High Five! Comics

Posts Tagged ‘Neal Adams

The Phanom StrangerHi, folks! Jonny here. The Underrated Underdogs feature has always been one of my favorites at High Five. Rob and Maggie know a lot about that stuff and I always love it when they review some old character I’ve never heard of. I have always wanted to review my own underdog, and a year into High Five I’ve finally found my guy.

In 1952 DC Comics broke with common practice and introduced a new character without testing his/her popularity in one of their existing on-going titles. Since the success of any new character is uncertain, most new heroes are brought along side an existing character (IE Wolverine in Hulk #181) or receive a showcase slot in a short story magazine like More Fun Comics. Apparently the word of John Broome (Elongated Man, Detective Chimp) was enough to entice DC to take a few risks, and in August or September of 1952 the world met the Phantom Stranger in his very own six issue miniseries. Likely the gambit didn’t pay off because the Phantom would not reappear until February 1969 in Showcase #80 along side Doctor Thirteen. From this rebirth we come to know our hero.

The original concept behind the Phantom Stranger was quite simple: a crime with inexplicable causes would be perpetrated and the mysterious Phantom Stranger would appear from no-where, expose the supernatural as a hoax, and vanish leaving the audience to debate his true nature. Usually he was working along side Doctor Thirteen who was consistently annoyed at the mystery surrounding Phantom Stranger.

Apparently this concept targeting young boys didn’t work for DC and in issue 4 The Phantom Stranger received a new creative team, a new costume, and some badass powers that quickly settled the question of natural vs spiritual. Beyond aesthetic alteration, the changes wrought by Robert Kanigher (creator of Barry Allen) and Neal Adams (who’s drawing an upcoming Batman book this summer YAY!) demonstrated a shift in target demographic. No longer did our hero spend his time mystifying 7 to 10 year-olds with disappearing acts. This new Phantom Stranger’s friends were teens, and hippies at that. His enemies were no longer simple-minded murderers or thieves, but rather the Forces of Evil themselves. This series continued throughout the first half of the 1970s and boasted such creators as Len Wein, Jim Aparo, and Tony DeZuniga. Check out the cover art for the first issue of Phantom Stranger under Kanigher and Adams below:

Phantom Stranger #4

By 1973 the Silver Age was over, and the Bronze Age was in full swing. This shift saw a population with little interest in many of the once popular characters. Phantom Stranger was a casualty of this shift and he largely faded into Limbo until Alan Moore reminded us of the mysterious hero in 1982’s Saga of the Swamp Thing.

Here, we saw the beginnings of Phantom Stranger’s third and current interpretation. To Moore, and all subsequent writers, the Phantom Stranger was not a being of power. Rather, he was an all-knowing sage who transcends time, space, and continuity. No matter where you are in the DCU, The Phantom Stranger can find you, and he can guide you to a better path. This concept was beautifully illustrated by Grant Morrison in Animal Man #22 when Phantom Stranger met a time-displaced Buddy Baker and helped him find the path to his lost family.

Buddy Baker Meets the Phantom Stranger

What I find remarkable about the Phantom Stranger is that the character holds up perfectly despite all the ret-cons and reinterpretations. Since the character was built on a simple platform of perpetual mystery the changes have not affected DC’s immortal sage to any detriment. In fact, the changes have made him even cooler. DC has issued 4 theories as to his origin. None are to be taken as fact, and all are meant to further the mystery. But, in my mind, The Phantom Stranger represents some overreaching Power in the DCU that has sent its messenger to earth in 3 phases: first to observe, second to fight, and third to guide.

I love this interpretation for a few reasons. One, it gives Phantom Stranger a certain realism of character in that he has matured rather than simply aged. Second, and more importantly it mirrors the path of humanity as we begin, live, and complete our lives. This is, of course, my own interpretation for my own amusement, but the fun of any mystery is in the guessing.

Happy readings,


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So, a couple days ago over on DC’s The Source blog, they put up a weird cover for a “Red Lantern/Red Arrow” cover tribute to Neal Adams’ Green Arrow Vol. 2 #76. I saw it, kinda went “Well, that’s odd,” and left it at that. Being a gigantic nerd about the show Fringe (to the point where I’m nerdily excited for Wildstorm’s upcoming Tales From the Fringe book), I was psyched for last night’s season finale. And then I saw that cover, along with four others on a wall behind Peter. The Source is going to reveal them in detail later today, but I kiiiinda got some sweet screencaps and figured, screw it, let’s look at them a little early.

From what I can tell, there’s alternate universe tributes to the covers of George Pérez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths #3, Dan Jurgen’s Superman Vol. 2 #75, Neal Adams’ Green Lantern Vol. 2 #76, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns #1, and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League #1. Awesome!

Check out The Source later today to see the covers in full detail.

bork3When it comes to Barry Allen and his Silver Age stories, I notice a running theme (pun so totally intended): up until the last page or two, he has the absolute shittiest luck ever. It doesn’t matter who he fights, he always ends up knocked out, stranded, incarcerated, and/or pretty much powerless until he either remembers that he can vibrate through anything or that comic book chemistry can fix everything ever. Even when teamed up with somebody as legendary as Batman against somebody as dumb as Bork (as is the case in January 1969’s  Brave and the Bold #81), he still manages to just get the shaft over and over again.

