Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Better Know A Hero: Phantom Stranger

2 Guys Buying Comics has been apprised of the fact that a good portion of our visitors are just getting back into comics. We now present the fifth installation of our weekly feature, Better Know A Hero.

Name: Phantom Stranger

Also Known As: MISTER Phantom Stranger, SIR!

Origin: This one's a toughie, because DC's never really come outright and given us a definitive origin; there was a Secret Origins issue some years back that gave us three or four possible origins if I remember correctly, but nothing ever really got nailed down.

The beauty of that is that you get to project your own origin on one of DC's uber-characters! Want him to be a fallen angel cast down from Heaven? Okay, then! Want him to be the physical embodiment of the insane consciousness of the last member of a dying race of sentient alien fire hydrants? Done!

(Side Note: Don't laugh. You can't tell me that hasn't crossed Grant Morrison's mind once or twice. Grant, if you're reading: call me. I have ideas.)

Powers: Pick one. Energy bolts? Check. Teleportation? Sure, why not? While we're at it, let's throw in telepathy, omniscience, intangibility, the ability to drone on for hours about "dark portents" and "cosmic order" and anything else that was required in any given issue he showed up in. I'm dead serious --- near as I can tell, the one constant ability dude has was the ability to scare the living shit out of someone by appearing unannounced right in front of them. (Which is still a really cool power.) The point is, PS can do whatever the writer needs him to do.

How's The Costume?: Oh, man, there is a reason the Phantom Stranger is inherently cool, and the costume's a big part of it. That cape! That fedora! That massively oversized gold medallion! And what sensible slacks! PS was a hustler pimp daddy, the original gangsta with an ice-cold stare made all the creepier by the lack of pupils and shadow eternally cast over his eyes. (No, it's not actually a mask. I know, I was surprised too.)

Alter Ego: Phantom Stranger doesn't need an alter ego, Mortal.

Home Cookin': PS is a rolling stone; wherever he lays his hat is his home.

Chillin' At The Crib: Sometimes he hangs out at the Oblivion bar with the rest of the DCU magicky types, but I prefer to think that he has a lushly appointed swingin' bachelor pad complete with shag carpet and a beanbag chair he made out of the hides of demons.

Can He Fight?: It's really not so much about the fighting with PS as it is the stern looks, ominously vague prophetic warnings, and reality-altering magic that mysteriously at the last minute he won't use for fear of upsetting some cosmic balance or rulebook or some twaddle like that. So, um, yes in the sense that he scares away 99% of would be combatants before the fight ever starts; no in the sense that we rarely see him throw down.

Allies: He's actually a member of the Justice League, believe it or not, (though he never brings the things he signs up for to the potlucks). Cassandra Craft, Zatanna, and the Shadowpact are his most recent cohorts. Back in the day, ran with Swamp Thing and John Constantine, Vertigo-style.

Enemies: Whoever he damn well decides is going to be an enemy. Mostly anybody evil or threatening to upset the Cosmic Balance of Destiny, Order, And/Or Fateā„¢.

Symbol: Taking suggestions, although I'm partial to either his big ol' medallion or the fedora.

Family Matters: Your guess is as good as mine, although he did have a very brief dalliance with Cassandra Craft once upon a time.

Might Be Cool To: Have him materialize in your neighbor's kitchen and steal all the ham out of their fridge, then repeat this several times a week until the neighbor goes mad, raving about the Ham-Thief Ghost as he's carted off to the looney bin while you and PS enjoy some ham sandwiches gratis. Go bowling with.

Under No Circumstances: Refer back to that time not so long ago when Mr. Big Bad Phantom Stranger was turned into a mouse by the Spectre. Yank his chain, literally or figuratively.

Annual Performance Review: The last I saw of PS, he was rebuilding the Rock of Eternity with the Shadowpact and beating down the Spectre. Let's face it: people are afraid to use the Phantom Stranger in their comics because they Cannot Deal With The Power. He was my choice to be a regular recurring character (or at least a narrator) for the new Brave and the Bold series, but Mark Waid and George Perez certainly don't need my input, thanks very much.

What Makes Him So Special, Anyway?: I have always adored the Phantom Stranger. He's dark, mysterious, typically alone, with vaguely defined powers and conflicting backstories. The Stranger's look is an iconic one; there's just something commanding about a strangely sinister-looking nigh-omnipotent dude in a zoot suit.

He's part Shadow, part Doctor Strange, part Omniscient Narrator and Greek Chorus, and immediately increases the cool factor of any comic he shows up in, even if that comic is Gotham County Line.

DC has produced a magnificent Showcase volume, as well, so check out the original stuff by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, although personally I prefer the mid-80's appearances and his cameo in the Zatanna series in which he goes out to buy bread. Seriously.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recall reading some years ago that he was one of the Roman guards who stood by as Jesus was crucified, and was cursed to walk the earth righting wrongs in penance.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, No, No. He's a Time Traveller sent back from the end of the universe.

8:10 AM  
Blogger SallyP said...

Ah, the opera cape. And the hat and the gloves. *sigh* So delightfully classic. Not quite so thrilled with the white turtleneck, but I can live with it.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Johnny B said...

PS has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager...

I wouldn't mind seeing them go back to the 50's style fedora, suit & tie/trenchcoat look, but the 70's look has stayed remarkably fresh and is certainly better than the dumb-looking brown coat and tattered hat that Guy Davis drew him in in the Vertigo one-shot in the 90's. A rare misstep for Davis!

So Chris, didn't ya like the Len Wein/Jim Aparo Stranger stories? Most consider that run the best...

9:49 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Anon 1: I like that one too!

Anon 2: Ah, the Galactus-ish origin. Another candidate, but not my favorite.

Sally: Yeah, the gloves deserve special mention.

Johnny: I've read a handful of them (including some that I seem to remember being drawn by Neal Adams), and you're right, they were pretty kickass. I think I'm tied to the 80's version because that's when I discovered PS's awesomeness as a kid. :-)

Hopefully if DC releases a second Showcase volume I'll get to sample more of the PS goodness.

11:10 AM  
Blogger kyle-latino said...

Yeah, all that, and he doesn't cry as much as Superman.

10:39 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

I keep getting him confused with the one from Squadron Supreme, who, now that I think of it, was probably based on Phantom Stranger.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Siskoid said...

That issue of Secret Origins is well worth checking out.

Is there a member of the Trenchcoat Brigade who ISN'T cool?

5:24 AM  

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