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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Phantom Stranger 15 - the Phantom Stranger in Africa, and Dr. Thirteen walks into the sea

Phantom Stranger expands in size with issue 15 (Sept/Oct 71), although the additional pages are all reprints. Mark Merlin stories, from House of Secrets, would appear in all but one of these larger issues.

The story that goes with the Neal Adams cover is by Joe Orlando and Len Wein, with art by Jim Aparo. It's a very moody piece, set in Africa, that gives a smaller role to the Phantom Stranger, while it centres on a man who left his tribe to study in the US. He has become a scientist and an inventor, and is not impressed with the superstitious way of life of the other members of the tribe. He returns to Africa, along with his girlfriend, but learns of an oil company, supported by the government, which will do anything to get rid of his people so that they can drill the land.

Since the people of the tribe won't listen to him, he constructs a robot, and claims it is their god. The robot can not only speak, it also has a consciousness, which grows as the tale progresses. At first, it is content to rouse up the people and train them for warfare, but eventually it begins to fall in love with the girlfriend, and resent taking orders from its creator.

The robot refuses to take part in the big battle, but does come back to kill its maker, figuring the girlfriend will then fall in love with him. Dumb robot. When the tribe learns that their "god" is a phony, and a killer, they turn on it and destroy it. The Phantom Stranger functions mostly as an observer of the whole tragedy.

Tony DeZuniga does some great art on Robert Kanigher's Dr. Thirteen story, which is good. It's a darn silly tale, and only the art carries it along. It begins as we see a musician lead a group of parties down into the sea. This scene is really the core of the problem, as we observe it objectively. Later, Dr. Thirteen is wandering along the beach and finds an old man coming out of the water, barely alive. He is a millionaire who had hired the band, and explains how the lead performer lead them all into the water. He only survived because a riptide pulled him back to shore.

Dr. Thirteen accompanies the man back to his house, which he finds filled with party guests he doesn't know, as well as the musician. They insist that nothing like the man described actually happened. Dr. Thirteen is suspicious, but decides to join the party. Later, the musician starts to lead them all down into the sea. Dr. Thirteen finds himself pulled along against his will.

Once under the water, he figures out that the beads he has been wearing, which the partiers placed on him, are giving him hallucinations. He pulls them off, and rescues the old man again. I guess we are meant to think that the musician never really lead the rest of the guests into the water, that it was all hallucinations, but the very first page basically contradicts this. The explanation gets increasingly absurd when we find out the musician is the old man's son, who got plastic and vocal surgery, and developed the hallucinatory beads, all to get his inheritance. How much would that all have cost him? Probably about as much as he would have inherited anyway.

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