“The cliffhanger the issue ends on is the sort of thing that would normally have me bracing myself for disappointment, but I have a little more faith in DeMatteis than that. The payoff for such a bold setup could be immensely rewarding in capable hands, and what I’ve seen of the series suggests nothing less.“
So I wrote a month ago on PHANTOM STRANGER #21. Although this issue isn’t what I was expecting based on last month’s cliffhanger, what I got wasn’t bad, either. PHANTOM STRANGER #22 by J.M. DeMatteis and Fernando Blanco is all about laying some tracks for the Stranger’s character development in coming issues, clarifying some of the rules of the game.
This is the kind of stuff that could be incredibly boring, but DeMatteis and Blanco have a few tricks up their sleeves to make it a compelling read. We’re shown the Stranger’s alternate life as a suspense writer who has frequent hallucinations related to his identity as the Stranger. This is the Last Temptation of the Phantom Stranger, giving him a look at what he could have if he turns his back on his true calling.
A lazier writer could get away with devoting this issue to nothing but dialogue and exposition in laying out these themes of redemption and purpose and free will for the Stranger to wrestle with. DeMatteis finds a way to do it without boring us.
This isn’t my favorite DeMatteis series, but it’s a consistent, solid book, and a testament to DeMatteis’ strengths. He’s a writer who works harder than he has to. This is a mid-tier series that isn’t going to be running for that much longer, but that hasn’t stopped DeMatteis from treating it with the same respect he would any other project.
I’m still not big on the Stranger being Judas. Incorporating Biblical lore into the DC mythos is ambitious, and hats off for that, but I still want the Phantom Stranger to be a phantom and a stranger, not the most well-documented traitor figure in the history of human literature.
As usual, the art delivers some surreal prog-rock album cover imagery. It’s not a bad book, there just isn’t a lot to the series to get me eagerly anticipating each new issue. My biggest complaint really does come down to: I don’t like knowing this much about the Stranger. But, if DC insists, I’m glad DeMatteis is the guy writing it.
Typically strong writing and art. DeMatteis knows how to take dreary exposition and make it readable, surprising and intriguing. I want to take a moment to note how unique this series is within the current DC canon, visually speaking. The Christian imagery combined with superhero tropes results in a book that doesn’t look much like anything else out there right now.
Even though this issue finds a creative way to lay out some exposition, you could still probably skip it and figure out the missing pieces for yourself with the next issue and not be at a loss.
And I still don’t like the idea of the Stranger as Judas on a quest for redemption. Though I will say he’s a better Christian superhero than Bibleman.
TRINITY OF SIN: PHANTOM STRANGER remains my favorite least favorite series. I love everything about the execution, but I just can’t warm up to the idea of exploring the Stranger’s backstory and psychology in the same way we want to map out the entire biography of a character like Superman or Alec Holland. DeMatteis is an excellent writer, but the Stranger can’t help but become less interesting with every new detail we learn about him.