“The Phantom Stranger” #0 launches a new series for DC Comics, helmed by Dan Didio, Brent Anderson and Scott Hanna. The Phantom Stranger in years past was one of the more mysterious characters of the DC Universe, surfacing at opportune moments to try and assist characters as part of an unrevealed agenda. In “Phantom Stranger” #0, though, all mystery about the character is thrown to the wind as we’re given a very definitive, locked down origin and goal for the character. And in doing so, it feels like we’re losing what made the character work.
Many years ago, after all, there was an issue of “Secret Origins” devoted to the Phantom Stranger. DC cleverly had multiple origin stories within that issue, letting the reader pick and choose among different options on which might be the real one. (I don’t think it’s any coincidence that most follow-ups seemed to lean heavily towards the one written by Alan Moore, though.) With that mystery gone, the Phantom Stranger has transformed into another “cursed until he makes up his wrong” figures. He’s now perhaps one of the most famous traitors ever, which adds even more to how locked into place the character has become.
And sure enough, “The Phantom Stranger” #0 shows how uninteresting a de-mystified Phantom Stranger can be. This might officially be his book, but in some ways he’s little more than a guide for other characters. Here we see him meet up with Jim Corrigan, but at no point does the Phantom Stranger contribute much more to Corrigan’s story than a sign post. He’s there to point him in a direction, but little else is accomplished. In some ways it’s almost like a less-interesting revival of “House of Mystery” or “House of Secrets,” only here the host character interacts with the guest-star-of-the-month. Hopefully the book will accomplish more than just having a new character guest-star and get introduced to the rebooted DC Universe, because that shtick will get old quickly.
Anderson and Hanna’s art is certainly the high point, but it’s not as strong as you’d get on a book like “Astro City.” Anderson’s pencils seem much more filled in and less airy than I remember. There are a few exceptions, like when the Stranger is invisible and spying on Corrigan in his superior officer’s office, but I found myself missing that shading that Anderson has done so well on other titles. It doesn’t look bad, but rather I wouldn’t have recognized the pencils as being by Anderson. They’re much more average than we typically see from Anderson, although I do like where it feels like he’s channeling a bit of Tom Mandrake as Corrigan’s story progresses.
The most frustrating thing about “The Phantom Stranger” #0 is that Corrigan’s story doesn’t get a real conclusion. It just stops, the character carted off stage for presumably other appearances to come. That’s potentially the biggest pitfall for this series; it’s going to need a story of its own, not just introductions of other characters. Having a book about Judas wearing Jesus’s cloak while unveiling new DC Comics characters may sound like a riot, but in this case it just falls flat. “The Phantom Stranger” needs to bring some mystery back, and quickly.