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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Phantom Stranger 16 - the wax museum, and a ghost asks Dr. Thirteen for help

Phantom Stranger #16 (Nov/Dec 71) has two great stories and an excellent Neal Adams cover. Only the Mark Merlin reprint is lame. But what are you going to do? It's a Mark Merlin reprint, after all.

Len Wein scripts both of the new stories in the issue, and Aparo does the art on the Phantom Stranger outing. The story deals with a wax museum, run by a wheelchair bound man. Two thugs show up to rob it at the start of the tale, but we see them somehow transformed into wax mannequins. The old man may look helpless, but clearly he is not. I like Cain's cameo as one of the figures in the wax museum.

The Phantom Stranger saves a young woman from a mugger. She has no idea who she is, and is haunted by dreams in which she is an ancient Egyptian princess, who is to be turned into a wax figure in order to maintain her beauty forever. When she and the Phantom Stranger run into her boyfriend, she does not recall ever having met him before, but it's clear the guy is not lying, and is madly in love with her.

The Phantom Stranger leads the couple to the wax museum, he feels there are answers for her there. The wax figures come to life and take the girl away. The old man reveals himself as the ancient Egyptian priest, and insists that the girl, Dalia, is an ancient princess.

The Phantom Stranger manages to defeat the old man, and they escape the burning wax museum with Dalia. But it proves to be of no use. The old man was right, Dalia was made into wax centuries earlier, and she melts away in front of them.

Wein and De Zuniga turn in a clever Dr. Thirteen story, which opens with a ghost begging Dr. Thirteen to solve his murder. Terry can find no obvious tricks to explain the ghost, and goes to visit the dead man's wife. The death was ruled a suicide, but the wife tells Thirteen about a scientist that the guy fired, who might have wanted revenge.

Going to see the scientist, Terry arrives just as the man kills himself. It all seems cut and dried, but the corpse is unusually cold, and Thirteen examines the equipment in the room.

Thirteen deduces that the scientist was murdered, and what he watched was a hologram. He uses the same hologram tricks to save his life when the real killer, the supposed ghost who begged for his help, comes to kill him. He had been planning to use Thirteen as the perfect cover for his crime. The guy shoots wildly at the holograms, and winds up killing his own wife accidentally. Both stories have downer endings, but that just makes both work so much better.

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