The Phantom Stranger #14 (Comics Review)

After all the build-up in the previous issues of Justice League Dark and The Phantom Stranger, writer J. M. DeMatteis gets things into gear finally with this week’s issue of the latter series. We’ve seen how the manifestation of pure evil that crossed over from Earth 3 to Earth 1 with the Crime Syndicate has begun to effect the supernatural-oriented heroes of the DC Universe and we’ve seen how Constantine and his allies have tried to take the fight to this manifestation, Blight, and failed. Now, Constantine has rebounded from that defeat by doing the impossible: bringing the Trinity of Sin to his doorstep in chains in order to solicit their help, essentially at the point of a gun.

Ever since DeMatteis took over on the series he has been turning out one great issue after another and this new issue follows that trend. It is moody, it has character drama, it has tension, it has action. Its got everything, in short, and DeMatteis has been incredibly consistent with his writing along with Fernando Blanco and Brad Anderson on the artwork. Issue #14 is where the status quo for all these characters really shifts and where a new (temporary) Justice League Dark is born.

The Phantom Stranger 14First off, the cover got me super excited but the reality didn’t match up since Zauriel is nowhere to be seen in this issue. Zauriel has had some great cameos in the series in recent issues and him joining with Constantine’s ad-hoc team of spooks would have been an excellent shift in the power balance on the mortal realm where evil is currently in ascendance. Still, the cover does make clear Constantine’s intent and his egotistical attitude which always puts him in contention with other characters, and here he is dealing with no less the Trinity of Sin, the three greatest sinners in the history of the world. Cue lots of excitement.

As always, the highlight of the issue is DeMatteis’ characterisation of the Stranger. In the entire run so far, he’s been damned over and over, committed betrayals to atone for his original betrayal, has sacrificed himself for the greater good, and then given yet another chance at redemption. He’s been through a lot of events that have cut to the core of his character and this is the issue where some of his healing begins, and the agent of that healing is Pandora. The interactions between these two are at the heart of his issue and its great to see them offer to salve each other’s wounds. Pandora herself is struggling with her identity since the events of Trinity War and her intervention on behalf of the Stranger is something that I see as quite cathartic for her.

The way that the Stranger finally makes a clear choice on what he is going to do to fight Blight, and whether he really is going to join Constantine in that endeavour, that’s something that DeMatteis really focuses on. He gives space to all the different characters, but he keeps the spotlight on the Stranger. This issue is intensely character-driven and I couldn’t get enough of the Stranger’s ruminations. DeMatteis’ excellent writing is very emotional and it really gets you in the character’s head-space and lays him bare for the reader to understand. And that’s valuable for a character like the Stranger.

But that’s not all we see, because DeMatteis also brings in two guest stars for this issue, the duo of Black Lightning and Blue Devil, who are doing their own bit to fight the evil in the world. They have a very short cameo here, but I’m thinking that they are going to join the “new” Justice League Dark team quite soon. It’d make sense. And on the flip-side we get more to see from Dr. Thirteen and Chris and it so ends up that the latter is going to Blight’s agent in the physical world, which was a freakishly awesome transformation.

Where the art is concerned, Blanco and Anderson were up to their usual tricks once again. I loved how they got the characters and their attitudes down pat through their body language and by focusing on them in a certain way in each panel. They really do bring DeMatteis’ scripts to life and this issue is a continuation of the excellent run they’ve had together for a while now. In particular, I love their Swamp Thing and Phantom Stranger, both of whom come off in a really good light throughout the issue. Where the latter shines the most however is when he is tracking through the House of Mystery, trying to get out, but appears in the House’s representation of Golgotha, “where they took the Lamb”. The entire vista is haunting and dreary, and the Stranger is the lone figure for miles around. Wonderful visuals.

So yes, DeMatteis hits another home run with this issue and the Forever Evil: Blight crossover event is developing rather well with all these character-driven stories.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Phantom Stranger: Volume 1, #10-13.

Posted on December 8, 2013, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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