Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Phantom Stranger #32. Trouble in the library.

Phantom Stranger #32, Black Orchid
What do you do if you're immortal and the people around you start asking questions about why you never get any older?

Well, if you're me, you slap them round the ear and tell them not to be so impertinent as to question their betters.

If you're a comic book villain, however, you keep faking your own death, returning a few years later as your own descendant and killing anyone who might discover the truth about you.

If you're blessed with magical powers, like the Phantom Stranger, you might feel moved to do something about this. But if you're the Phantom Stranger you have a bigger problem to worry about.

Redundancy.

It can't be easy to be a super-doer and know you're not wanted in your own comic but by this stage in the thing's run, the Phantom Stranger was only popping up here and there to nag people before disappearing.

Phantom Stranger Quote of the Day.
"Look! Look deep into the whirring, flashing pinball game that is the mind of man! See what drives its wild workings! You'll find three engines -- the lust for gold, the thirst for power and -- fear of the unknown!"
And so it is with this tale, as nosey librarian Carol James sets out to discover the truth behind a series of minor but local witchcraft-related incidents that may be the fault of Mary Haggerty, an old woman who frequents the library where Carol works. After a fire that almost kills the old woman, Carol unearths the truth - that her boyfriend the dastardly mayor's out to get rid of Mary so she can't use her knowledge of the occult to uncover his secret.

I'm not sure why he's that bothered if she uncovers it or not. The last I heard, being immortal wasn't a crime. Setting fire to people however is and he therefore seems to be putting himself at risk of imprisonment for no good reason.

The truth is that, thanks to the Phantom Stranger's near absence from the tale, it feels more like one of those 1970s American made-for-TV "horror" movies than a Phantom Stranger story but it's pleasing enough, however cliched, and Bill Draut's artwork has a cunning simplicity that, early on at least, bears vague but surprising hints of Alex Nino.

Nestor Redondo, Black Orchid, Phantom Stranger #32
If being immortal isn't a crime, what definitely is is imitating the Black Orchid and pretending to be her in order to frame her for a robbery you've committed.

That's what a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde have got up to in this issue's back-up story. Needless to say the bulletproof battler's soon on their tail and quickly wraps them up for the police to take away.

For once there's actually a reason for the Orchid to use her traditional subterfuge rather than her super-strong fists to deal with the bad guys, as she goes undercover to trick them into confessing. But of course, much as we all love the Orchid, the real star of the story's Nestor Redondo whose artwork's as beautiful and fluid as ever.

I do worry about the quality of villains the mid-1970s was producing though. The pair seem to be under the impression that if you're going to flee the country and live in Rio de Janeiro, you have to learn to speak Spanish. D'oh!

1 comment:

R. W. Watkins said...

Interesting. My humble 'collection' of Phantom Stranger picks up where #32 leaves off: I have Nos 33 (featuring Deadman) and (a very raggedy) 34.

Probably the best thing about #34 is the Michael Caine, er, Dr 13 backup story, '...And The Dogs Howl Through the Night' (art: Tony DeZuniga). Apparently, Marvel had Dr Strange, Charlton had Dr Graves, Gold Key had Dr Spektor, and so DC felt compelled to have a Dr 13 in the house. No worries about getting ill in the world of 1970s comics, at least on a darkly spiritual level.

It also appears that the title didn't feature anyone even resembling a regular artist: Bill Draut drew #32; Mike Grell, #33; Gerry Talaoc, #34....

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