The pretentiousness of the Phantom Stranger has discouraged many a reader from being a fan of the character, while just as many readers have found the mystery surrounding the character to be compelling enough to become fans of one of DC’s most iconic mystics.
Picking up the numbering from the “Phantom Stranger” series that ended in 1976 (cover dated February-March actually) this issue has a few more pieces in common with “Phantom Stranger” #41. The 1976 issue featured a story from Paul Levitz, listed in the folio of this “Blackest Night” tie-in as the President & Publisher of DC Comics. That story Levitz wrote in “Phantom Stranger” #41 co-starred Deadman (who was drawn on the cover of both issues), who prominently figures into this story, as well as the future of the DC Universe. These connections may or may not have been intentional, but this issue offers a whole new generation a chance to discover the Stranger.
After teaming up with the Blue Devil — who is peculiarly colored more of a purple than his trademark blue in this issue — to battle a possessed Spectre, the Stranger returns Deadman from the throngs of possession as a Black Lantern through a process akin to shoving a dog’s nose in a puddle of its own pee. The story itself seems to mystically jump all over Hell’s half acre, leaving the Spectre part of this tale widely unresolved, but along the way the story manages to provide some interesting moments and powerful scenes drawn by Ardian Syaf.
Syaf was the artist enlisted to draw “Blackest Night: Batman,” and seems to have become the patron saint artist for Deadman. Syaf’s work is reminiscent of Ed Benes, Neal Adams, and Jim Aparo, blended together in a style that doesn’t mimic any of them directly, but rather oozes with essence from each of those talented creators. The story presented here, like that in the “Blackest Night: Character X” miniseries, is supplemental; It adds depth and definition to the events of “Blackest Night” without being necessary to understand the larger story. This issue, however, offers promises of future impact to the DC universe, perhaps even in the “Blackest Night” series or its successor, “Brightest Day.”
Tomasi and crew do a nice job of balancing out the light-hearted banter of Deadman and Blue Devil with the serious world-threatening power of the Black Lantern Spectre and the mystical babble of the Phantom Stranger. The story doesn’t seem as natural coming from Tomasi as his work on “Green Lantern Corps,” but it serves this issue very well. If you found yourself with a little extra comic cash this week, needing a “Blackest Night” fix, you could certainly do worse than to buy this issue.