Thursday, 6 September 2012

New Beginnings - The Phantom Stranger #0

This week we have the first of the New 52 Zero Month issues with the arrival of the Phantom Stranger. Dan Didio is writing the this issue, which as the first of the #0 issues I get to review, is also slightly fitting as he is one of the main architects behind the 52 reboot. From reading up thought I can see he gets involved with some of the lesser mainstream titles, including the recently cancelled OMAC.

This issue opens with our unknown narrator imprisoned and shackled. In a moment of great weakness when he felt there was only one way out. However by taking his own life, instead of being received by Heaven or Hell, another fate lay in front of him. A trial of sorts where he and two equally mysterious counterparts (Pandora and the Question) - who are referred to with him as the Trinity of Sin - have judgement passed upon them.

Of course, we've seen all this before in the DC New 52 Free Comic Book Day issue - released back in May and written by Geoff Johns. It's hard to tell if this story was broken by Johns, Didio and the other DC creative executives together some time ago, as it leads into next year's huge event the Trinity War, but if it was solely Johns' invention then Didio has brought little to this origin save from retelling it from the Stranger's POV.

The Phantom Stranger's origin in the DC New 52 FCBD issue

This New 52 version of the Stranger seemingly dispenses with the anonymity of his previous incarnation who had at least four conflicting backstories. Instead the heavy references to his betrayal of a friend in return for a handful of coins clearly suggests Judas Iscariot. Although no one ever says that name or any other in relation to the Stranger, the suggestion is very heavily there in a variety of ways.

The main direction of the Stranger’s purpose is then opened up. Thrust back into the realm of the living - and shackled with a new necklace made from the blood money he was once paid in - he understands he is to walk the Earth until specific souls needs “assistance”. The troublesome part in this is that for his penance, every time he helps he will ultimately betray that person as is his nature. This doesn’t always mean that this is bad though - even in this issue we see the arrival on another significant mysterious figure as the Spectre is introduced to the New 52.

The same events, in The Phantom Stranger #0
(preview pages taken from
I’ve never read about the Phantom Stranger before this comic so it was of interest to me. As a character I’ve seen him in 52, Blackest Night and of course the New 52 FCBD issue, but I’ve never really considered who or what he really was. That said the first read through didn’t massively grab me. It was only on the second reading and some additional research that I felt this was a much more thought provoking story than I'd first appreciated.

As a #0 issue it does the job that it needs to and sets up the realms of possibility for the title. I do worry that it is a very simple premise that will play through almost to a template, but I am hoping there is more to it than that. When you consider the plight that is facing our hero there is now only 29 more times that he can do this as each soul that he intervenes frees him of one piece of silver from his necklace.

The splash page teaser for the Trinity War from the FCBD issue.
It has to be said, this looks like it will be even bigger than Blackest Night!
It's worth considering that the Phantom Stranger is part of the Trinity of Sin and the only one of their number with his own comic. He will certainly be a huge part of the next big DC event, so this may be the title with a lot of foreshadowing and story development as we move towards this impending Trinity War. I suspect it will be a title that rewards your interest if you are a fan of the New 52 DC universe!

Matt Puddy will be looking at Team 7 #0 next week as Zero Month continues...

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