Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #30 - May 1974

The Phantom Stranger takes on a mad cult made of...children!

Inside my near-mint copy of The Phantom Stranger #30 is "The Children's Crusade!" by Arnold Drake and Gerry Talaoc:

The cops try and arrest the group of kids, but their leader waves his arms and emits some sort of pink smoke which fills the square. By the time the smoke is dispersed, the cops see he and the kids are gone!

They follow him back to their headquarters, a creepy-looking old house. They talk strategy when they hear over the radio that a committee of three clergymen want to meet with The Children of Baal the next morning at City Hall.

They do meet the town's clergy, and discuss their points of view. One of the kids' mother begs her son, Mitch, to come home, and the leader demands to be allowed to speak from the pulpit on Sunday



The little girl, Marian, sees a mental image of the demon Baal leading a parade of children, Pied Piper-style, out of town. The leader takes that as his cue to spread the word of Baal to the rest of the world.

But suddenly The Phantom Stranger is there, comforts the little girl who is tortured by her visions, and does battle with the cult's leader, whom he calls Joseph Vail.

He is angered and confused as to how the Stranger know who he is, and he returns the Stranger's magic with some of his own, blasting him the Stranger into unconsciousness.

Vail leads his children into a nearby chalk cave, where they bow in front of a picture of Baal and Vail begins to chant:

Vail asks the picture of Baal to smite the Stranger, and that seems to happen, with a bolt of energy flying out of it towards the Stranger.

But of course that's an illusion, and the Stranger continues his march towards Vail, and this time even Vail's powers can't seem to stop him:

So far, I haven't been all that thrilled with Arnold Drake's Stranger stories, and this one isn't all that great either, but there is one part I do love--this final page, where the Stranger turns Vail into a drooling idiot, by reverting him back to being a child, but now a child in a grown man's body. Creepy.

This issue's letter column features the first responses to the book's new creative team, and, whoo boy, they are not good:

sg to editor Joe Orlando for printing these, since of course he didn't have to. He hopes that readers will eventually warm to the new Drake/Talaoc team, but as we'll see that didn't really come to pass.


Anonymous said...

Ugh. I can't think of anything positive to say about this story at all. Way off the mark. Nobody's reaction to anything that happened here was plausible at all. Drake really screwed the pooch with this one.
I kind of cheated and went to the Grand Comicbook Database and looked up this run of P.S. to see what was in store for the upcoming issues...David Michelinie will be taking over the writing reins soon, and I really liked his work for Marvel in the 80's, so that's something to look forward to.
And even though I love, love, love early 70's Aparo, I can't jump on the anti-Talaoc bandwagon, as it seems so many readers of the time did. I'm sure it must have come as a big disappointing shock to pick up a copy of P.S. and see his artwork instead of Aparo's, but there's a dense flourish to it I kind of like. But then I liked all the Spanish-influenced artwork in Creepy and Eerie as well.

Richard said...

One point: from the panels you offer here, it's apparent that the Stranger doesn't turn Vail into a drooling idiot or a vegetable. Instead, the Stranger did a common household variety exorcism -- it's just that, because poor Joey was continuously possessed since he was two years old, when the demon left him Joey had only a two-year-old's mental development. This is clearly what Drake had in mind, but his explanation might be a little less clear than it could have been.

And yeah, that last page is so clearly the work of the same writer who gave us over-the-top high camp crossed with pathos in The Doom Patrol. I wish he'd been more in evidence here.

On a side note, I can't recall ever disagreeing with Richard Morrissey about a comic, and this is no exception. (I would have loved to know what he'd make of Grant Morrison's Superman or Batman.)

rob! said...


*doh*! i read this story years ago, and didn't bother to re-read it before posting about it. (bad blogger!) obviously i either misremembered or misunderstood just was PS did to Vail at the end. duly corrected, thanks for the catch!

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