Saturday, January 31, 2009

Justice League of America #211 - Feb. 1983

The Justice League of America in "The Devil's Bargain!"

This part two of the "When A World Dies Screaming!" three-part story, and it involves the JLA--and the citizens of Earth--caught between two alien races (you can go to my JLA Satellite blog for a more detailed examination of the story, parts one, two, and three).

The Phantom Stranger appeared on the cover and the splash page of the first issue, but here in part two he finally shows up to help out:

This is the Stranger's only appearance in this issue, but as we'll see in two days, he finally gets to do something in the conclusion.

Like I've said before, I think, for the JLA, The Phantom Stranger was the proverbial canary in the coal mine. If he didn't feel the need to stick around, you probably breathed a sigh of relief--the trouble's not so bad, it's probably just Dr. Light or something.

But when he says something like "I appear when I am needed, and as I judge the situation, I am needed now." Uh-oh!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #10 - Feb. 1983

The Phantom Stranger in "...By All That's Holy!"

Part two of the story involving the haunted St. Sebastian's, we ended last issue with the head of the construction company, a man named Malley, as he tries to see who tried to kill him so he wouldn't tear the church down.

When he got to the church's balcony, he and The Phantom Stranger were met by stone statues that came to life! But the weirdness just begins there:

They then meet who is in charge of all this demonic hugger-mugger:
I love how comfortable the Stranger looks when dealing with beings like this. Fred Carillo even gives him a slight smile in the second panel! All part of the job when you're The Phantom Stranger.

Turns out these beings are the magical, mutated descendants of a group of people who were burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. They ended up hiding in this church to be safe from persecution, where they have stayed ever since.

Once they were discovered by the church's pastor, they killed him to keep him silent. Now they have a similar fate in store for Malley and the Stranger!

They are tied to the church's massive bell, and then Rasputin brings out a magical replica of a tabernacle, which represents the gargoyle's first time they stayed in the church and found food and safety. Once its broken open, the bell will be rung. But that's not what happens--instead, the tabernacle emits a high-pitched scream:
A few days later, deconstruction of the church begins again. As two of his workers carry out one of the gargoyle statues, they comment on having never seen something so lifelike.

Malley mentions having indeed seen something like that, once before...

I found this story a little confusing, as to how the Stranger and Malley get free, and how Rasputin and his gargoyles are defeated, exactly, but with only six pages to work with, the story had to move a brisk clip. In any case, Fred Carrillo does a great job, especially on the fifth page, which is dynamically rendered.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Justice League of America #210 - Jan. 1983

The Justice League of America in "...When A World Dies Screaming!"

This is an "Untold Story from the JLA Casebook", by Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler, and Romeo Tanghal, featuring the then-entire JLA plus off-and-on member The Phantom Stranger:

This cover and splash page are the Stranger's only appearances in this issue, but rest assured he will take part in the story in parts two and three!

This story was originally done as a treasury-sized JLA comic around 1977, but when DC scaled back the original material-treasuries it was shelved. A few years later, editor Len Wein dusted it off an put it in three consecutive issues of the regular JLA title.

So while this is the last appearance the Stranger made with the JLA in terms of publishing history (since it takes place a few years earlier), JLA #200 remains the last chronological meeting of the Stranger and the World's Greatest Super-Heroes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #9 - Jan. 1983

The Phantom Stranger in "Sanctuary of Shadow"!

Mike W. Barr is gone from The Phantom Stranger strip, replaced by Joey Cavalieri, with Fred Carrillo still on the art:

With the church's pastor now dead, the already-withering group of parishioners dwindles so low that St. Sebastian's is to be closed.

A few days later, as the construction crew gets ready to tear the church down, a hurricane-force wind nearly blows their wrecking ball over.

Most of the workers get spooked, and walk off the job:
The Stranger saves the foreman from being crushed by the statue, but warns him of the evil spirits afoot.

He thinks this is all nonsense, and ignores the Stranger. He heads for the church's balcony to look for who tried to kill him, but all he finds is The Phantom Stranger waiting there for him.

Well, that's not everything he finds:

To be continued!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #8 - Dec. 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "If The Sword Should Slay The Dove"!

Part two of the Amanda Dove story, last issue ended with The Phantom Stranger agreeing to accompany Amanda into the recesses of her memory, in an attempy to deal with the ghosts that are haunting her, and her task of...ending a war?

