Thursday, 10 February 2011

Phantom Stranger #36. Gold! I'm indestructibowl.

Phantom Stranger #36, Jim Aparo, gold and treachery in the jungle
As I'm sure you know, I often venture into weird worlds. Not only that but I'm in the habit of hanging around behind bushes, eavesdropping on other people's conversations and then leaping out from behind those bushes to hand out a quick lecture; "David Smith, if you use an ordinary screwdriver to secure your garden gate, instead of a Phillips screwdriver, your mind will never know rest from the eternal torment that only the foolish can know! Repent your ways now, lad, before it's too late! Steve knows!" I do it all the time. I have the black eye to prove it.

A man with two black eyes to prove it is of course my role model in such ventures, the Phantom Stranger and, in Phantom Stranger #36, he's at it again as some poor secretary finds herself in the jungle with her tyrannical boss Mr Capehart. Mr Capehart's on a mission to find a crashed plane he reckons contains a bucketload of Nazi gold lost since the end of World War Two.

Of course he finds it and, when he verbally abuses his secretary one time too many, she decides to leave him to drown in some quicksand he's just fallen into. This prompts the Phantom Stranger to appear and give her a lecture about how it's wrong to stand there and leave a man to drown. Clearly he's not noticed the irony that, in order to deliver this lecture, he's just done exactly the same thing. Maybe at this point he should start giving himself a lecture, possibly with the aid of a Phantom Stranger glove puppet employed to play the part of the other man of mystery.

Sadly, he doesn't. And so, now having the Nazi gold all to herself, our secretary ploughs on, dragging her ill-gotten gains with her, finding the load increasingly difficult to pull as she gets more and more lost and more and more exhausted in the jungle. As she gets weaker, so she has to leave behind ever increasing amounts of gold until, exhausted and delirious, she has just one gold bar left, one she's determined to hang on to at all costs.

Phantom Stranger Quote of the Day:
"Man, if nothing more, is a creature of symbols. He will stake his eternal soul on concepts as tenuous as the mists that fade before a dawning sun. And yet, it is often this very dedication that blinds him to the true values behind the tokens he so cherishes."
Needless to say the Phantom Stranger doesn't bother to lend her a hand, seemingly having decided he's happy to stand and watch two people die - as opposed to the secretary who was only happy to watch one. I should say a word here about the art which is great. I feel a need to mention it purely because all Phantom Stranger letters pages of this period seem to be full of people complaining about Gerry Talaoc's work. For me, with his ragged and paranoid style, the man was perfect for the strip, and the complaints are a bigger mystery to me than the strip's titular character.

But what of the secretary? Finally, still clutching her gold bar, she has a heart attack and dies, at which point her bar rolls off down the hill where it's found by a young boy and his grandfather. The boy, being a boy, is impressed by its shininess but his grandfather points out you can't eat it, wear it or hunt it so it's worthless and only a fool would think otherwise. Perhaps at this juncture the Phantom Stranger should leap out from behind a bush to point out you can't eat, wear or hunt your wife, so where does that leave the old duffer's argument? Inevitably, our be-trilbied philosopher does nothing of the sort.

Despite that, as a fourteen year old I was so impressed by this ending that I stole it and plonked it on the end of a story I wrote in one of my English lessons. The rest of my tale was about two astronauts on a planet where the only other living thing was a sarcastic plant. Quite what the ending had to do with the rest of that tale, I have no idea. Maybe at that point I needed the Phantom Stranger to leap out from behind a chair and give me a lecture about the stupidity of using such an ending on a story that had nothing to do with it.

And did he?

No he didn't.

That was the odd thing about the Phantom Stranger. He was always giving advice but it was never advice that was any use for anything.

Then again, I seem to remember getting a good mark for that story, so maybe he did right.

And maybe he's still there, still behind that chair, waiting for the right moment to leap out, little realising the time's long-since passed.

Follow me into weird worlds -- for I am Steve Does Comics.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Phantom Stranger was getting a bad rap at that time because up to #26 it had been done by Len Wein and Jim Aparo.

Naturally my first issue was #27, by Arnold Drake and Gerry Talaoc who, as you pointed out, bought his own style of bizarro wigginess to the title. They were all good solid pieces of work - even Mike Grell chipped in an issue co-starring Deadman - but you'd never guess it from the vitriol in the letter pages.

B Smith

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