Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 24

« Strangely, I heard a stranger say, I am with you. » — Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Phantom Stranger, overwhelmingly in light of his brief original run (6 issues, 1952-53), some quite scarce books* full of first-rate art by, among others, Carmine Infantino, Jerry Grandenetti, Murphy Anderson and Gene Colan, with even a couple of scripts by Manly Wade Wellman thrown in!

A decade-and-a-half after his unceremonious cancellation, the Stranger was dusted off and given another shot in Showcase no. 80 (Feb. 1969), which was gorgeously illustrated by Messrs. Grandenetti and Bill Draut, and the Stranger, fedora, turtleneck and all, was soon spun off into his own title once more. It began well enough, but despite some often gorgeous covers, in no time descended into endless formulaic repetition: the PS makes vague, laughably pompous statements, his skeptic foil Dr. Thirteen fumes and rants, and my candidate for all-time most tedious arch-nemesis, Tala (introduced by Bob Kanigher and Neal Adams in issue 4) almost invariably turns out to be behind the issue’s menace.

It’s surely a minority opinion, but I only regain some interest in the series after its most celebrated creative team, Len Wein and Jim Aparo, have moved on. Scripters Arnold Drake, David Michelinie and Paul Levitz pick up the mantle, along with artists Gerry Talaoc and Fred Carrillo, and the book improves as its sales slowly tank. Near the end, editor Joe Orlando adds The Black Orchid as a back-up feature, and Deadman becomes a regular participant, both inspired decisions, but insufficient to stem the tide.

This is The Phantom Stranger no. 41 (Feb.-Mar. 1976, DC), the series’ final bow. Art by Jim Aparo. While I’m quite underwhelmed by Aparo’s work on the insides, just about every cover he provided, during and after his run, was outstanding.

A couple of years after the book’s cancellation, The Phantom Stranger and Deadman were teamed up again for a Halloween special. Beyond a decent cover, the results were rather… dire. I really, really wanted to like it, but it’s just a hodgepodge of overwritten mediocrity that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be or what its audience is: not scary in the least (even by Comics Code Standards), barely moody, a waste of trees.

This is DC Super Stars no. 18 (Jan.-Feb. 1978, DC)… also the final issue of that particular series. Cover art by Jim Aparo.
The first page, one of the better ones. Script by Martin Pasko and art by Romeo Tanghal and Dick Giordano (who’s actually in the plus column this time).
Sigh. Yet another self-indulgent reference to perhaps the Nerd-fest of the 1970s, the Rutland (VT) Halloween Parade, comes in to utterly derail the story.
Tala is behind it? You don’t say! And then the “creative” team shoehorns itself into the proceedings. How refreshingly outré. An excerpt from the second half of the, er, epic, written by Gerry Conway, pencilled by Tanghal, and inked by Bob Layton.
One of the earlier tributes to the Rutland parade, this is Batman no. 237 (Dec. 1971, DC); cover art by Neal Adams (with presumed design input by Infantino and Cardy). This has laughably been deemed The Greatest Halloween Comic Book Ever, which provides a view into the mindset of people who apparently deem only superhero comics worthy of their attention.

-RG

*helpfully reprinted, though in dribs and drabs and all over the place, through the 1970’s.

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