This issue continues the format of the Showcase tryout and the first issue of PS--namely, a combination of new material by Mike Friedrich and Bill Draut, surrounding a tale from the original Phantom Stranger series by John Broome and Carmine Infantino.
This issue opens with the new story, "The Man Who Died Three Times!", and I find this opening page highly disturbing.
I say that because, to this longtime comic reader's eye, it doesn't look like the opening page to a horror/mystery comic--with its day-glo colors and straightforward art style, it looks like one of those Public Service Announcements that DC used to run in its comics in the 50s and 60s--except this one ends with the Dad burning to death in a car accident.
I have no idea if artist Bill Draut meant it to look this way; in any case, it makes for a wonderfully perverse opening to the tale!
Anyway, little Billy tries to rescue his Dad, but it stopped by...The Phantom Stranger!
The Stranger clearly isn't that used to dealing with kids--first off, he calls the kid "sonny", and then assures Billy that he "won't find more of the driver than a few charred bones!" Phantom Stranger, Grief Counselor.
PS brings the kid home to his mother, and as they grieve, they are shocked to see...Dad walk in the front door!
He's in the same zombified state he was before he got behind the wheel, and claims to have nine lives, courtesy of an ancient totem pole that's right in the middle of their living room!
As Mom puts Dad to bed, The Phantom Stranger regales Billy with a tale from his past, similar to this--"The House of Strange Secrets", which is, in fact, not another DC mystery title from the 60s, but is the title of the last story from The Phantom Stranger (Vol.1) #1.
A man gets lost on a dark road, and stops to figure out where he is:
The man begins to pull a knife from behind his back when The Phantom Stranger arrives and pushes Neal Hunter out of the way!
As they get up, they now see that the opulent house has instantly changed into a cobweb-strewn, dusty wreck!
Hunter is knocked out by some gas emitting from a candle, and then the lights come back on, and we learn that the man in waiting is a sorcerer-in-training, and has been living in this house--the former home of a great magician--to learn the Black Arts.
This guy claims he needs to spill the blood of someone for his powers to manifest themselves, but The Phantom Stranger lands a sock in the jaw and he runs off.
He then grabs a giant sword, attempting to cleave the Stranger in two. PS then backs him up towards some live wires. When the man's sword touches the wires, he is instantly electrocuted to death!
The Phantom Stranger leads Neal back to the main road...and then disappears!
PS does the same disappearing act with Billy at the end of the story, just in time for Billy to see his Dad has left a suicide note, saying he's going to jump off a bridge to prove his he has nine lives!
Billy arrives at the bridge just in time to see his Father plunge into the water, where the corpse is met by...Dr. Thirteen!
They all head back to house, where both the Stranger and the Father make a surprise re-entrance:
The Stranger disappears yet again, leaving Billy at the mercy of Dr. Thirteen, who tells the young lad another one of his boring, taking-all-the-fun-out-of-it stories, "The Girl Who Lived 5,000 Years!", which ends like all of Thirteen's stories do--pooh-poohing any supernatural elements.
The next day, the father appears at a construction site, where he is almost killed by a falling beam, but saved at the last minute by The Phantom Stranger!
This snaps Dad out of his trance, and he explains to both PS and Thirteen how he got this way--some local mobsters threatened him and his construction company, for the sake of their boss, the perfectly named "Mr. Big." He reluctantly agrees, but when he realizes he can't look his son in the face, he returns to their hideout(!) and tells them he wants out.
The mobsters have an enforcer, a swami-looking guy named Ramu-Guru (that's an even better name than Mr. Big!), who hypnotizes the man into trying to kill himself--then, when the mob murders him, no one will suspect anything! A perfect, flawless plan if I ever heard one.
The mob reads that "The Man With Nine Lives" is still alive, so they got to his house to try and rub him out. They fire their guns, but turns out who they think is their man is just a dummy...it's a trap, courtesy of The Phantom Stranger and Dr. Thirteen:
The mob's plan is almost comically over-complicated, which makes me look fondly upon them--today's mobsters pretty much just kill people and run prostitution rings, which is no fun at all.
I would've loved to have seen an episode of The Sopranos where Tony hires a swami to help him commit various crimes.