DeMatteis on the Supernatural DCU & "Phantom Stranger"

As part of the New 52, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has been reinventing the Phantom Stranger, updating the 1952 character and his origin. Now he's a soul trying to redeem himself from a betrayal he committed thousands of years ago along with the New 52's mystery woman, Pandora.

Now joining DiDio starting with "Phantom Stranger" #6, writer J.M. DeMatteis will be co-writing the book with art by series mainstay Brent Anderson.

Known for his run co-writing the 1980s "Justice League International" with Keith Giffen and artist Kevin Maguire, DeMatteis spent much of his career working at DC and Marvel writing heroes such as Spider-Man and The Defenders and was one of the writers who helped DC's Vertigo imprint with graphic novels such as "Mercy" and "Moonshadow." An Eisner Award winner, DeMatteis has also written for television on shows such as "Justice League Unlimited" and "Batman: Brave And The Bold" as well as writing a version of hero the Spectre in the 2000s, a character that crossed paths with the New 52 iteration of the Phantom Stranger in the pages of his zero issue, and who will appear in the title again in 2013.

Speaking with Comic Book Resources at the beginning of his co-writing run, DeMatteis gave us the lowdown on his collaboration with DiDio, his approach to the New 52 hero and his love of the supernatural side of the DC Universe.

CBR News: Recently you done a lot of television and all-ages comic book work -- what attracted you to doing "Phantom Stranger" and working with Dan DiDio?

#4 cover by Ethan Van Sciver

J.M. DeMatteis: I'm a huge fan of the supernatural corners of the DC Universe -- the Phantom Stranger being a special favorite.  When editor Wil Moss asked me if I was interested in joining Dan on the book, I didn't even have to think about it:  it was an immediate yes.  Then, when I read what Dan has done -- the wonderful mythology, the multi-layered characters, he's created -- I was very glad I did.

Is the Phantom Stranger your favorite supernatural DCU character, or does that honor go to a different fictional fellow?

I don't know if I have a single favorite DCU supernatural character. Stranger is way up there, as are two characters I've written before, the Spectre and Dr. Fate. I also love Deadman, the Demon and Swamp Thing; deep, dark, fascinating characters. So let's say those are my top six!

What is your co-writing process like working with Dan? Do you guys take a Marvel-style approach to plotting and dialogue or do you collaborate on full scripts?

It's the classic breakdown: Dan does the plots, Brent draws from that and then I script from Brent's astonishing art. The plots are rock solid -- great set-ups, great characters and situations; and that leaves me lots of room to really work the characters, to layer in as much emotion, psychology and metaphysics as I can. To put the writing in musical terms: its like Dan has done the basic tracks and I'm overdubbing harmonies, guitar solos, strings, etc. It's Dan's song, but I can add a lot to it.

On the visual side, you've actually worked with artist Brent Anderson before. What's it like to reunite on a project with him?

Brent recently reminded me that he illustrated one of the first stories I ever did for Marvel, a Doctor Strange fill-in. That's the first and last time we ever worked together and it was -- well, let's just say it was a long time ago. Brent was massively talented then, but I have to say that I've been completely blown away by the work he's doing on "Phantom Stranger." Brent's a great storyteller -- the single most important element in comic book art -- and he can really draw. The emotions are strong and clear, the action is also clear as a bell, which means I don't have to over-explain things in the script. I'm delighted to be collaborating with him.

Dan's done a lot of revamping of the character, changing and solidifying Phantom Stranger's origin as well as giving him a human family. Now that you're joining the book, how would you sum up this New 52 Phantom Stranger?

In many ways, it's a brand new character. I especially love the human element you mention, the wife and kids Dan has brought in, and yet the cloak-swirling awe and mystery that's always been a part of the Stranger is very much front and center. So it's familiar and brand-new at the same time. There's so much to be explored -- so many facets of the Stranger's psyche, his supporting cast, his mythology -- and I can't wait to dive deeper into this world.

Along those lines, tonally, how would you sum up your and Dan's "Phantom Stranger" run? Is it a redemption story? A tragedy?

Absolutely a redemption story -- but the road to redemption is a long and rocky one.

Looking ahead, in issue #6 we'll be meeting the mysterious Lady Luck. Who is this Lady Luck? Is she the same dame as the Will Eisner/Quality character?

Not to my knowledge. But I'm the new kid on the block, so I could be wrong!

Similarly, we know the Spectre is going to become tangled up with the Stranger again in issue #5. At this point, what can you say about Spectre's involvement with and feelings toward our main character?

Let's just say his feelings aren't benevolent. There's a classic supernatural brawl coming up. It's big, it's cosmic, it's emotional. And it will reveal many layers and levels of both characters, helping us to understand their positions in the new DCU.

So far we've seen a lot of the Phantom Stranger dealing with other supernatural DC characters, and coming up he'll also meet the Justice League Dark. What makes him an important player in the larger DCU, and why should fans be paying special attention to him?

That's the mystery, isn't it?  Phantom Stranger has a destiny, and that destiny makes him extremely important to the larger DCU. The question is, once he discovers exactly what that destiny is, will he embrace it or reject it and go his own way?

As for the other supernaturals: that's one of the things I find most appealing about the book. As noted, I love the dark corners of the DCU and I'm getting the chance to play with so many of those classic characters. (By the way: if you haven't checked out "Justice League Dark," you really should.  A wonderful book.)

Finally, to your mind, what makes Phantom Stranger stand out from the rest of the heroes in the DCU?

The Phantom Stranger has always embodied cosmic mystery. No matter how much you learn about him, there's always something elusive, something you can't quite wrap you head around. And that's true of life, isn't it?  No matter how much we may grasp it -- emotionally, psychologically, spiritually -- there's always an element of mystery, of unknowing. For me, the Stranger is that unknowing given form. And that makes him fascinating.

DeMatteis joins "Phantom Stranger" with issue #6, on sale March 6.

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Tags: dc comics, new 52, dan didio, jm dematteis, phantom stranger, brent anderson

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