The Phantom Stranger first appeared in his own series, publication date August/September 1952, by John Broome and Carmine Infantino. It lasted six issues. After an appearance in Showcase #80 (February, 1969), he received another series on May-June 1969 that lasted until February-March 1976. The first four issues (including the Showcase) consisted of reprints from both the Stranger's 50s title and the Dr. 13: Ghost-Breaker feature from the last nine issues of Star Spangled Comics at the same time, with new, brief framing sequences. These had Thirteen, certain that the Stranger was a fake, determined to expose him. Beginning with issue #4, November-December 1969, the comic went all-new, with stories produced by Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Tony DeZuniga, and others. In these stories, while the Stranger's past remained a mystery, the writers added a semi-regular cast of characters for him. A blind psychic named Cassandra Craft (first appeared in #17, January-February 1972) would assist him, an alchemist/sorcerer named Tannarak (first appeared in #10, November-December 1970) was first an enemy and would later assist him against the Dark Circle (first appeared in #20, July-August 1972) and a demonic sorceress named Tala (first appeared in #4) would become his major personal enemy. The stories hinted at a romantic attraction between the Stranger and Craft, but he eventually left her, deciding she could not be part of his life, convincing her he had been killed in their final battle against the Dark Circle (#24, March-April 1973). She eventually learned differently and turned up occasionally. Doctor Thirteen, dropped along with the reprints, was given a back-up series here as of #12, March-April 1971, which morphed into The Spawn of Frankenstein in #23, January-February 1973.
However, the Stranger is better known for his role as a supernatural assistant to other heroes, such as the Justice League. The League offered him membership, though he initially left before accepting. This leaves the actual date of his admission unclear. He was not, as some accounts have reported, a mere honorary member. After a vote of the majority of the League at the time, Superman declared the Phantom Stranger "a member" without qualification. (Justice League of America #103). The Stranger twice asserted his membership status when other Leaguers challenged his input, particularly during the vote on the League's re-admission of Wonder Woman. She would later confirm his membership status in a subsequent League adventure. He also affirmed his membership in the JLA/Avengers mini-series when the League doubted he was there to help.
The Stranger also starred in a miniseries in 1987. This series portrayed him as an agent of the Lords of Order. For refusing to help them in their war against the Lords of Chaos, they temporarily stripped him of his powers. This series also featured Eclipso as an agent of Chaos. However, no stories have referenced these events since, and they might no longer be in continuity due to the reality-alterations during Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis.
The most striking aspect of the Phantom Stranger is that his name, his true nature, and his origins have never been revealed. DC produced a special issue of Secret Origins that gave him four different possible origins:
One tale postulated that the Stranger was a fallen angel who sided with neither Heaven nor Hell during Satan's rebellion and thus condemned to walk the Earth alone for all time. Alan Moore wrote and Joe Orlando illustrated this story. This is also backed by The Word who said that the Phantom Stranger was a fallen one.
Another proposes the Stranger was originally a private citizen during biblical times and was spared God's wrath. An angel was sent to deliver him from divine wrath. After questioning God's actions, he commits suicide. The angel forbids his spirit from entering the afterlife, reanimates his body and condemns him to walk the world forever to be a part of humanity but also forever separated from it. He then discovered his divine charge, to turn humanity away from evil, one soul at a time.
In a variation of the Wandering Jew story, he was an adult family man named Isaac with a wife (Rebecca) and boy at the time when Jesus was a small child. When King Herod sent his army to kill all small male children (in an effort to slay Jesus) the army slew his son and wife. Blind with anger, he spent the next 30 years in a rage against Jesus. As Jesus was being tortured, Isaac bribed a guard to assume his role in whipping Jesus. Jesus then sentenced him to walk away from his home and country; to be errant until Doomsday. Eventually, his misplaced rage expunged, he spent the rest of his time helping society, even declining God's offer to release him from his sentence.
