ACW #613 – Phantom Stranger

Action Comics Weekly #613 (Phantom Stranger)
“Can’t Judge a Book…”
Writer – Paul Kupperberg
Pencils – Tom Grindberg
Inks – Dennis Janke
Letters – Bob Pinaha
Colors – Petra Scotese
Editor – Mike Carlin

The Phantom Stranger again, eh?  Well… at least it’ll be short…

We open on the New York Subway, where a woman is reading a copy of Daniel Gleason’s latest horror novel, Mind Games.  Mind Games, eh?  Hmm… I thought Hal already took care of that guy!  Anyhoo, Gleason’s work has been described as having the ability to (figuratively) “leap off the page”… and, well… you know where this is headed, don’tcha?  After the bizarre attack, the woman lay dead, apparently dying of… old age?!

We shift scenes to Bruce (Eclipso) Gordon and the Phantom Stranger exiting a movie theater.  They just saw something called About Sex Didn’t Ask, which was a “Parody of Italian Art Films”… not sure if it ever existed, but it really doesn’t matter.  Whatever the case, the Stranger didn’t get the references.  They pass by a Newsagent and check out the headline, which talks about the mysterious death on the Subway.  The Stranger snags a copy, leaving Poor Bruce to cough up a quarter and dime.

We jump to a beach where… a young fella is reading Mind Games.  You’ll never guess what happens to him!

We jump ahead to the evening… or an evening, I’m not sure if it’s the same day or not.  The Phantom Stranger sits in his office… when suddenly, he feels a great and powerful evil headed his way.  Turns out, he’s about to be visited by Daniel Gleason.  The Writer needs some assistance of the Occult variety, and has heard that’s right up the Stranger’s alley.

Gleason reveals that the mysterious aging death on the Subway wasn’t an isolated incident… in fact, it’s become quite the thing… so much so, that the F.B.I. has gotten involved.  He hands over the book… which the Stranger drops, realizing that the evil he’d sensed is coming from the book itself!

Daniel explains that his book is about Evil Mayan Spirits.  Hmm, wonder if any of them know Talaoc?  The Stranger presses Daniel for more information, only to learn that the book contains actual incantations… including a chant to Au Puch, a name the Stranger recognizes as a Mayan God of Death.  Check this out… Daniel then proceeds to, get this… perform the chant!

The window flies open, and Daniel is suddenly overcome with this purple energy cloud… when it dissipates, all that remains is the gruesome Au Puch!

The Stranger confronts the God, and vows to separate it from Daniel Gleason’s body.  Au Puch, however, has a much different idea… he snags the Stranger with one of his weird tentacles, and proceeds to drain him of his energy!

Welp, here’s where your humble host… eats crow!  I really liked this!  Thought it was pretty great!

I wasn’t sure what quite to expect during my initial “flip through”.  Just looked like Phantom Stranger-y hoo-doo, a great big beast, and ethereal smoke.  What I’ll tell ya, is… I wasn’t looking forward to it.

When I actually set in to read the thing, however… I thought this was incredibly strong!  I like the dynamic of the Stranger trying to act as though he were an ordinary human.  An ordinary human with an expertise in the occult, but “ordinary” nonetheless.

The idea of a Mayan Death God being trapped in a book?  It’s alright as a concept… and it helps get us where we need to be.  I dig the way Au Puch took over Gleason as his vessel, considering that he’s the one who “trapped” it into the book… though, Gleason chanting the incantation?  That’s kind of a dopey thing to have done, wasn’t it?  Anyhoo, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out… and maybe, actually, becoming something of a Phantom Stranger fan?  Oof, I feel dirty even typing it.

I don’t really have any complaints about this story… however, I’ve still yet to read a single “horror” comic book story that has scared me.  I feel like this is supposed to be scary… at least a little bit, but I just didn’t get the heebie-jeebies here.  If anyone reading has any really scary horror comics to recommend, please let me know!

Tomorrow: Superman goes Coast to Coast

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