Men Call Him... The Phantom Stranger!

A Visual Index

The Phantom Stranger was a short-lived DC title from the 1950s.  He was a mysterious ghost-breaker: he debunked the supernatural menace of the current story (3 stories per issue, 6 issues total), then left in an inexplicable manner.  "Was he man -- or ghost?"

In the late 1960s, DC resurrected the character for the tryout book, Showcase, along with a similar character from the same period, Doctor Thirteen. Terrance Thirteen was also a ghost-breaker -- the Ghost-Breaker, according to his stories -- and it was decided to pit the two characters against each other: There'd be a mystery, The Stranger would tell of a similar supernatural story he was involved in, Thirteen would appear and tell how he also debunked a similar mystery, and then the original mystery would be addressed. The Stranger would do something mystical, and Thirteen would vow to prove The Stranger a fraud some day.

This pattern allowed the editors to reprint stories from the '50s as part of the "past cases" the two had solved, so I suspect the Stranger was resurrected because they had a hole to fill in the Showcase schedule. But it apparently sold well, because DC decided to give the Stranger his own title.  Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #1 appeared. The first few issues repeated the reprint-with-original-framing-story bit with Dr. Thirteen, and the Stranger was promoted by appearing with Batman in an issue of The Brave and the Bold.  By issue #4, writer Robert Kanigher had created the Stranger's first recurring foe: Tala, a mystic entity herself, some sort of temptress spirit, luring humans into evil. 

As the series progressed, the Stranger, who was never given an origin, unequivocally demonstrated sorcerous powers, and Dr. Thirteen was relegated to a back-up feature, where he got to debunk fake ghosts and was about as happy doing so as this dour character ever was. The Stranger's powers were never clearly defined. He appeared and disappeared on command, could walk on water or survive apparent death, and occasionally threw mystic bolts from his hands, but such direct combat was not typically his style.

Too often, he became a mere narrator of someone's else's story, stepping in to warn the character against a course of action, then returning to moralize at the end. But when well handled, he developed a fan following and, even after his book was cancelled, often guest-starred in other mystical characters adventures -- and even the occasional Batman or odd Superman story.

A revival of the character has occurred as part of the next wave of DC's "New 52", so it seems like a good time to start a visual index to The Phantom Stranger.

Showcase #80
#80 (February 1969), "Men Call Me the Phantom Stranger"
Phantom Stranger
Dr. Thirteen
The Phantom Stranger
Dr. Thirteen

For his later appearances, Dr. Thirteen gained a pair of glasses -- presumably to make him stand out more.  After The Phantom Stranger was cancelled, he turned up occasionally in Batman stories, along with rarer guest appearances elsewhere.  But for a comics audience happy to accept the supernatural along with super-powers, he often came off more as a crank than a hero.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #1
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #1 (May-June 1969), "Defeat the Dragon Curse...Or Die!"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #2
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #2 (July-August 1969), "The Man Who Died Three Times"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #3
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #3 (September-October 1969), "Some Day in Some Dark Alley..."

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #4
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #4 (November-December 1969), "There Is Laughter in Hell This Day"

In issue #4, The Phantom Stranger gained his first recurring adversary: a female spirit of evil named Tala. Never given a back story, she was the power behind the mystical events the Stranger faced over the next few issues, and then she disappeared.  A couple of years later, she turned up as the force controlling The Dark Circle, an international band of mystics who pestered the Stranger for a year's time -- and then disappeared again. Occasionally, nostalgic comics writers bring her back, just as mysterious and ill-motivated as before.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #5
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #5 (January-February 1970), "The Devil's Playground"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #6
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #6 (March-April 1970), "No. 13 Thirteenth Street"

The Brave and the Bold #89
The Brave and the Bold
#89 (April-May 1970), "Arise, Ye Ghosts of Gotham"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #7
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #7 (May-June 1970), "The Curse"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #8
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #8 (July-August 1970), "Journey to the Tomb of the Ice Giants"
The Ice Giants
The Ice Giants

A race of giants living in the Arctic, the Ice Giants faced The Phantom Stranger twice, when humans stumbled across their home and had to be rescued.

Although never explicitly identified as such, the Ice Giants might be seen as DC's version of the Norse Frost Giants, as they also wielded swords.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #9
Phantom Stranger
(vol. 2) #9 (September-October 1970), "Obeah Man"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #10
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #10 (November-December 1970), "Death ... Call Not My Name!"

The Phantom Stranger's first recurring human adversary, Tannarak was forced to face his mortality (by being shoved into a crypt with a mummy) as a child, and spent his adult life searching for immortality.  As such, in addition to his own schemes, he often turned up as a pawn of other mystical entities, whether unnamed "dark gods" or Tala's Dark Circle.