This current war is being waged by General John Whitman, the reincarnation of Amanda's first lover:

The Stranger and Amanda head to San Jacinto, where they make their way to the base camp run by Whitman.

Of course, he has no time for this weird guy and his companion, but the Stranger helps him remember:
Later, in the heart of the jungle, we see the band of rebels that are fighting the Americans. The Stranger is there, too, and renders their ammo useless with just the wave of his hand. He warns their leader, a man named Domingo, that he has "Pitted nation against nation long enough."

Soon, the Army attacks, and as the rebels fight, Domingo sees their going to lose and tries to escape. But the Army is there, and they arrest him.

Seems like the end of the story, but there's one last act:

Wow, kind of a grim ending--sure, Amanda and her love are together always, but still!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #7 - Nov. 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "The Haunting of Amanda Dove"!

Previous Phantom Stranger artist Fred Carrillo makes a return appearance with the Stranger, drawing this two-part story involving reincarnation and eternal love:

Amanda Dove is distraught when she receives a letter from the government, telling her her fiance, Pvt. Tony Smith, has been killed in action.

She is driven mad when she sees a series of ghosts--all dressed in different military uniforms--calling out to her. She is so terrified that she almost falls out her apartment window, but The Phantom Stranger is there to save her!

The Stranger offers to help her with her torment, but he finds there is a part of her soul even he cannot reach. He then gets a message from on high:
Amanda recalls being in love with a Roman Centurian named Marcus, and how she convinced him to go to war, saying she could not love a coward. The very next day, Marcus is killed in battle. The other soldiers wonder why a man so unsuited to combat would volunteer for such a duty.

This opens the flood gates of Amanda's memory:
To be continued!

At a mere six pages, Mike W. Barr didn't have a lot of space to work with, so it makes sense that he would turn this into a two-parter. Be here tomorrow to see the conclusion!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #6 - Oct. 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "...Till Death Do Us Join"!

Dan Spiegle is back as the artist for the Phantom Stranger back-up, and we're also back to the kinds of stories the Stranger starred in before the Tannarak two-parter.

This story opens with the young woman being attended to suddenly dying, for no good reason. As the paramedics cart her body off, we cut to a high-rise, where we see...the same young woman!:
The Phantom Stranger demands that this man--who presumably is Death itself--give Margaret Brennan "back", because it is not her time.

Death refuses, and The Phantom Stranger actually threatens Death. Even Death is a little taken aback.

But the Margaret interjects, and says her life was lonely and miserable, and she doesn't want to go back. She...loves Death! Eww!

Outside the door, they hear a small child crying. Death basically tries to shuffle the kid into the Great Beyond, but he's scared and resists. Margaret takes the kid, calms him down, and assures the kid that his Daddy is waiting for him on the other side. When the kid hears his Dad call for him, he cheerfully heads into the light, disappearing.

Margaret has found the calling in Death she never found in life
I find this story profoundly creepy. There's something about the matter-of-fact manner in which its told: Dan Spiegle eschews moody shadows and instead goes for the boring, tasteful look of your average upper-end hotel; it just happens to house Death and a portal to the other side.

Also, I like how The Phantom Stranger has the cojones to threaten Death itself, and yet Margaret pushes him aside--she wants to be dead. *shudder*

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #5 - Sept. 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "...But The Patient Died!"

The rare two-parter concludes with this issue, under writer Mike W. Barr, penciller Howard Bender, and inker Tony DeZuniga. When we left him last issue, The Phantom Stranger was in the clutches of his old foe, Tannarak:

Tannarak's up to his old tricks, trying to trap souls in a collection of mystical jars, so that he can use them to become immortal.

While Tannarak performs his bizarre rituals, Dr. Rune happens to look into the operating room and sees that the Stranger volunteers his own life in order to save the young woman he operated on earlier that night:

While Tannarak fights off Dr. Rune's attack, the Stranger uses a mental command to get the young woman to enter the room and help free him.

This kicks off a battle of wills between the Stranger and Tannarak, and the young woman is pulled back and forth. Finally, the Stranger commands her to knock over the jar containing her soul.

She does, and it shatters, freeing her soul to re-enter her body. Now that she is no longer a soulless husk, she frees the Stranger from his mystical chains. As the Stranger collects himself, Tannarak realizes his time is up:
I love that last panel--one of the best, moodiest Phantom Stranger shots ever.

