With the highest holiday of the Christian faith (Easter) less than a week in the past, the opening page of “The Phantom Stranger” #7 drawn by Zander Cannon, Gene Ha and Andrew Pepoy would certainly have garnered as much, if not more, attention than the foldout cover. Dan DiDio and J.M. DeMatteis start the story with the Stranger reflecting in the front row of a Catholic church, with the altar, tabernacle and crucifix and statue of Mary mere steps away.
That image is even more impactful through the moody coloring of Art Lyon over the dynamic, model and still life composition crafted by the artistic tandem of Cannon, Ha and Pepoy. The imagery is so potent, I found myself adding in backstory to the discarded paper on the floor and imagining the regular occupants of the row where the Stranger sits. The trio doesn’t let up on their believably tangible artwork, as the Stranger leaves the church to once more encounter the Scottish terrier who has been his sounding board since DeMatteis joined the book. Beyond terrier and tabernacle, however, the art team delivers stunning renditions of a giant monster (another pinkish-purple beastie added to DC’s burgeoning pantheon of prismatic freaks), an appearance by Jack Ryder, the Challengers of the Unknown, airborne automobiles and the third member of the Trinity of Sin in the pages of “The Phantom Stranger” #7. The art alone is worth the three bucks, but the writing isn’t all that bad either.
In keeping with the mandate of filling old concepts with new life, DeMatteis and DiDio have made the Stranger a sympathetic character despite the constant reminders that this man is neither hero nor role model. His quest for normalcy seems to lead him further and further away from it in every issue and “The Phantom Stranger” #7 is no exception as the combination of characters and concepts already mentioned makes for an interesting read with little benefit to the Stranger. It’s not unlike the “Phantom Stranger” stories of old, where the cloaked mystery man was more a host than participant in his own title. While he is mostly inactive in the struggle against the monster, thanks to DeMatteis and DiDio, he is definitely participating more, with tragic results.
This book continues to seed the underpinnings of the DC Universe, adding in oddities from dark, forgotten corners and borderline magical creations to sew itself deeper into the fabric of the DC Universe. Sure, some of this could be seen as comic book sensationalism, but with DeMatteis guiding the wild notions, “The Phantom Stranger” #7 seems much more intent on direction while adding to the universe as it proceeds on its path.