Our story begins at the Gotham City docks where street thug Carl Bork has been spotted trying to steal cargo from a ship. The captain must be crazy forgiving, because all he does is shoo Bork away. As he sulks away from the failed heist, Bork walks straight into the path of an oncoming truck and is creamed at full speed! But instead of dying like us normal folks, Bork just gets up and realizes that he is both now invincible and only able to talk in the third person (oh, that’s not going to be annoying)! He decides to try out his new found power by robbing a diner’s register. The cops show up and immediately try to shoot him in the leg (Gotham cops don’t have time to fuck around), but the bullet just bounces off!

bork1Meanwhile, Barry Allen is getting a tour of Gotham’s police lab by Batman and Commissioner Gordon when they hear the call over the radio: there’s a “rumble” at the docks! Barry and Gordon carpool to the scene while Batman “flits” and beats them there, just in time to see a lone Bork challenging Milo Manning and his gang. Milo takes a swing at the invincible Bork, who survives getting hit with a forklift and pretty much just claims Milo’s gang as his own. Batman realizes that Bork is invulnerable and, for whatever reason, decides that his fist can do what a forklift couldn’t. Yeah, it can’t. Bork shouts his catchphrase, “You can’t hurt Bork but Bork can hurt you,” and then takes out a bunch of cops and hands Batman his own ass, just in time for Barry and Gordon to show up. Bork then announces that he’s taking over Gotham and there ain’t shit they can do about it. By the way, that annoying catchphrase? Yeah, Bork says it four times within the first seven pages (five if you count the cover).

A couple of hours later, Bork has practically the entire Gotham underworld under his control and has announced his demands to the Gotham City Hall. They have 24 hours to kick Batman out of town, give over half of the city counsel seats to his goons, and give him areas of the city that cops can’t touch. If not, there’s gonna be a riot! Batman decides that Bork must have gotten his invincibility at some point during his never before mention travels all over the world and asks Barry to suit up and figure out the where and how of it all. As the Flash, Barry gets the manifests to all of Bork’s destinations and discovers that he’s been all over the damn place, including a small unnamed African nation where he impoverished all of the citizens (somehow). And as luck would have it, their president has sent some commandos to Gotham to apprehend him! Simultaneously, those same commandos open fire on Bork but the bullets just bounce off! Batman shows up and everybody runs away.

bork2During his investigation, Flash discovers that Bork was once shipwrecked on Desolation Island where the natives carved a magical sculpture of him. Oh, man, Barry is having some awesome luck! All he has to do is destroy the sculpture! He races to the island and finds the Bork statue on top of a volcano. Sweet! What could go wrong? Well, just then the volcano erupts and the whole island fucking explodes. The Flash and the statue are thrown into the air where is hit in the head with a lava rock and passes out. He lands on a big piece of driftwood while the statue gets caught in a current and is picked up by some “grizzled adventurer” in a sailboat. While Barry tries to follow the current, the adventurer gets caught in a storm miles away and the statue falls overboard. Just as the Flash finally finds it again, a tiger shark starts trying to eat it. Barry jumpkicks the shark (yeah, that’s kinda awesome), grabs the statue, and starts banging it against rocks. When that doesn’t do anything, he ties it to his back and starts running at the speed of light, trying to use friction to burn the Bork statue. He goes fast enough to end up both in the future and a different dimension, but that damn statue is still in one piece. When he’s about to give up, he decides, “Fuck it, I’m gonna shoot it with a laser.” It doesn’t do much, but it kiiiiinda burns a spot on the hand of the statue. Kiiiiinda success!

Meanwhile, Batman and Gordon confront City Hall, who are ready to give in to Bork’s demands. Batman says that Bork is just like Hitler (for some reason) and he and Gordon storm out. Apparently there are some panels missing, because the next thing you know, Batman is throwing Bork into a paddywagon while reminding him that invulnerability doesn’t mean that a jail cell can’t hold him. I, the reader, then think to myself, “Actually, it kinda does. I mean, couldn’t he just punch the wall a bunch of times until he knocks a hole in it?” One page later, Bork punches the wall a bunch of times until he knocks a hole in it. The African commandos catch up with Bork and decide that a blowgun will be able to do what machine guns couldn’t. The dart just happens to hit the same spot on his hand as the laser hit on the statue and it works. What are the odds!

Barry decides that the only way to destroy the statue is by throwing it into the sun (you know, the same way every fictional character has destroyed every fictional dangerous object ever). He straps it to his back, runs up a ramp, and vibrates through the sun with the statue, burning it to a crisp. At that exact moment, Batman punches Bork in the jaw, knocking his ass out. In the end, they send him to Africa to stand trial for being a douchebag and dicking over an entire country.

Final verdict? Barry Allen needs to get a fucking desk job and Bork needs to shut the hell up.

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