Is this really the end of Tannarak? Can we ever really be sure...?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #4 - Aug. 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "Hospital of Fear"!

Some changes are brought with this Phantom Stranger installment, as Dan Spiegle is replaced by Tony DeZuniga (who drew the Stranger once before, in Phantom Stranger #18). Also, after a few issues where the Stranger was sort of "hosting" other people's tales of woe, this one involves him directly:

After a car accident, a female patient is brought in for emergency surgery, and a surgeon named Dr. Rune is called in.

As we see rather quickly, Dr. Rune has some bizarre ways of practicing medicine:

After Dr. Rune heads back to his office, we see the woman suddenly wake up, get out of bed, and wander out into the hospital's hallway.

She's in a zombie-like trance, and after she is oblivious to another doctor's come on, he tells her to go take a flying leap. This advice she takes literally, and she climbs out onto a ledge, and jumps!

The Phantom Stranger arrives in time to catch her, and he returns the woman to the hospital, where Dr. Rune is waiting. The Phantom Stranger, spotting Rune's medallion, asks where he got it.

Rune blows the Stranger off, and when he asks some orderlies to escort this strange man out, he disappears.

Later, in Rune's office, we see him talking to a familiar face:
Meanwhile, The Phantom Stranger is following a mystic trail, which leads him to the operating room. He casts a spell to flood the room with light, but he is then attacked by a giant demon, which grabs the Stranger by the neck, knocking him out!

Later, the Stranger wakes up in the clutches of an old "friend":

To be continued!

Like I said, this installment of The Phantom Stranger is very different from the previous ones, even though it was written by the same writer, Mike W. Barr. A different artist, an appearance by one of the Stranger's foes, and a continued story, to boot. Be here tomorrow to see the conclusion!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #3 - July 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "The Beauty of The Beast"!

Mike W. Barr and Dan Spiegle continue their run on The Phantom Stranger back-up strip, in a tale about jealousy:

Two sisters, Rachel and Sue, seemingly couldn't be more different--Rachel is beautiful and outgoing, while Sue is homely and meek.

Rachel is a fashion model and Sue is her assistant, but we can see that, for all of Rachel's wealth, she is incredibly vain and greedy. Its up to Sue to show some kindness towards the blind homeless man who panhandles outside the building where Rachel just finished a photo shoot.

They go to a party at their friend Brad's apartment, and Rachel wonders why only the three of them are there. Brad promises to explain, but pours the women some tea bought during a trip he made to Tibet.

The tea puts Rachel into a zombie-like trance. Once Brad reveals another Tibetan object, an idol of some sort, The Phantom Stranger appears and tries to step in:

Brad casts a spell, with the help of the talisman and some incantations, and we see that the souls of Rachel and Sue switch bodies! Sue is delighted to now be beautiful, while Rachel stares into the mirror, confused and horrified.

Over the next few weeks, we see what these changes have wrought. While there's an initial change in how each of them acts (Rachel now appears to be kind to the blind man, etc.), eventually they start to assume their old roles. Sue, formerly the kind one, in Rachel's body now acts just like the real Rachel did.

Sue, still inside Rachel's body, is horrified to see herself change, and eventually she decides to kill herself before she gets any worse.

She jumps off a bridge, but the Stranger is there to catch her. He takes her back to Brad's apartment:
...the end.

A sweet story, and its interesting to see that The Phantom Stranger performed a little mystical plastic surgery on Sue.

To be honest, I think Brad maybe needed to get a little divine punishment, for mucking around with forces he didn't understand and couldn't control. But this seems to be a slightly more gentle Phantom Stranger than the one we knew from the Wein/Aparo days.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #2 - June 1982

The Phantom Stranger in "Soul on Fire"!

This issue features one of the most famous Swamp Thing covers ever, a photo cover featuring Dick Durock in his monster suit from the Swamp Thing movie.

In the back of the book, The Phantom Stranger's strip is now written by Mike W. Barr, with art again by Dan Spiegle:

I love this splash page--the way the whole top of the page is filled with fire really gives it an exciting, claustrophobic feel. Nicely done, Mr. Spiegle!

Inside the burning house, fireman Roger Jacobs tries to rescue a trapped little girl, when a giant burst of flame appears before him.