The last was a proposal that the stranger is a remnant of the previous universe. At the end of the universe the Phantom Stranger approaches a group of scientists studying the event, warning them not to interfere in the natural conclusion of the universe. The story concludes with the Phantom Stranger passing a portion of himself to a scientist, the universe is reborn, and the scientist from the previous universe is the Phantom Stranger in the new universe (a recursive origin?). This origin shares similarities with that of Galactus.
Three out of four of these origins rely specifically on Judeo-Christian concepts, which rarely figure into the origins of most comic book characters. In the comic book miniseries The Trenchcoat Brigade, John Constantine sees that the first origin story is essentially correct. Note however that the continuity between DC's mainstream books and Vertigo has never been very clear, and that the 1987 miniseries points to a different origin for the Stranger.
Another possible origin was hinted at in The Kingdom (the sequel to Kingdom Come) in which it was implied that Jonathan Kent, the future son of Superman and Wonder Woman, might grow up to be the Phantom Stranger. This also tied some of his abilities into the Hypertime concept, saying that he had the innate ability to enter other alternate timelines and to exist in the spaces between them. However, the story ultimately revealed this a red herring. The character in question had been deliberately drawn in shadows to suggest that he was the Stranger; but when Wonder Woman finally saw his face, she said that she now realized he was not the Stranger.
Yet another story, in the mini-series Conjurors, has him as the Father of Magic, the first human ever to wield arcane forces through his medallion, which he had stolen from extradimensionnal Lovecraft-type deities, arcane forces he then shares with humanity.
In his earliest appearances, the Phantom Stranger would prove supernatural events to be hoaxes. In later stories, the supernatural events were real and the Phantom Stranger was given unspecified superhuman powers to defeat them. He later appeared in various other DC Universe titles, sometimes as a major participant; in others, the Phantom Stranger just appears and gives advice or warning to the featured heroes. Occasionally he serves simply as narrator. In some stories, he seems to be answerable to a mysterious Voice, implied to be God. It should be noted though that within the DC Universe, stories commonly identify, either at the time or after the fact, mysterious, benign Voices as the Lords of Order. (An example of this is the origin of Hawk and Dove.)
The Phantom Stranger played a major part in Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic, taking protagonist Tim Hunter through time to show him the history and nature of magic. He has assisted the Justice League on numerous occasions, even being formally elected to the group in Justice League of America #103 (although he did not acknowledge his membership until Justice League of America #143). The Stranger also had his own limited series, where lacking much of his power, he tries to foil Eclipso's plan to cause a nuclear war.
The Stranger in a typically cryptic pose. Art by Neal Adams.
He also, during Kevin Smith's relaunch of Green Arrow, attempted to prevent Hal Jordan from uniting the resurrected body of Oliver Queen with his soul in Heaven. This earned him Jordan's wrath; indeed, the Spectre threatened to judge the Stranger to see whether God had "punished" him properly by refusing him access to Heaven itself. Nonetheless, the Phantom Stranger assisted Hal Jordan during his tenure as the Spectre on numerous occasions as well, most notably in a short stint babysitting Hal's niece, Helen.
In 2005's Day of Vengeance, the Stranger had been turned into a small rodent by the Spectre. He was still able to advise the Detective Chimp, who sheltered him in his hat while he recovered his powers. He changed back using recovered energies in Day of Vengeance #6 and aided the Shadowpact, allowing them to see the battle between the Spectre and Shazam. The series makes a point that the supernatural community generally regards the Phantom Stranger as invincible. The first reaction of some characters to the Spectre's assault on magic is simply to presume that the Stranger will take care of it. Other stories have shown the Stranger nearly as powerful as the Spectre. This however, is a recent interpretation. While others have never considered the Stranger as an easy foe to combat, given his unknown abilities, they also never considered him as invincible, though it's conceivable that fellow magic-wielders would have a better sense of his powers than "outsiders."
In the Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special, The Phantom Stranger works with Nabu, Doctor Occult, Zatanna, the Shadowpact and other mystics to re-form the Rock of Eternity and help defeat the maddened Spectre.
