ACW #636 – Phantom Stranger

Action Comics Weekly #636 (Phantom Stranger)
“All That Jazz”
Writer – Paul Kupperberg
Art – Andy Kubert
Letters – Tim Harkins
Colors – Adam Kubert
Editor – Renee Witterstatter

So… I kinda misspoke the other day.  Not that anybody noticed, or ever will… but I referred to today’s chapter of Phantom Stranger as his last.  That is not the case, as we’ll actually get one more visit with him in about six weeks.  So, I s’pose I get to drop a “penultimate” as a descriptor for this here post!

Also, this is the first of two Phantom-y features for this week… just on the other side’a Superman, we’ll be meeting the Phantom Lady.  I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, considering she’s front-and-center on the rather awful cover this week!

Anyhoo, let’s get into it… I don’t think this could possibly be any worse than the Cat and Mouse story from a few weeks back!

Our story opens down on a subway platform.  An old musician named Loblow Jones recognizes a fella by the name Ezra Griffith… and so, he rushes over to catch up.  Ezra ain’t quite feeling this reunion (in fact, he claims not to recognize the man at all), and so he bugs off on the train to get away.  Poor Loblow is just left standing there all by his lonesome.

We join the Phantom Stranger, who is doing that thing where he’s reading every book in the library to learn everything he can about the human condition… or something.  He’s also doing a bit of “people watching” like ya do.  He sees Loblow Jones leaving with a book called “Music and Magic”… and grows curious.

We shift scenes to Ezra Griffith’s place, where he has apparently been listening to the same record on repeat for the past little while.  His wife is a bit concerned, and tries to comfort him.  Ya see, this record is of music created by, you guessed it, Loblow Jones.  Griffith’s father was an evil publisher record producer who was able to get Jones to sign away all his rights to Superman his music.  Ezra was rather taken aback in seeing Loblow doin’ his thang for spare change in the subway earlier that day.

Their chat is interrupted by the sound of… saxophone music.  Outside, leaning against a street lamp is, you guessed it again, Loblow Jones… and he’s belting out (does one “belt out” on sax?) one heckuva tune.

The Phantom Stranger’s on hand to watch this all go down… and the scene grows even weirder as children begin emerging from all of the neighborhood houses.  It’s almost as if Loblow is a low-key Pied Piper of sorts!  A man rushes from his home brandishing a rifle… but the Stranger stops him before he can pull the trigger. 

The Stranger then attempts to reason with Loblow… but it’s a No-go.  Before long, our man is literally buried by the music!

But then, it’s deus ex time!  The Stranger pulls himself to his feet… spouts a few words, and Loblow is snapped out of his trance.

We wrap up with Ezra checking in with Loblow… and we learn that, he was so hurt by being “ghosted” in the subway, that Loblow wanted some revenge… and since Ezra’s daddy took away his “babies” in his music, the Jazzman was going to return the favor by… ya know, literally stealing children.  Thank goodness the Phantom Stranger arrived in time to… ya know, tell him to knock it off.

So… this story kind of encapsulates everything I find wrong with the Phantom Stranger.  You start with an interesting premise… ramp up the drama, or suspense, or comic-approximation of “horror”… build to a climax where everybody is painted into a corner… then, the Phantom Stranger speaks.  I mean, that’s it… he speaks, and everything goes back to normal.

Y’ever watch the old Power Rangers show?  They’d get their butts kicked for the better part of a half-hour, when suddenly “It’s Morphin Time”… big-ass robot, fifteen second battle, everything ends all hunky dory.  This is sort of like that, only we don’t get the satisfaction of seeing people dressed like robots stumbling around and destroying a cardboard city.

I mean, this is worlds better than that “Cat and Mouse” four-parter we covered a few weeks ago, but… man, this might be more disappointing, simply because it felt like it could’ve been much better!  Sure, it was heavy-handed… and was probably more than a little bit “commentary” on creators rights… but, it was good!  Ezra wasn’t painted so much as a cloven-hoofed villain, but a son who might get stuck holding the tab for the sins his father committed.

Loblow… I mean, really dude?  You decide you’re going to steal children… from folks who had nothing to do with you signing away the rights to your music?  Sure, it’d be one thing if he was just going after the Griffiths… but, every kid in the neighborhood?  C’mon Loblow, how you gonna feed all dem kids?  Think it out, man.

The art was pretty great… I thought the Kuberts did some wonderful work here!  Really, my only complaint here is the deus ex, finger-snap ending.  Overall, it’s probably the strongest Phantom Stranger story we’ve looked at in Action Comics Weekly… but, that strength only makes the anticlimactic ending stand out even more.

Tomorrow: The Seeds (or izzit Sides?) of Darkness!

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