Friday, November 7, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #5 - Feb. 1970

Tala is back!

This issue opens with the Phantom Stranger himself, telling us about the story we are about to learn--"The ghost of Earl Winthrop returning to atone for the untold pain and anguish he caused during his ruthless lifetime!" Sounds good to me!

The story is "The Devil's Playground", by Bob Kanigher (who also wrote last issue), with art this time by Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson.

We open with a bunch of kids as they wander the beach at night. They are shocked to see a man coming out of the water, yelling "Wait...Wait for me!"

The kids help him out of the water, but soon after they see that he's...dead!

They leave him on the beach, and engage in some very "hep-cat" dialog--they sound like hippies, but they're dressed more like the Scooby gang.

Anyway, a man and his dog wander by, asking what the kids are doing. When they point to the body, they all see its...gone!

Meanwhile, back in the city, Dr. Thirteen and his wife Maria are watching the lightning as a storm moves in.

What they don't see, amid the lightning, is the figure of The Phantom Stranger! Following him is a dark cloud, out of which emerges...Tala!

We find the kids back at the concert they were splitsville from earlier (I love the overlapping word balloons in the first panel--a great, unusual touch). As you can see, Tala seems to be there, too, getting down:

Also there is Dr. Thirteen and Maria, as well as a couple in the middle of breaking up--Earl and Vera.

Earl is particularly cruel to Vera, calling her "an ugly little rag doll" (what a jerk!). Vera gets so upset she gets in her car and takes off.

But Vera is driving too fast, and she loses control of her car when she hits an oils slick and crashes off of a bridge into the water below. Luckily, The Phantom Stranger is there:

The Stranger rescues there, and brings her to the surface.

As the police take care of her, the Stranger, as he is wont to do, disappears into the mist.

Back at the nightclub (called "The Quiet Clam"!), Earl introduces himself to the group of kids from earlier. The girl recognizes the man they found on the beach!

As they get up to dance, Tala makes her presence known, and starts causing all kinds of trouble--she blasts a chandelier so it crashes down onto the floor, which starts a fire.

Of course, the Stranger is there, and he puts the fire out. But not the one in Tala's loins:
sg...I hear you, PS!

While everyone is outside, Earl generously offers the use of his beach house to the kids, and tells them he'll meet them there. Earl says he has to take a trip to Florida, but he'll meet them there later. Is he crazy?

Unfortunately, when the kids arrive there a few days later, they are told that Earl Winthrop died in a plane crash, and the body has not been found.

But since storm clouds are now threatening overhead, the kids come in anyway. Other friends arrive, and a would-be wake occurs.

We find the kids as they try to figure out what the heck is exactly going on? Is Earl dead--again?:

...normally, I wouldn't post this panel, because there's not much going on here. There's nothing exciting going on, and neither The Phantom Stranger or Tala (or even Dr. Thirteen) are in it.

But I'm posting it simply because I love this guy:

...that's such a great little caricature of a swingin' hep-cat. Mike Sekowsky had to have known a guy who looked like that in his real life. Had to.

Anyway, everyone is only mildly shocked to see that Earl has arrived, alive and well! Coated with globs of seaweed, but alive. He tells them that the police got it wrong--it was a different plane that crashed. The party resumes.

The local police arrive to say the storm is getting worse, everyone better leave the beach. Only he girl--Rose--stays behind, and she unwisely goes on a beach stroll with Earl!

While on the walk, he tells Rose that he did in fact die in that plane crash! As he floated in the water, a voice from above told him that he will get his life back for one day only, in a chance to redeem himself for all the cruelty he's showed toward others in his life.

He needed to find someone who would pity him, shed tears for him. He tried it on another woman at the party, but she only laughed at the idea of shedding a tear for the nasty Earl.

This causes Rose to tear up, which allows Earl to "move on" to the afterlife, and he wanders onto the water, and disappears into the mist.

As if that wasn't enough for one day, Tala shows up and attempts to throw Rose into the eye of the storm!

The Phantom Stranger arrives in the nick of time, using his powers to stop Tala from causing a massive tidal wave to crash onto the beach, killing Rose, her friends, and Dr. Thirteen, who have just arrived.

Thirteen is of course not impressed, saying its all a fake (two words: broken record). The Stranger scoffs at this, and disappears again...the end.

One swingin' hilly-dilly of a story. But the Stranger and Tala are merely ancillary to it, so I wonder if this wasn't a horror story Kanigher had previously written and then found a way to insert The Phantom Stranger's cast of characters into it.

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