It appears to terrify Jacobs, and he falls to the floor in a panic. But he and the girl are about to be rescued by The Phantom Stranger:

As the fire rages, we cut to a small apartment across the city, where a woman and her small children still mourn the loss of their husband and father, Daniel, who was a fireman killed in the line of duty.

With just a fireman's pension to live off of, the kids are hungry and the cupboards are nearly bare. But The Phantom Stranger is here, too, and uses his powers in an act of kindness and generosity:
Back at the firehouse later that night, Roger Jacobs is still tormented by what he saw. He tells the Stranger (who has just arrived) that in the flames he saw the face of his friend Daniel Sweeney, Roger's best friend.

In the fire that killed Sweeney, Roger tried to save his friend, but was helpless. As he saved himself, Sweeney threatened revenge. And even though Jacobs knows he couldn't have done anything to save his friend, the guilt is tearing him up inside.

Jacobs lights a match for his pipe, and in the fire they both see the face of Daniel Sweeney! He again threatens Jacobs, but the Stranger reveals what his wife told him--that Sweeney was drunk that night, and his death was caused by his own carelessness!

When Sweeney threatens to burn them both, the Stranger counters with:

While this story is very, very brief, its one of my favorite Phantom Stranger stories.

I love the Stranger using his powers to feed Sweeney's hungry family, and the final panel to me is very haunting, no pun intended.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Saga of The Swamp Thing #1 - May 1982

The Phantom Stranger returns to a solo series!

With Wes Craven's Swamp Thing movie right around the corner, DC revived the Swamp Thing after years of not having a regular title to call his own. Produced by the team of Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates, Saga of The Swamp Thing proved to be a wonderfully creepy series, doing justice to the original creation by Len Wein (who was the editor on this series) and Berni Wrightson.

Unfortunately, this run was sandwiched in between the original, groundbreaking one, and an even more groundbreaking one by Alan Moore, leaving this series a little unappreciated in the history of the character.

But of course, that's not what we're here to talk about--we're here to discuss the return of The Phantom Stranger as solo series star, in a back-up strip in this book.

This first tale is by Bruce Jones and artist Dan Spiegle, and is titled "...In Shadowed Depths":

The reverend's words inspire the congregation, and an old, grizzled woman named Mama Balloo donates the little bit of money she has to the cause.

After the sermon is over, the
reverend meets up with her, but is angered to see she still wears a charm around her neck which is a symbol of voodoo. Mama Balloo claims its just for decoration, and they make plans to meet up the next day.

He then steps into a waiting limo, and the reverend is not all what he seems to be:

On her way home, Mama Balloo is mugged, but The Phantom Stranger is there as well, and makes quick work of the thugs.

The next day, the reverend shows up at Mama Balloo's tiny apartment, bringing her a box of chocolates. He asks her for a favor--for her to make a "delivery for the Lord", and we get the sense this is not the first time he has asked her to do this.

On the way to her destination, Mama Balloo runs into a young man named Pete, who used to belong to the voodoo cult she used to lead(!). An argument ensues, and the package is torn open, and we see inside are packages of heroin!

Later that night, the Reverend is attacked in a drive-by, but the Stranger reappears in time to save him:
Eventually, he makes his way back to Mama Balloo's house to pick up the package she was supposed to bring back with her, but he finds her sitting in the corner of her apartment, performing some sort of voodoo ceremony.

He grabs the box that contains the money, but:

Nice to see The Phantom Stranger back in his own strip, even if it is just as a back-up. With only nine pages to work with, the decision was made to have the stories be less about the Stranger and be more EC-style morality tales, with the Stranger taking part in them.

Dan Spiegle was an interesting choice to draw the strip, and his naturalistic style gives the story an extra layer of gritty realism.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #22/23 - March/April 1982

The Phantom Stranger showed up two more times in DC's digests, in two consecutive issues, around this time.

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #22 is a Christmas-themed collection, and it features this classic from Justice League of America #110:
It was in this digest that I first read this story, which hit me like a thunderbolt. It remains one of all-time favorite JLA stories, and The Phantom Stranger's guest appearance in the story just made it that much better.

Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest #23 was DC's annual "Year's Best" collection, and I bet everyone at DC knew that this story was one of--if not the--best story they put out in 1982:
Both these digest collections feature great stories and art, and were a great value for the average comic readers' hard won allowance money. Boy, do I miss them!

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