When we last left the Phantom Stranger, he was in some deep trouble. As solicits for new issues of his comic are still being published, it was a safe bet that this would not be the character’s permanent state, but Villains Month and a one-week publishing delay kept us waiting to find out his ultimate fate. It’s been two months now, and the Stranger is back, and about to be thrust into a five-month, 18-issue crossover with Trinity of Sin: Pandora, Constantine, and Justice League Dark called Forever Evil: Blight. But as the book just finished a Trinity War tie-in, is it ready to be tangled up in another event tie-in? Well…
This is a good transitional installment of the series from the previous arc to Forever Evil: Blight. It ties up the few plot threads hanging over from the previous arc, while also adding new elements for the future of the series. Characters like Doctor Thirteen and the teenage boy Chris appear with renewed importance, as does the Stranger’s main antagonist, the Sin Eater. Of greatest interest, however, is that the plot thread involving the Question has also been brought back, meaning we may finally receive some answers to the questions that have been following the character since his reintroduction to the New 52 about a year ago.
Honestly, trying to analyze the story of this issue doesn’t lend to a lot. A lot of things happen, and they’re all interesting, but none of it seems to hold much weight right now. Like I said, it’s all set-up for the next arc. All I can really say is that if there’s one thing this book is good at, it’s keeping the mystery alive, because I never have any idea where it’s going, and have never successfully guessed what was about to happen next in it. But I’m very interested to find out.
Question Mark indeed.
The art in this issue just seems lackluster. It doesn’t really make any sense either, because it has the same art team as the previous issue: Fernando Blanco on pencils and inks, and Brad Anderson on colors. But there’s just something about the art here that feels… off. It’s a bit too light. For example, there are just moments when the Stranger looks kind of cartoony.
To Blanco’s credit, the faces are certainly expressive, but they just don’t sell the emotions.
And I really mean it when I say the book’s art seems too light, especially in comparison to the story. This book tackles themes of murder, guilt, betrayal, the holy and the unholy, and more. There’s one scene in particular I can’t show you for spoilers’ sake that should be absolutely horrifying to behold, but because of the art, it just looks kind of goofy. Maybe it’s because this is the first issue of this book in a while that takes place in the regular world and I’m spoiled by otherworldly landscapes, but the work just seems kind of droll. But even the imagery that should be really impressive just isn’t. Take a look at this scene from the last issue, where the Stranger is talking to Batman.
Watching his expression cycle here is fantastic, and the lighting really sells the intensity of the scene and the conversation. Batman and the Stranger are in a heated conversation in a situation where everything’s on the line, and while not much is happening in those panels, it’s still really impressive to look at. Now look at the Stranger in a moment of desperation in this issue:
That’s what I wanna know, art team!
I’m just not feeling it. The emotions here aren’t as intense, even though the content of this scene is really heavy. It doesn’t help that these fire effects just look terrible. I know that may sound nitpicky, but I genuinely don’t understand it. This is the exact same art team that put out the last issue, and yet the art is just nowhere near the quality it’s had for the past few issues of the series. I’m hoping the art gets back to its usual quality in the next issue.
This is the worst issue of this comic since J. M. DeMatteis took over, which isn’t to say that it’s bad. It’s still a good comic, it just doesn’t match up to the standards set by its predecessors. Honestly, if you’re just looking to get into this series for the first time, I’d suggest either going back to issue #11 or waiting to see if issue #13 is a good jumping-on point (although I’m guessing it probably won’t be). Forever Evil: Blight isn’t until issue #14, so either the current plot will be wrapped up next month, or it’s going to get dragged into the crossover. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #12 is available from physical and digital retailers for $2.99 USD.