Review: Phantom Stranger #4 By Dan DiDio, J.M. DeMatteis, and Brent Anderson


Phantom Stranger #4
Written by Dan DiDio and J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Brent Anderson, Philip Tan, Rob Hunter, and Ulises Arreola

The short of it:

The story begins like so many other tales of the supernatural and macabre….with Philip Stark out shopping for new clothes with his wife. He’s not overly happy with it, but it’s his wife, and he aims to please….though he hates the babysitter. Horror movies and junk food? He doesn’t want his kids exposed to such things…even though as kids they live off of it the food, and his wife insists that they’re watching classic monster movies. His excuses run out, and it’s time for the changing room…which stops being a changing room pretty much instantly upon his entry. Reality closing and opening around him, this isn’t a trap for Philip Stark…rather, a summons for the Phantom Stranger!

John Constantine has called the Stranger to the House of Mystery to try and bring him aboard the Justice League Dark, but his knowledge of Stranger’s double life is what is concerning. Constantine knows that his motley crew needs the power brought by the Stranger, so he drew up a contract and everything to go with his sales pitch. The Stranger is none too amused, especially when Constantine feels the real answer is make his people contain him. Frankenstein loses a hand, Deadman almost damns himself trying to possess the Stranger, and it’s only then that Xanadu notices that Constantine…is a bastard. The Dark are excused as Constantine decides to let loose with everything he knows. From attacking the Stranger’s attempts at a normal life, to reminding him of everyone he’s pissed off, and how everything he does is just making things worse and setting up for the eventual fail. Still, not enough to get the Stranger on his side.

So he breaks out the blackmail, something he has that the Stranger requires, and he’s going to make the Stranger earn it. The meeting ajourned and Philip Stark has returned to the changing room, though his wife is gone and he can find no trace of her. A trip home reveals his house ransacked, his kids missing, and the babysitter….Stranger meets with Pandora, and now begins the search to find out just which of his many enemies would do this to him.

What I liked:

  • Man, that John Constantine is a real bastard.
  • Easily the strongest dialog issue yet. The past few issues had been very wordy without ever really getting anything across, and it made them longer and more uncomfortable reads.
  • There’s a very select sort of characters that can really interact with the Stranger in a way that doesn’t feel too unbalanced, and I think that they did a nice job here with him and the JLD. I can’t imagine the actual Justice League dealing with him, nor do I imagine him being able to literally take the hand off of someone on a team that doesn’t have Frankenstein.
  • The last page promises us big and awesome things to come in the next issue, with a character that J.M. DeMatteis has some experience with. I mean, sure, he wrote the Hal Jordan version, but Spirit of Vengeance is Spirit of Vengeance, right?

What I didn’t like:

  • I understand giving Stranger a human identity, but it just doesn’t resonate for me. His punishment is supposed to be forever being alone and a stranger, so how does he manage a family?
  • The Judas stuff has been pretty hammy from the start, but this issue really did it. I mean, a Judas Goat, really? The book had been pretty clear about “he’s Judas” without saying he was, but this issue just beat it down. So I guess that’s the only downside to DeMatteis, but hopefully he’s just getting it out of his system early.
  • I mean, the crucified babysitter was a bit much.

Final thoughts:

The book had been enjoyable thus far with Dan on his own, but I can’t really deny how much stronger the scripting was in this issue with Marc working on the issue, Dan has a pretty good mind for plots, and his stories do tend to have cool ideas behind them….he’s just not very good with dialog. The first few issues of the book the dialog wasn’t so bad, but the last two had been anywhere from meh to absolutely painful. With Marc handling the scripts, I think we should see a nice happy medium and a far more enjoyable title.

Entirely possible I just forgot it, but how did Constantine get one of the coins? Weren’t they all made into a necklace that the Stranger can’t remove? Don’t they only come off when he pays back one of his debts?

I do not care about Pandora. At all.

So if Justice League Dark ever gets another writing vacancy, J.M. DeMatteis. He kinda kicked ass with them here. Just saying.

I would have waited a few more issues to go into the story that is happening next. With the Stranger seeing who would screw with him, meaning chasing down those that he has come into conflict with…but with only five issues done, that list is made up of Spectre, Raven, Trigon, Pandora, and….Dr. Thirteen? Maybe after ten to twelve issues with several characters that have been betrayed by him I could understand, but unless the culprit winds up being a character that hasn’t appeared yet, then it just feels too rushed.

Overall: 6.5/10

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