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Friday, 28 April 2017

Phantom Stranger 4 - Tala debuts, and the hitchhiking girl

Phantom Stranger 4 (Nov/Dec 69) is the first issue of the series that really looks and feels like a tale about the title character. Robert Kanigher scripts this tale, and Neal Adams does both the cover and the interior pencils, while Bill Draut provides the inks.

Adams makes some small but important changes to the Phantom Stranger's costume. The hat is a bit different, and now leaves a shadow that permanently shades his eyes. There is a gold chain linking a high rimmed cape. This is the first Phantom Stranger story to open with him standing on a hill during a storm, ominously introducing the tale, a feature that would become standard in his outings.

Dr Thirteen and his wife Marie are in Haiti, watching a ceremony intended to invoke a demonic spirit, Tala. Thirteen scoffs at the entire thing, but the woman does wind up emerging from the lake.

Terry and Marie then head back to New York City, to solve the mystery of an old brownstone house where people hear sobbing. Tala flies alongside the airplane, and almost causes it to crash. The Phantom Stranger displays supernatural powers, emanating light and guiding the plane to safety.

This issue also introduces four teens, mixed gender wise and racially, although two are still white guys. Let's pretend one of those is gay. The kids break into the brownstone, and look through the spooky place before Dr. Thirteen, and then the Phantom Stranger show up. The kids work well in this story, but they would stick around for a few more issues, and quickly wear out their welcome. I had really hoped, in the 90s, that there would be a Phantom Stranger special that would bring these kids back, but having aged in real time. Now it's a bit late to do that.

Anyway, things start going crazy inside the spooky house, and the Phantom Stranger reveals that Tala is helping manifest all of this, the gargoyles coming to life, although she is just taking advantage of a haunting already going on. The Phantom Stranger is very much in the lead spot in this, fighting the stone monsters while Dr. Thirteen stands aside and whines about it all being a hoax. He also fends off a romantic advance from Tala.

We learn that the beautiful young woman in the portrait was sealed up inside the wall of the house by a jilted suitor, and has been the cause of the moaning and sobbing. Once freed from the house, she finally dies in peace. With her gone, Tala takes off.

The story ends with Dr. Thirteen still insisting everything is a hoax, and the Phantom Stranger is a fake. Unlike earlier issues, the reader now would be certain Thirteen was wrong, which adds a completely different dynamic to it all. Tala would return in the next issue, and unfortunately also get quickly overused.

There is also a very brief back-up story, narrated by the Phantom Stranger in a host like role, a la House of Mystery. The story is once again by Kanigher, with art by Murphy Anderson.

It's a tired old saw, the hitchhiking girl, picked up at a cemetery, who disappears when the guy gets her to her destination. Then he finds out she died long ago.

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