He, too, turns up in modern comics from time to time, usually as an urbane amoralist, as happy to work with heroes as with villains, as long as he expects to come out ahead in the end.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #11
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #11 (January-February 1971), "Walk Not in the Desert's Sun ..."

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #12
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #12 (March-April 1971), "Marry Me -- Marry Death"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #13
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #13 (May-June 1971), "A Child of Death"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #14
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #14 (July-August 1971), "The Man With No Heart"
Broderick Rune
Broderick Rune

In issue #14, the Phantom Stranger was captured and his heart transplanted into ailing millionaire Broderick Rune. But The Phantom Stranger's body disappeared in the midst of its being disposed of, and Rune was besieged by a series of nightmares in which the Stranger demanded his heart back. Eventually, this drove him to have a heart attack, and he died, but when his doctor found him, Rune had no heart at all.

It was later revealed that Rune was a member of The Dark Circle, so this story is significant as the Stranger's first encounter with agents of that group.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #15
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #15 (September-October 1971), "The Iron Messiah"

Cyberneticist John Kwame returned to his African homeland following the death of his father, only to find it in rebellion, as a foreign oil company sought to control the country for its mineral wealth. So Kwame built a rallying point for his people: a robot version of Chuma, their god of war.  But he built better than he realized, and Chuma developed a personality of its own, so much so that it killed John Kwame in order to win the hand of a woman both loved.  The woman denounced the robot, and it was destroyed by the people after putting down the rebellion.

This was one of those stories where the Stranger acted more as a narrator than as a participant. But Chuma was an interesting idea.
The Brave and the Bold #98
The Brave and the Bold #98 (October-November 1971), "Mansion of the Misbegotten"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #16
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #16 (November-December 1971), "Image in Wax"
Judah Tallow
Judah Tallow

Tallow's House of Wax was the scene of mysterious events.  Two wax figures went missing, only to be replaced by ones with the faces of robbers who had attempted to harm Judah Tallow.  Young Delia was often drawn there by some impulse, to the dismay of her fiance, Ernie.  Aiding Ernie, The Phantom Stranger revealed that Tallow was an ancient Egyptian sorcerer, acting as watchman over the bodies of his people, who were preserved over the ages in wax-like suspended animation.  Somehow Queen Dalia's spirit escaped her body and found a new one, but Tallow knew her place was with her people.  And when the wax museum went up in flames, young Dalia melted, too, leaving a broken-hearted Ernie.

I took some coloring liberties with Judah Tallow. While he appeared in the comic with Caucasian skin, he was supposed to be Egyptian, so I gave him what I hope is a darker, but sallow due to age, skin tone.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #17
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #17 (January-February 1972), "Like a Ghost from the Ashes"
Cassandra Craft
Cassandra Craft

In aiding one human, The Phantom Stranger succumbed to a mystical attack in the subway.  A young woman, Cassandra Craft, found him and nursed him back to health.  Blind, she had an affinity for magic and found herself drawn to it. She became a friend to The Phantom Stranger and turned up from time to time over the course of the original series, and the years since. She was the closest thing to a love interest ever to appear in the Stranger's series.

In the static world of comics character design, she still sometimes appears today in her 1970s' bell-bottomed jumpsuit.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #18
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #18 (March-April 1972), "Home is the Sailor"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #19
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #19 (May-June 1972), "Return to the Tomb of the Ice Giants"

Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #20
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #20 (July-August 1972), "A Child Shall Lead Them"

When his High Lama was killed by demons, Tibetan monk Kamset led the search for the new incarnation of the Lama. To his dismay, the indisputable mark of "The Chosen One" appeared on the brow of the baby brother of the boy whom he had framed for the Lama's death, rather than the babe whom he planned to use to control the country as regent.  The Phantom Stranger aided the boy and his brother, and in their battle, Kamset revealed he was aided by "a dark circle of wizards and sorcerers that touches the four corners of the earth".  Kamset fell to his death, the boy was exonerated, and his brother hailed as the new High Lama.

This was first reference to The Dark Circle, whose members were to plague the Stranger over the next few issues.
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #21
Phantom Stranger (vol. 2) #21 (September-October 1972), "The Resurrection of Johnny Glory"
Johnny Glory
Johnny Glory

Following his death in the electric chair, handsome criminal Johnny Glory was claimed by agents of The Dark Circle.  The sorcerer Cerebus resurrected him and gave him a mission: kill Chandu Gamal, a Middle Eastern politician whose death would serve the Circle's goals. Johnny charmed Gamal's daughter, until the Stranger arrived to save Gamal and expose the cost of Johnny's resurrection: the loss of his good looks. Johnny turned on Cerebus, and both perished.

More to come.

Created October 16, 2012.