Friday, December 12, 2008

The Phantom Stranger #31 - July 1974

The Phantom Stranger gets caught between two warring cultures!

Definitely not of the book's best covers kicks off this issue, with a story by Arnold Drake and Gerry Talaoc called:

The priests of the temple beg the army not to set foot in their temple, but they refuse. While there, a Marshall Feng arrives, and for his services, the army's General demands his "stuff." Feng refuses to give it to him just yet, and even the General threatening to kill Feng over it doesn't change his mind.

Feng shows the General that the monks are working on "The Puzzle Wall of Kang", a maze that supposedly has been keeping the Demon-God Kang trapped for thousands of years.

As the General inspects the area, we learn what the "stuff" is:

The General demands The Phantom Stranger be arrested, but of course he disappears before that can happen.

Suddenly, a fight breaks out among the monks and the soldiers, and in the melee its discovered that one of the monks is an undercover C.I.A. agent(!). He's taken out and shot by Meng's people, as the General reflects on his life:


"...hold his nose until 1984!"...?

We see how the General got hooked on junk, and how Meng is stringing him along, with the promise of drugs, to get him to what he wants. He's so lost in his reverie that he doesn't even notice that the Stranger has reappeared:

The competing army starts shooting at the temple, and so the General returns fire.

In the ensuing battle the giant puzzle wall is destroyed, unleashing the horrible Demon-God Kang, who is one goofy-looking demon:

sg, okay, what?

I found this story confusing as heck to follow, and it probably reads even more confusing here.

While Gerry Talaoc has hit moments with the art (the second panel above, with the General and the Stranger I find quite striking), there are moments here where I'm not sure who or what I'm looking at, who destroys the puzzle wall, why, etc. Plus the whole General-hooked-on-smack sub-plot is confusing, extraneous detail.

A new back-up feature starts this issue, The Black Orchid:

This issue's letters page is unusual, in that it features just one letter, a one-paragraph missive again bashing the magazine's new direction.

The rest of the page is then filled by the comments of editor Joe Orlando, explaining that it wasn't his idea to lose Wein and Aparo and defending DC's decision to replace them with Drake and Talaoc. It's a refreshingly honest discussion as to how and why decisions like this are made, and we'll see what effect it had on readers and their feelings about the new Phantom Stranger.


Anonymous said...

I didn't get it either. Meng, Feng, Kang...difficult to understand who was doing what to whom or why. I do like the idea of a "puzzle wall" keeping an ancient demon at bay, though. But one that wears tan slacks?
The Dezuniga art on the Black Orchid really piqued my interest with this character, I remember. But unfortunately he didn't stay with the strip. I wonder if he designed her look?

Johnny Bacardi said...

DeZuniga was the original Orchid artist, so I'd say so.

This was the first issue of PS I ever owned, bought off the spinner rack in the summer of '74. I had had my curiosity provoked by the earlier Justice League appearances, and IIRC I was looking for something different to spend my 25¢ on. Even though the story is disjointed, to say the least, I didn't care at 14 and wound up a fan for life of the character. Of course, getting #24 a couple of months later at a used book store really cemented my fandom, because I was already a big fan of both Wein and Aparo but had not seen any of their PS stories. Needless to say I tracked 'em all down after that!

I've been having a lot of fun going through all the entries here; nice job!

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