Tie-ins and crossovers are a tricky thing, especially when they happen in the middle of a book’s overarching plot. There are a few options for handling it, and the two most common seem to be postponing the main plot until the crossover finishes, (like Batgirl did for “Night of the Owls”) or sprinkling in bits of the current plot to keep readers satisfied (like Batgirl did for “Death of the Family”). However, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger is unique in that it doesn’t really have this problem, as the book’s personal plot is generally served by whatever it’s tied into. But in a four-series-wide crossover event (that indirectly connects to another crossover event), how well can that hold? Can J.M. DeMatteis pull through and serve the Stranger’s story while juggling the entire magical side of the DC Universe with another author?
Yes. This is largely helped by the fact that J.M. DeMatteis is writing Justice League Dark, as well, so he’s controlling half of the overall “Forever Evil: Blight” crossover. Directly writing the team book the crossover is based in — along with getting to write the story of one character on the team — allows DeMatteis to flip back and forth between the two organically. The seeds of what the Phantom Stranger would be doing in this issue were planted in last week’s Justice League Dark #26.
In this issue, the Phantom Stranger goes with Terrence Thirteen to rescue supporting cast member Christopher Esperanza from the possessing influence of Blight. On the way, he’s intercepted by Dog (the voice of the Divine taking the form of a Scottish Terrier), who tells him to join up with Blight as part of some great cosmic plan. The Stranger, however, is determined to rescue Chris’s family from their possessed son. What ensues is a huge decision for the Phantom Stranger, where he has to decide whether the instructions of God matter to him anymore. While all this goes on, the Justice League Dark is trying to find the captured magic heroes, and the Crime Syndicate is up to no good with said magic heroes. All of it is full of mystery, full of intrigue, and really makes you want to keep on reading. What will the Stranger do? Can the JLD find Zatanna and the others? And just what is the Crime Syndicate trying to do with the magical heroes?
Totally forgot Mindwarp existed. He was not missed.
Visually, this issue is great. Most of the issue is drawn by Fernando Blanco, who’s art (“ugly” may not be the right term for it) is decidedly not pretty. This works well when we get to see the members of the Justice League Dark, and it especially works in the scenes featuring Blight.
The three-page scene involving the Crime Syndicate is drawn by Miguel Sepulveda, and it also works. Whereas the fitting ugliness from Blanco’s artwork is a result of some vaguer details and sketchiness to the art, Sepulveda has an ugliness come out through detailing and shadows that just fits the scene exceptionally well. This is how all fill-in artwork should be. If a comic is going to have a fill-in artist, it should be unobtrusive. A few pages at most, featuring a different scene with different characters, where the overall shift in the story is helped by a change in artwork to establish it as something different, rather than what you’d see in Trinity of Sin: Pandora #6 where a shift to another artist just comes right out of nowhere in the middle of the book and it’s really jarring. Of course, a lot of this is helped by the two distinct art styles being largely compatible, and with Fernando Blanco’s colors, readers may notice the shifting art styles, but not really be bothered by it.
A lot of this issue is kind of predictable. Most of it deals with the Phantom Stranger trying to defeat Blight, but you know that they can’t get rid of the crossover’s titular villain when there’s over two months left of this story. It doesn’t really feel like time wasted, though, and there’s certainly enough going on in the Phantom Stranger’s personal story for it to matter to readers, but if you’re just here for “Forever Evil: Blight”, it doesn’t really feel like anything important has happened. At best, what goes down between the Stranger and Blight raises the stakes a little, but it’s not enough to really get invested. The Crime Syndicate stuff feels like it’s contributing something, but really, we still have no idea what exactly they’re up to, so it’s all flash without any substance.
As an issue of Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, this is a really good book, which makes a huge leap in the Phantom Stranger’s character arc that’s sure to cause some big things to happen to him in the future. As an issue of the “Forever Evil: Blight” crossover, it leaves a lot to be desired, and while it may be unfair to call it a waste of time, it could certainly do more for those readers who are spending four times as much money on this crossover just because one book they happen to read is in it. It’s still a really good read overall, but it could use some improvement.
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the New 52 logo squished vertically like that before.
Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #15 is available from physical and digital retailers for $2.99 USD.