Monday, March 16, 2009

The Phantom Stranger (Vol.3) #1 - Oct. 1987

"The Heart of a Stranger" by Paul Kupperberg, Mike Mignola, and P. Craig Russell.

After over a decade being always being guest in someone else's home, The Phantom Stranger starred in this four issue mini-series:

Commissioner Gordon is right--something definitely is in the air. We see from a news broadcast that it seems that the world itself is falling apart, with a huge earthquake hitting Romania, the third such quake to hit in the last two weeks.

The grim news is taken in by one Dr. Bruce Gordon, who seems to be suffering from some internal torment. He leaves his apartment, out into the night, wondering if "it" will never end. We see, off in the distance, a stranger is watching.

We also see that earthquakes are not the only problem--erupting volcanoes, tidal waves, avalanches, and other atmospheric troubles seem to be afflicting the planet, all at the same time.

As if that wasn't bad enough, political tensions between the U.S. and Russia are at an all-time high, leading to a fistfight on the floor of the U.N. (gee, I didn't know John Bolton was working there then)!

Meanwhile, in Metropolis, cub reporter Jimmy Olsen smells a story--why is a lowly mob clerk the first to make bail after a huge bust? And why is he heading for the Soviet Consulate?!?

As if that wasn't enough, we see that some people are taking all these events as a sign:

The leader of the Divine Light Temple tells his flock that it is they who will judge the rest of the world--the wicked.

The Phantom Stranger steps in, declaring that their leader is evil, and that he is here to save them.

When the Stranger reveals him to be Lycaon, Chosen of Chaos, he tries to convince the Stranger to join his following. But the Stranger is having none of it:

The Stranger battles the demon, one of the Lords of Darkness, and tries to stop these innocents from having their souls devoured.

The fight is momentarily stopped when Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD arrive. Gordon, having some experience with the unusual, just starts firing his pistol at the demon (somewhere, Batman is smiling).

Strangely enough, it seems to work! The demon recoils in pain, and disappears. The Stranger is flummoxed.

Like he does all the time, the Stranger disappears before too many questions get asked. He is alone, pondering why his offer of self-sacrifice was disregarded. Is it because he cannot truly die, and therefore his sacrifice is...meaningless?

Meanwhile, an accident has occurred in Newark, NJ, causing poisonous pesticides to fill the air, causing mass evacuations. As Bruce Gordon listens to the news, he drowns his sorrows in booze.

Also meanwhile(!), at the Soviet Consulate, we see a Colonel Vostok--aka Negative Woman of the Doom Patrol--trying to locate an undercover agent. It seems someone has taken him...but she doesn't know who.

Finally, some of these seemingly random events begin to coalesce. In some dank dungeon, an imprisoned man is executed, on the orders of...Eclipso!

Eclipso tells the Stranger that, as the cosmos nears its end, "The rules are changing", meaning that many of the Stranger's powers are ineffectual against Eclipso's plot with the Lords of Darkness.

Eclipso says the Stranger is fated to lose. The Stranger seems to accept this, but, before he leaves, promises Eclipso he will "Know the wrath of a stranger."

Later that night, at S.T.A.R. Labs:

To be continued!

Whew! Paul Kupperberg delivers a wallop of a first issue, giving us several storylines that seems disconnected but you know are not. He also works in disparate members of the DCU--Comissioner Gordon, Jimmy Olsen, Eclipso, Negative Woman--all the while giving The Phantom Stranger a hell of a problem to deal with.

The story's quality is matched by the moody yet exciting art by Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell, who were equally at home drawing magical demons as they were the cluttered offices of S.T.A.R. Labs.

As if that's not enough, Kupperberg serves up a two-page editorial at the end of the book, detailing a history of the character, and how this mini-series came about. Around this time, DC was frequently letting the writers of various mini-series serve as quasi-editors of the series (Neil Pozner wrote the text pieces for his superb 1986 Aquaman mini-series), a touch I really enjoyed.

A rollicking start to the series, be here tomorrow for Part 2!

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