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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Phantom Stranger 33 - Deadman vs the Phantom Stranger

Mike Grell joins Arnold Drake as Deadman meets the Phantom Stranger in issue 33 (Oct/Nov 74). The art on this full length story is great, which is a darn good thing. The plot itself is mediocre, aside from the hostile relationship between the two heroes, and continuity-wise, this issue is a big problem.

In this tale, Deadman is still looking for the man with the hook, the man who killed him. That should place it back during his run in Strange Adventures during the late 60s. But the villain of the issue is Dr. Zorn, and it is clearly not meant to be his first time going up against the Phantom Stranger, they are old enemies. So it has to be taking place after the first two appearances of Zorn, which puts it solidly in the 70s. Zorn is once again taking advantage of his patients, hypnotizing them and using them without their knowledge. In this case, the one we follow is a high ranking mobster. Zorn is learning the man's past and his secrets, and comes across information linking him to the murder of Boston Brand.

This gives Zorn the idea to frame the Phantom Stranger for the murder. He lures the Stranger into conversation and tapes it, then edits it to make it sound like the Stranger is confessing to Boston Brand's murder. The discussion winds up pulling Deadman to Zorn. He possesses the doctor's body, plays the tape, and then believes that the Phantom Stranger is his killer.

While still in Zorn's body he fights the Phantom Stranger. The story notes that Deadman learned of the Stranger's existence through Batman, though then he really ought to know better. Poor Phantom Stranger is completely confused about Zorn's behaviour until he figures out the man is being possessed by Deadman.

Once the truth about the tape comes out, Deadman takes over the body of the mob boss. Phantom Stranger shows up there, trying to convince Deadman not to take this course of action. It all winds up going wrong. An undercover cop is supposed to be killed by the boss, but Deadman is reluctant to kill an innocent man. He also doesn't want to give up on his one lead to finding his killer. This winds up resulting in the death of the mob boss, leaving Deadman no closer to his goal.

The opening splash page, and the concluding few panels, have Deadman not at all impressed with the Stranger. The two make a damn good pair, partly because the Stranger can see and hear Deadman in his ghostly state, but also their personalities are so different.

Ignoring continuity problems, Deadman's last appearance before this had come a few months earlier in World's Finest Comics, and his next appearance would be there as well, a couple of months down the road.

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