Monday, November 3, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #1 - June 1969

The Phantom Stranger gets a second chance!

Like his Showcase try-out, this first issue of The Phantom Stranger consists of a mix of reprinted material from the earlier PS title, plus new material by Mike Friedrich and Bill Draut (this time handling both the penciling and inking).

This issue opens with a passenger jet about to take off, and we get to hear the thoughts of three of the passengers--one of them, John Martin, is on his way to meet a woman.

Another, Carson Rand, is thinking of some badly needed "papers" he plans to get from someone at his destination, and the third, rodeo star(!) Bart Benson, is on his way to a competition.

Somehow these three men know each other, and a photographer takes a picture of them. This is the last time this particular jet is taking this route, so its going to be in the papers (slow news day).

But all does not go well, to say the least:


...a wonderfully exciting, frightening sequence, courtesy writer John Broome and artists Carmine Infantino and Sy Barry.

Two nights later, we see a man as he tosses and turns in bed, the "voice" of Carson Rand ringing in his ears.

But that's not all--he wakes to see a green-robed, ghost-like figure who demands "the papers"!

The man goes to his wall safe to get them, when he is stopped by...The Phantom Stranger!

PS lands a haymaker on the "ghost", causing him to trip and run out of the room. As the man tries to figure out what the heck is going on here, he sees that the Stranger is gone, too.

The next night, at a ranch in Colorado, a promise is mysteriously burned into a hunk of wood, claiming that the horse named Roughneck "is mine", and is signed by...Bart Benson!

The horse then starts to buck and kick, as if its being ridden. Suddenly the Stranger appears, calms the horse, and reveals (to kind of no one in particular) that this horse has been trained to respond to a series of high-pitched whistles, and that the message "burned" into the wood is, in fact, made from zinc compound, which glows when struck by moonlight.

Lastly, we see the woman of John Martin's affections, Margo Phillips, on a foggy San Francisco street. She is met by what it seemingly the ghost of Martin, who reaches out to her so she can join him in "the other world."

He is stopped by the Stranger, who reveals that this ghost is actually a man named Matt Wright, who had been stealing from the nightclub where Margo works. Turns out, as soon as he read of Martin's death in the air crash, he worked out this whole plot to bump off Margo--who knew what he was doing at the nightclub--and used the ghost angle to throw the police off the trai (I dunno, seems like an extraordinarily complicated scheme to me).

Anyway, turns out the three man and the Stranger have a connection:


Next up is another Dr. Thirteen story, "The Hermit's Ghost Dog!", from Star-Spangled Comics #125--when you think about it, considering all the ghost-debunking The Phantom Stranger is personally doing in these stories, you wonder why Thirteen hates PS so much.

This issue features the first letters page, "Mail to The Phantom Stranger", featuring all positive letters, asking DC to give PS his own book. One of the letters is from a young fan named Martin Pasko!

The new Phantom Stranger story is next, and is called "Defeat the Dragon Curse...Or Die!", featuring a very captivating first page, as you can see here--Draut's work is clean and precise, if not all that mysterious.

Dr. Thirteen arrives at arrives at a friend's house, and all seems normal, until an explosion, killing the Doctor's friends, leaving only their child, Larry, alive!

As they try to figure out what happened, The Phantom Stranger arrives and points out carved into the floor is the sign of Ching Hi Fu--"a long forgotten dragon symbol of death!"
Thirteen and PS get into another one of their arguments, but a handy flashbulb going off provides the Stranger a chance to disappear. Larry, now an orphan, is temporarily taken in by Thirteen and his wife Marie.

Meanwhile, an ominous figure prays inside a pagoda, promising "the terror of Ching Hi Fu" will strike again tomorrow!

The next night, during a party in Chinatown, the same mysterious dragon appears, followed by a huge fire! As the people inside flee for safety, The Phantom Stranger appears and attempts to calm the panicked mob.

Thirteen also arrives, and they once again see the mysterious symbol, this time on a wall. It's here we get our first real, non-draped-in-shadows shot of The Phantom Stranger:
sg...kinda looks like John Carradine to me.

The Stranger disappears again, leaving Thirteen to try and figure out what is going on. The small boy Larry wonders aloud why the curse seems to be on new buildings...

Thirteen uses this piece of information to make a phone call, and right after we hear the announcement of new fine dining restaurant opening up in Chinatown.

Thirteen, Marie, and Larry wait outside and they see two mysterious shadows approaching--one is The Phantom Stranger, but the other is the man behind the curse!

The Stranger grabs him and demands to know what's going on. Turns out this man was an architect who built most of the old buildings in Chinatown, and is aghast the "ugly shoe boxes" that are going up, replacing his work!

Not able to determine how he pulled this off, exactly, the Stranger and Thirteen head off their long-standing "it was magic/no, it was science" argument.

What they can agree on is that the young Larry provided the tip that led them to figuring it all out.

The story ends with the Stranger making another one of his patented mysterious disappearances, but I feel compelled to call shenanigans here.

The kid is looking right at the Stranger as he disappears--so did the Stranger disappear into thin air? If so, wouldn't Dr. Thirteen have to admit he's got some sort of supernatural ability? Its one thing to do the old Batman/Commissioner Gordon thing, its another to be able to vanish as someone is directly talking to you.
Oh well, still a fun story--the setting is nice, and Draut (and the uncredited colorist) do a good job mixing the bright colors of New Year's in Chinatown with the dark, shadowy world of The Phantom Stranger.

The Phantom Stranger, as a title, didn't get a lot of ad love by DC, and since I love old-school comic ads, every time I find one for PS I'll be posting it here.

Are you prepared? Well...are you?


Anonymous said...

'I am...the Phantom Commenter'!
(OK, actually, I left many anonymous comments on the JLA Satellite!)
I like what you're doing here! My only real experience with PS came from his JLA, B & B, and DCCP guest shots, so it's interesting to see his background as a 'mystery' character...not so much 'horror', since he's more than just a storyteller like (yeesh!) Cain and Abel.

The glimpses of the hatless Stranger were interesting. I'd seen him briefly without a hat (I think it was JLA #103), and noticed a resemblance to...don't laugh...Leslie Nielsen!
But in the panels you posted, I'd have to agree with your John Carradine comment...or maybe an older Jimmy Stewart. I still think Nielsen, in his pre-comedy days as a character actor, had a suitably mysterious voice which could have worked for a Hollywood adaptation.
Anybody else have any ideas for 'Phantom Stranger: The Movie'?
Good luck with this new blog; I'll definitely be checking in!

Anonymous said...

Great blog! An issue-by-issue recap is more than I had hoped for. I've always been fond of PS and I'm enjoying this a lot. The idea of a "narrator" who becomes involved in the story but isn't necessarily the main focus seemed like a novel approach to me back then. I too like the precise, workman-like quality of the Infantino stories, just as I did Bruno Premiani's early work. It bears a resemblance to fashion illustration. The closing panels of "When Ghosts Walk" still carry a chill after all these years.

Anonymous said...

Funny how "non-super heroey" PS looks in these early tales. He's downright Vertigo-esque here!


rob! said...


thanks for the kind words. and yes, we'll be talking about each and every PS appearance, in order of publishing, right up until today.

including the one time he appeared in a comic NOT published by DC...

Dale said...

Thanks for the memories! What fun to discover your blog,as I was a Phantom Stranger addict as a kid. I still have this issue No. 1 in my possession,was a subscriber in the 70s (when they used to FOLD the issues before mailing them!)and was crushed when the book was discontinued. As the 80s dawned,I drifted away from the world of comics. But it's enjoyable to revisit. Take Care!

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