The Phantom Stranger's relationships with the other mystic heroes are usually a bit tense. The Stranger has no qualms gathering various forces in order to combat a certain evil (the Sentinels of Magic, but also other loose outfits), often invading those people's personal lives. However, he does not usually extend them that same courtesy. The Phantom Stranger has resisted such people as Doctor Fate (notably Hector Hall) in this, although Fate is in almost any incarnation an ally of the Stranger. Despite this, he does get along well with Zatanna; in Justice League of America #6 he appeared by her side to help remove the influence of Faust on Red Tornado, and in the Justice series he seems to have a fatherly affection for her, calling her "my dear."
Since he is ultimately an unpredictable force, others often meet the Phantom Stranger's appearance with distrust. Nonetheless, most heroes will follow him, seeing not only his immense power, but also knowing that the Stranger is in the end, a force for good. Notable though is Madame Xanadu, who has refused to join the Stranger on a few occasions, although she is a member of his Sentinels of Magic.
The Stranger also holds a unique relationship with the Spectre, as the two forces often come into conflict. He was responsible for gathering a group of mystic heroes in order to combat the Spectre, when its human host Jim Corrigan seemingly lost control of the Spectre. (It was during this time that they destroyed the country of Vlatava.) The Phantom Stranger participated in Jim Corrigan's funeral, when Corrigan's soul finally earned its rest and left the Spectre. The Stranger subsequently became one of the forces that stood against the Spectre when it went on a rampage without its human host, until the soul of Hal Jordan bonded with it. The Stranger occasionally took on an advisory role for this new Spectre. In Infinite Crisis #6, aware that the Spectre now has yet another new host, the Phantom Stranger gathered a large group of magic wielders in an unsuccessful attempt to solicit the Spectre's assistance in the Crisis.
Powers and abilities
The natures of these are as mysterious as the Stranger himself, who seems to be effectively eternal, never aging. The Phantom Stranger has demonstrated enormous powers and capabilities, the exact origin of which is undetermined. He can travel enormous distances in a very short period of time, such as to the JLA Watchtower and Apokolips, as well as to mystical dimensions, such as Heaven, Hell and the realm occupied by the Quintessence. He can fire energy bolts of great force, travel through time, dispel magic, reveal illusions, and survive in space without earthly life-support systems. His power seems to have unspecified parameters limiting them. In many cases, despite his obvious capabilities, he claims he is not allowed to end a crisis directly, only to guide others to take the necessary actions. (This restriction allows the Stranger to guest-star in virtually any title without becoming a deus ex machina whose actions would immediately end the story.) He claims that "nothing remains hidden to him."
In Day of Vengeance #2, the Spectre transforms the Stranger into a rodent, rather than killing him outright, because even the Spectre's power would be insufficient to kill the Stranger.
Contrary to some trick-of-the-light impressions, the Phantom Stranger does not wear a mask; instead, the shadow of his hat almost constantly cloaks his eyes.
The Phantom Stranger appears in his animated form in the following comics:
Batman Gotham Adventures #33 (Wherein he shows Bruce how Gotham City would be without Batman.)
Justice League Adventures #31 (He shows three possible fates about a boy who is mourning his family.)
Justice League Unlimited #14 (Helps Deadman and some other leaguers against a magical threat.)
Justice League Unlimited #28 (Shows the Flash several Christmas days Batman experienced in the past, in order to give the Flash a deeper understanding of Batman's psyche)
Index to the Stranger's Earth-1 adventures
The Unofficial Phantom Stranger Chronology
Phantom Stranger webpage and FAQ
The Grand Comics Database Project - index for The Phantom Stranger vol. 1.
The Grand Comics Database Project - index for The Phantom Stranger vol. 2.
The Grand Comics Database Project - index for The Phantom Stranger vol. 3.
Phantom Stranger vol. 2 cover gallery
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