Or – “I’m Always A Little Leery When The Coach Wants In The Game…”

Dan Didio is a polarizing figure in the comic industry.  Whether you love him or hate him, it’s clear that he has very specific ideas about what does and doesn’t make for good comics.  His last few writing gigs (O.M.A.C., Outsiders and Metal Men) haven’t really impressed me, and two of them ended in the cancellation of the titles in question.  Will the revitalized version of one of DC’s oldest mystic types be the game-changer for him?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

PhantomStrangerCoverPHANTOM STRANGER #4
Writer(s): Dan Didio & J.M. DeMatteis
Penciler: Brent Anderson
Inker(s): Philip Tan & Rob Hunter
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Phantom Stranger:  Always a mysterious unknown figure in previous incarnations, the New 52 Phantom Stranger is expressly and deliberately identified as Judas Iscariot, biblical figure and betrayer of Jesus Christ.  For this betrayal, he has been sent out into the world to redeem himself, with his thirty silver piece reward as a necklace.  When each of the thirty pieces falls from the necklace, in theory, his labors will be finished.  Of course, there’s also the matter of his alternate identity as Philip Stark, normal husband and father.  There’s not way that THIS can end badly…


When I was young, the Phantom Stranger was kind of a big deal.  Explaining his origin was a big no-no, which led to the clever conceit of his ‘Secret Origins’ appearance being four conflicting ideas on what MIGHT have happened with the character.  In the New 52, we know everything about him, from his greatest sin to his thoughts on EVERYTHING, as the character vocalizes every single thought that comes into his head.  This issue starts with a cute moment, as “Phil Stark” shops with his wife, and cannot choose a hat due to deep philosophical concerns, but it swiftly flies off the rails as the Stranger is summoned to the House of Mystery by John Constantine.  The meeting of former Stranger and now-cancelled Hellblazer is an odd one, with the JL Dark (whose membership changes more often than Stephen’s socks) standing by as their boss tries to recruit the man in the snappy navy-blue leisure suit.  Constantine’s characterization is pretty solid, and he’s one of the only characters in the issue to get off lightly in the dialogue department, with everyone else in expositionary cliché mode.  (Poor Frankenstein is saddled with “How did you dooo that?  How…” as he is summarily punked out by the lead character.)


The pacing is suspect as well, with each JLD member attacking one-at-a-time like the proverbial pack of movie ninjas, and a two-page monologue by Constantine does set him up as a bad-@$$, at the expense of the Phantom Stranger’s character.  When he leaves the House of Mystery to return to the clothing store, even though he has proven himself quite powerful, he seems like an ineffectual whiner, Dante Hicks with arcane powers.  The super-clichéd (and strangely plotted) second half of the issue isn’t any better, ending with a long conversation and a revelation that Matt Murdock could see coming.  Visually, the issue is nice, though, with Brent Anderson channeling a real sense of darkness and menace into the House of Mystery, and making the Stranger look as good as he has under any artist since Neal Adams back in the day.  Even Frankenstein looks good this issue, making me wonder if his book would still be around if it looked this good.  Sadly, as Jay’s grandmother will tell you, a beautiful plate with nothing on it is still…  Something.  $#!+, I $&$@#ed that up.  Anyway, that Veronica chick is hot!


The first problem that I had with the issue, actually, was the cover by Jae Lee.  While I understand why people like his work, not every title is appropriate for his “endless-folds-of-fabric-on-weirdly-greasy-people” style, and that negative perception sets the issue off on bad footing.  Admittedly, I love the old version of the Phantom Stranger, and I’m extremely uncomfortable with overtly Judeo-Christian elements in a world filled with demons, psychic monkeys and a dozen other concepts that mesh very oddly with the biblical themes.  DeMatteis is responsible for dialoguing many books that I love, but this issue is filled with page after page of clunky exposition and melodramatic declarations, without anything really HAPPENING.  The Phantom Stranger #4 doesn’t look bad at all, but ends up being an awkward, predictable and dull read, earning 1.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆


Reader Rating

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 3.00 out of 5)

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. Oldcomicfan
    January 13, 2013 at 7:18 am — Reply

    The Phantom Stranger Meets Justice Dark! Dude, just turn the lights on! Let’s see, we have a protagonist who used to only be found in the backup stories my favorite comics, meeting a super team that I don’t care about. I guess I’ll be giving this one a pass, too. Some of the choices DC made to include in the New 52 were downright strange – if you’ll pardon the pun – and quickly cancelled, and it looks like DC hasn’t learned their lesson yet. There’s a reason why folks don’t go around collecting Phantom Stranger action figures, Phantom Stranger trading cards, wearing Phantom Stranger T-shirts or Phantom Stranger caps, or demanding Phantom Stranger graphic novels. No. Body. Cares. Much.

    • Keltrick
      March 6, 2013 at 11:04 am — Reply

      I would be sorely disappointed if they only put out comic titles they thought everybody and their Mother would buy a t-shirt over. If it becomes a liability, it will be canceled, don’t worry. If it finds a niche, maybe not. I understand the point of view, but it just sounds like “If it isn’t interesting to the majority, don’t publish it.”

  2. Richard Baron
    January 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm — Reply

    I care. Much. I’ve got a collection going back to all 6 issues from the 1950’s. And bluntly, I don’t care for the character’s new motivation no matter how much I like some of the story elements. In my view, the best issues were by Len Wein from the second series, and that isn’t likely to change.

    The key about the character, I think, is what I read in someone’s blog: proof the universe really does give a $#^(&! The character fought evil in the metaphysical sense of helping others who were faced with a choice pick the path which led to “good.” So, when he used magic, it was best used to help the person pick the right path, not force the person onto it.

    Now, we’ve got a whiner on our hands. Seeking redemption is an old, hackneyed plot line. I’m hoping that all of this turns out to be some sort of illusion, and the Stranger returns to his more classic, and classy, role.

  3. Keltrick
    March 20, 2013 at 12:47 am — Reply

    To Matthew specifically, I have a question. Why uncomfortable? I can understand, and in fact sympathize with the overt and blunt attitude of the Judeo-Christian elements. I think from a literary perspective, heavily alluding to, but not ever confirming, these things would have been a much better route. That being said, plenty of stuff goes on in the Marvel universe in a similar vein. It’s a bit weird how Thor, straight up a god of a specific religion, ends up interacting with many supernatural characters. Some characters even deal with OTHER, contradictory religions, but it never makes me uncomfortable that Thor and Ghost Rider coexist. My general rule is “all religions are right in some way, and don’t think about it too hard.” If we can watch the son of Odin go on an adventure, and not worry or feel uncomfortable about the ramification, why can’t the same be done for Judeo-Christian mythology(not implying anything). Personally I think Pandora and Judas, interacting with each other sounds like an amazing concept. Figures of history, story and mythology, not just religion. Does christian mythology register on a different scale, because it’s so prevalent in our society?

    I know you don’t waste time reading EVERY comment, from every post you’ve ever made, especially older ones, but if you reply it would be interesting to hear.

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