Will the Phantom Stranger shed some of his silver necklace? Will he betray perfectly nice people for less-than-clear reasons? Find out the details of this not-quite-debut issue in this Major Spoilers review.
Dialogue feels quite natural
The reveal of who Phantom Stranger really is
Previously in Phantom Stranger: In what could be described as a poorly thought-out transaction, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Now condemned to walk the earth as the Phantom Stranger, he does the bidding of a Higher Power as penance for his betrayal.
TOO LITTLE MYSTERY, TOO MUCH EXPOSITION
I’ll get this out of the way right up front: I thought it was a huge mistake in the Zero Issue to explicitly reveal the Stranger to be Judas Iscariot; now that we know who he is/was, he’s not really a stranger anymore, is he? I feel like the decision to make him Jesus’ betrayer was done just to facilitate the 30-pieces-of-silver necklace atonement gimmick.
Now, having said that, I quite enjoyed this issue. The Stranger finds a woman, Rachel, with the mystical ability to absorb the pain and sorrow of others and use it to create her own shadowy minions. She’s on the run from her father and the Stranger says he’ll take her to some people who can teach her to use her powers properly. Hey, this Stranger is an awesome guy! Oh, wait, he’s a serial betrayer.
Rachel’s father is the demon Trigon, who’s looking to bring her into the family business of dominating the souls of the damned and preparing to conquer the Earth. Trigon and the Stranger have a conversation about the Stranger’s nature which is really just a poorly concealed exposition dump for folks who may have missed the Zero Issue. The rest of the book’s dialogue feels quite natural—or at least as natural as you can get in a book about the undead Judas walking the earth doing God’s will—but a couple of times the Stranger came off as too much of a regular guy, which felt like a misstep.
At the issue’s end the Stranger returns to his unexpectedly bucolic home and we get to see a taste of his home life as he hangs up his cloak and fedora as he greets his … wife and kids? I suppose it’s hard to have a book’s protagonist remain constantly shrouded, but I’m not sure how I feel about seeing the Stranger’s face so soon. Given his character model, though, I’m surprised he didn’t start going on about mutant rights and that damnable Charles Xavier.
COUNT FLOYD SCARY, BUT NOT REAL SCARY
While I can’t call this issue’s art haunting, it did evoke that spooky kind of feeling I get when I go back and read old issues of “Swamp Thing” and “Hellblazer”—this some serious, mystical stuff going on so don’t take it lightly. The book is heavy on the pencil work and Brett Anderson manages to capture the artistic vibe of some of those old Trenchcoat Brigade-type stories. The faces are quite detailed and emotive overall, but Rachel wasn’t showing nearly enough fear and loathing toward the end of the book, but you can only too so much when a face is a small part of a panel’s larger canvas.
Trigon was the artistic highlight of the book for me—at just a glance you can tell he’s huge, menacing and implicitly cruel. Superficially at least he’s an extremely well-designed character and the details on his face and armaments are nice touches; I want a poster of him.
Each panel, for the most part, has something to say and contributes to the story and there are even a few standout images buried within: Rachel summoning a shadow and Trigon’s appearance/hellish doings are fantastic examples of large-panel presentations.
BOTTOM LINE: IT’S EARNED ANOTHER CHANCE
Even though I’m a little miffed at the New 52’s demystification of the character, “Phantom Stranger” #1 was an engaging read, even though the story is still trying to ease people into the title. I’m a fan of these magicky books and thus predisposed to enjoy it, so bear that in mind before you pick up a copy. If you’re looking for a non-cape story to read, then this is worth picking up, but I’m not totally sold yet. I’ll see how it goes over the next couple of issues before I decide to drop it or keep it, but it’s a solid effort for an under served character and I hope the things I perceive as flaws in the book eventually lead to some great stories and revelations. Three stars.