Phantom Stranger (vol.4) #1 (2012)

Phantom Stranger (vol.4) #1 (December, 2012)
“When You’re a Stranger”
Writer – Dan DiDio
Penciller – Brent Anderson
Embellishments – Philip Tan
Colorist – Ulises Arreola
Letterer – Travis Lanham
Editor – Will Moss
Special Thanks – Geoff Johns
Cover Price: $2.99

Another dip into the stormy seas of the New 52.  This volume of The Phantom Stranger brought with it a particular interest, as it was when they were finally going to reveal his origin.  It’s amazing to think that a character who had been around nearly a half-century had never been given a decisive origin… until this volume, apparently.

This one has been in the library awhile, likely picked up on a whim… left to sit in my ever-expanding pile of “to reads” until my recent flight of fancy to “get to know” the New 52 a bit better.  I really want to be able to talk… perhaps not with any measure of wisdom… but at least with rationality about the subject.  I often take others to task for “knee jerk” reactions when it comes to subjects like the Chromium Age of Comics (1990’s) and Rob Liefeld… I figure I may as well try and curb my own.

I hope at the very least this endeavor will make my reaction to hearing The New 52 go from “ewww” to “ehhh”.  I feel I have perhaps given the incentive a bit of an unfair shake… I suppose a half-decade of stewing over the losses of “my” characters has finally kind of given way to curiosity.  Let’s see where this takes us…

We open on a park in New York City.  A child is chasing a soccer ball and soon finds himself bumping into a tall, dark, be-hatted gentleman.  He introduces himself as “the Phantom Stranger”… and this young fella was raised right, he plainly states he’s not supposed to talk to “strangers”.  Instead of engaging in idle chit-chat, the boy proceeds to kick his soccer ball into traffic… and chase it into the path of an oncoming car.

Our next scene is the boy’s funeral.  Friends and family are all lined up at the casket to offer their respects.  Among the queue is a dark-haired young woman who nobody appears to recognize.  She becomes overcome by the emotion in the church and bails out into a surprisingly dark and disgusting alley.

Outside she gets into something of a shadow battle with an as of yet unknown foe.  Of course we know this is the Phantom Stranger… who addresses her as Rachel, and makes mention of her father Trigon.  I can’t remember if Raven had shown up in the New 52 version of Teen Titans by this point, so this may very well be her “first” appearance.  The Stranger claims he is here to help her, and takes her to a local eatery to talk.

While there, the pair are attacked by members of the Church of Blood, who in this DC Universe follow Trigon rather than Brother Blood.  I can’t seem to remember Trigon ever being behind the Church before this issue, though I’ll concede I may be misremembering.  Rather than fight, the Stranger opens a portal for them to step through… on the other end, is Stonehenge.

Stonehenge is a familiar local to Rachel, as this is where she first appeared on Earth after fleeing Azarath.  She fears that this would be the first place Trigon would check in order to find/reclaim her.  She argues with the Stranger, only to get zapped.  You see, the Phantom Stranger has been using her.  Trigon blasts onto the scene and draws his daughter back to Azarath.

The Stranger and Trigon speak.  It is hinted that the Phantom Stranger has been cursed due to a past betrayal.  For each betrayal he commits, a silver coin falls from the Stranger’s necklace… this will lead to the revelation that the Phantom Stranger is the biblical Judas Iscariot.

Later, we observe the Stranger returning home.  He is greeted by his wife and two young children.

As the family embraces, the woman known only as Pandora looks on from outside their window.

I’m starting to get the impression that most of my New-52 era reviews will all be kinda samey (or more samey than my usual fare already is…).  This was… okay.  I didn’t love or hate anything about it… however, I guess I can say that I’m glad I didn’t pay cover price for it.

The art was very nice, and really fit the mood of the piece.  The writing… was okay.  Again, nothing overtly bad, and nothing that really stood out as exceptionally good.  I’m not terribly interesting in how this story continues, and have no real sense of urgency as it pertains to picking up subsequent issues.

I’m still not quite sure where I stand in regard to the impending origin reveal.  The more I consider it, the more I really dig that we never really “knew” the Phantom Stranger.  Just as the name implies… he’s a stranger.  In actually providing a definitive origin, I feel there may be a bit less mystique to the character.  I suppose it’s to be expected in today’s comics landscape… it seems as though nobody is satisfied “not knowing”… I miss the days where not everything needed to be spelled out.  I never needed to know that Wolverine was a rich kid named James Howlett… and I never needed to know that the Phantom Stranger was Judas Iscariot.

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0 thoughts on “Phantom Stranger (vol.4) #1 (2012)

  • Reggie Hemingway

    You know, I'd never call Dan Didio a "great" comic book writer, but pound-for-pound he's decent and understands comic pacing, and if he gets his scripts in on time he's probably a better asset in this capacity than a lot of fancy pants writers with one foot in creator-owned. I see a lot of complaints about the New 52 being too violent or too dark–and those points are arguable. But as someone who read through plenty of it I think you'll find that, overall, the New 52's biggest crime is that it is sort of bland. Here's a wiped slate, the opportunity to launch the most cohesive, epic stories ever conceived that were once hampered by continuity issues, and for the most part DC ekes out a lot of well-drawn, decompressed stories that seem, like most comic books, to be made up as they go along. I don't know if you've gotten to it, but to me the brightest shining star of the first year of the New 52 (besides the somewhat esoteric Dial H) was Demon Knights. I don't normally go for swords and sorcery stuff, but this book was pretty good. Give it a look, if you haven't!

    • I was pleasantly surprised by Didio's writing chops. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I guess after Bill Jemas attempted to fashion himself a writer during turn-of-the-century Marvel I've been kind of predisposed to dismiss any executive creative endeavors. I do recall not really digging Didio's pre-Flashpoint Outsiders… and when he popped on to Superboy with Jimmy Palmiotti it felt like a drop in quality… though that book was on it's "death march to 100" by that point.

      The blandness is definitely one of the things I'm coming away with in my deeper-reading of the New 52. It does feel as though it is absolutely riddled with missed opportunity and throwbacks to an era that DC didn't fall as hard a victim to as other publishers. DC felt like WildStorm… with all the non-cohesiveness, shallow storytelling, and continuity hiccups that implies.

      I somehow have the first handful of Demon Knights in the collection, I'm definitely down for giving those a shot, despite my chronic indifference toward Etrigan.


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