful ghost on the foolishness of his ways. In one panel he lambasts the ghost because he's not going to kill a man and then three panels later, lambasts him because he is. Jeez, some people are never happy.

But you have to credit writer Arnold Drake; given the Stranger's somewhat undefined nature, it must have been no easy task to weave interesting tales around him and this tale is never dull.

Still, as with all of DC's mystery mags of this era, the main attraction's the art and, with a magnificent Jim Aparo cover and interior work by the Legion of Super-Heroes' Mike Grell, it was never going to let us down on that score. Granted the Stranger's anatomy on the front cover's a little weird - his arms seem to end just below the knee - but, that aside, it's another classic cover from the late, great Jim Aparo who at this stage of his career seemed able to churn out classic covers in his sleep.

"Follow me into strange worlds," said the blurb at the top of most issues, "-- For I am the Phantom Stranger." And I must've been hooked because I always would.

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