The Phantom Stranger and...Batman!
The Silver Age version of The Phantom Stranger was informally brought into the larger DC universe (not that it was called that back then) with this guest appearance, courtesy writer Bob Haney and artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (with a nice, if deceptive, cover by Neal Adams).
The story is titled "Arise Ye Ghosts of Gotham", and yes, like I said it was written by Bob Haney, which means we're in for 24 pages of complete insanity. Entertaining insanity!
Batman and the GCPD are a bit startled to see this group walking through downtown, the leader of which is demanding that the "Dust of the desert fills the streets of Gotham."
After they shuffle off, Batman finds some of that dust left behind. He recalls "the old Hellerite Prophecy", which involves a sect of people who settled Gotham a century and a half ago.
Turns out the sect's different way of looking and acting didn't sit to well with the rest of the townfolk, and when a young child suddenly died, the Hellerites were accused of being involved with witchcraft, and their settlement burned to the ground...but not before their leader Joseph Heller told them Gotham would one day pay for their ancestor's sins!
The group meets a local park, where the new leader, Josiah Heller, demands "reparations" in the form of the land itself!
This idea is met with a mix of reactions from the Gothamites:
...Gotham City's Undecided Voters.
Anyway, all this talk of reparations and comeuppance turns ugly, and riot begin to break out! Commissioner Gordon doubles all police shifts to deal with the chaos!
Later, a council meeting, Heller's crazy idea is met with surprise agreement by one party...Councilman Bruce Wayne, who agrees to turn over the Wayne Foundation and its adjacent property over to the Hellerites!
Wayne hands the keys over to Heller, who then stands on a balcony, looking out over the city, promising to "...smite my enemies if they defy me."
All of this, and we're only on page six.
While Heller is mulling over his power from his newfound perch, a Stranger arrives:
Heller is of course not happy with this intrusion, and tries to attack the Phantom Stranger, but he simply disappears, causing Heller to slam into a wall, knocking himself out.
Batman investigates, but assumes that The Phantom Stranger knocked Heller out himself. He also finds some cigarettes. But the Hellerites don't smoke...hmm...
Batman then runs into two members of the sect inside a store, who seem zombified. When Bats gets close, they point at him, rendering him unable to move!
As they begin to do the same with the shopkeeper, The Phantom Stranger arrives.
With this, the two Hellerites vanish into thin air! Batman turns to the Stranger, planning to put him under "Bat-Arrest" (really), to which PS responds by disappearing himself.
The two of them both end up back at the park, watching Josiah Heller talk, when another visitor shows up:
...yes, Dr. Thirteen! And his business cards are as dull as he is.
Thirteen convinces Batman that the Stranger is a fraud, and they both attempt to apprehend him. Thirteen delivers a karate-chop to the Stranger's neck(!) and knocks him out. Batman sees that Josiah has wandered off, and follows him, promising to send a squad car for the Stranger.
He catches him painting a symbol on a door, and tries to grab him. But when Batman reaches him, he passes right through him, like he was a ghost!
Batman does some research, and discovers something horrible--turns out all the houses painted with the weird sign are descendants of the original elders of Gotham...including his young ward, Dick Grayson!
He finds Dick at home, but is knocked out by an unseen force. He wakes to see a hypnotized Dick, and two Josiah Hellers!
Turns out that the Phantom Stranger was right--this first set of Hellerites were imposters, but now they have raised the ghosts of the real ones! Are you following all this?
Batman wakes the Phantom Stranger from his jail cell, where the real Josiah is causing all kinds of destruction.
At this point...well, frankly, I'm at a loss to explain what goes on. Really. I've read the comic three times through, and while I like to think of myself a reasonably intelligent person, every time I try and figure out what happens here I get a headache.
It involves The Stranger putting the evil Josiah in a mystical force field which he calls a "defense cone", the original Josiah being revealed as a delusional amnesiac criminal, and someone confessing to their "original sacrilege."
Here's how it all wraps up:
...sorry to bail on this story so near the end, but I tried for like fifteen minutes to distill this plot and I kept failing.
Some would say this is bad writing on Bob Haney's part, but I don't agree.
Some of his stories--like this one--were so jam-packed with ideas that while they may not make sense if you sat down and closely examined them (like I'm doing here), but if you read them as a comic book, they skate across the surface of your brain as you flip the pages.
I need to lie down.