I’ve been excited for this book for a while, purely for fan reasons. I’ve gone on record as saying it was going to be my favorite single issue of the year, even before reading it. And now it’s out. So, can Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 live up to a fan’s unrealistic expectations? Well…
I’d like to comment on the art, but honestly, I don’t feel like there’s much to say that I haven’t said before. Fernando Blanco’s art and Brent Anderson’s colors are just good. Instead, I’m going to mostly talk about the story here.
It’s very atmospheric, though. Lots of environment variety here.
The plot is simple. After the death of Doctor Light at the beginning of “Trinity War,” Batman convinces the Phantom Stranger to take him into the afterlife to save Doctor Light so they can exonerate Superman of his accidental murder. After seeing that Doctor Light has a family, the Phantom Stranger agrees, and since they’re dealing with the dead, they bring along both Katana and Deadman to help as they journey into Heaven.
One of the really noticeable things is that the Phantom Stranger seems to be maintaining his humanity. While his short cameos in other New 52 books keep him in line with the dark mysterious walker persona he had before the reboot, DeMatteis is keeping an internal consistency with how the Phantom Stranger’s been portrayed so far in his own book. While he is the dark mysterious walker who goes where he is needed and leaves just as quickly, when he’s not doing that, he’s an independent being willing to spite Heaven and follow his heart, even though it always gets him into trouble. His recent loss of his family, which was keeping him tethered to mankind, has actually only strengthened his humanity, and it his compassion for Doctor Light as a father that makes him go on the mission to save his soul, even though it means death for the Stranger.
In fact, humanity seems to be the main theme of this book. The Phantom Stranger early on comments on who Batman is under the mask, how behind everything, he’s a caring, compassionate man, an element of the character that many writers forget. Batman’s concern for Superman in this book is written beautifully. He’s not commenting on the politics of superheroes, or how Superman’s one of the most powerful men on the planet. And while the evil that caused Superman to kill Doctor Light concerns him, Batman is concerned with saving his friend first and Superman second.
This is probably the most emotional portrayal of Batman in recent history outside of matters relating to Damian Wayne, and it’s really good. At the same time, he’s still Batman. He’s still tough, and goal-oriented, and smart. But we get to see him in a moment of emotional weakness, and it’s a great reminder of what makes the character work; Behind the cape and cowl and the dark avenger and the rich genius superhero, Batman is just as human as any of us, and it’s shown through more than just the death of his parents.
Like a shooting star, the sight of a smiling Batman is rare and should be treasured.
Deadman doesn’t go to waste here either. While he doesn’t contribute as much to the emotional core of the story as Batman or the Phantom Stranger, he does help move the plot along. A big problem with including Deadman in large events and team books is that sometimes people don’t really know what to do with him. Deadman’s abilities, while simple, are really useful; possessing people and going anywhere he wants.
Even in Justice League Dark, Jeff Lemire usually has to make whatever evil wizard is the villain of the current arc immune to Deadman’s possession so he doesn’t solve the problem instantly, but usually at least gives him one really big heroic moment in the story (such as defeating Blackbriar Thorn singlehandedly or freeing Swamp Thing from Doctor Destiny). Here, DeMatteis doesn’t let him go to waste. Deadman is an incredibly useful person to have around when traipsing through the afterlife, and he’s actually necessary for the team to progress, and it’s great.
One of the really nice things is that, unlike Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 or Constantine #5, this is an incredible tie-in issue. Including September 2012’s Zero Issue, this is the twelfth issue of The Phantom Stranger, meaning this series has lasted a year. And in the past year, despite the Trinity of Sin connections, the series hasn’t really felt like it exists solely for the purpose of “Trinity War.”
The Phantom Stranger has been his own character operating for reasons not related to Pandora, the Question, the Secret Society, or the Justice Leagues, either in his professional role as a member of the Trinity of Sin, or his personal role as a pennant man looking for some small modicum of happiness in his eternal suffering. This issue perfectly blends the Stranger’s personal adventures with the events of “Trinity War,” and both readers just here for the tie-in and fans who just like the book and haven’t touched Trinity War should be able to read this and not feel left in the dark about anything.
Katana’s role in the book is pretty pointless. Her presence creates a sense of danger, as the things that happen to both her show the problems with a living human trying to go to Heaven, except that Batman serves the exact same purpose while actually contributing something to the story. I feel like the real reason Katana was put in the book is because they wanted a member of Justice League of America along for the ride, since both Justice League and Justice League Dark had members of their books here, and due to the spiritual elements of Katana’s book, she seemed like the best candidate. I don’t think her presence really detracts from the book, but it doesn’t really contribute anything either.
Ok, so it contributes fanservice.
Another problem is that Deadman’s involvement in this book spoils something from “Trinity War” we haven’t actually seen yet. Hopefully it’s not a major spoiler, but they needed to explain why Deadman’s hanging out with Batman when he’s supposed to be on team Wonder Woman. I guess we’ll have to wait until Justice League of America #7 to really see just what the deal with that is.
I had really high expectations for this book, and it met all of them. And while as a fan I think it’s perfect, as a critic I acknowledge that there is some room for improvement. Still, it’s a 5-star book in my heart, if not my head. This is a great tie-in issue for newcomers, as well as a fantastic climax set-up for long time readers, and whether you’re here for “Trinity War” or the man in the nice hat, this truly is a must-read issue.
Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 is available from comic book stores and select digital retailers for $2.99 USD.