The Phantom Stranger #20 (Comics Review)

Recently it was announced that The Phantom Stranger was coming to an end in a few months, along with its sister title Pandora. The former title debuted as part of DC’s second launch wave for New 52, if I remember correctly, and the latter debuted last year as a prelude to the Trinity War crossover. They’ve been entertaining at the least, and I’ll be sad to see them go, especially The Phantom Stranger since though it had a rough start, once J. M. DeMatteis came on board last year the title really redefined itself and became one of my favourite monthly reads from DC.

For the last couple of issues J. M. DeMatteis has been building up to a great showdown between the Phantom Stranger and the Sin Eater, two men who’ve been at odds for quite a while now, and who serve entirely different masters, both in opposition to each other. First with the supernatural cracks in reality and then with the happenings in San Francisco as related to Cassandra Craft, a woman Stranger has some kind of a connection with. DeMatteis’ writing has been strongly consistent and so has the artwork, all of which really comes to a head in the new issue.

As with the enmity between Phantom Stranger and Sin Eater, the former’s enmity with the Spectre has also been a core part of the series, giving it a larger context that I’ve loved from the get go. Once a cop named Jim Corrigan, the Spectre is the Wrath of God made manifest and such is his role in the grand design of God, the Presence that has popped up so many damn times in this series. In this new issue, we see how these two enemies must unite to take down both Sin Eater and his master Non, who is a strong analog of the Presence, of God, as far as this story is concerned.

Here, DeMatteis plays with the relationship and chemistry between his characters and he addresses a lot of their differences, one after the other. That is what makes this entire issue so good and above the norm. The character relationships in this series have been fascinating to me from the get go and I love everything that has been done here on that front. And what’s even more great is that even as DeMatteis tells a new story, he references a lot of what has already happened, giving the story a certain cohesiveness with the previous issues, and thus making it all a part of the larger grand design that has been in play since the start of the series.

What I loved most in this issue was the characterisation of Non and the big showdown between Non and Sin Eater on one side and the Spectre and the Stranger on the other side. The clash between them is certainly epic, although it could have been easily stretched out a bit more to provide a much better climax. But what we got was fine too, and I’m certainly not complaining. What I felt was a letdown however was that the whole thing with Cassandra and Madame Xanadu that was teased in the previous issue took a backside to the story with Non and the Sin Eater. Here was a great chance to bring these two together, but it didn’t happen. That’s the only disappointing thing in this issue, from the point of view of the writing.

Of course, the story doesn’t quite end here and there is certainly more coming up, and I’m very curious as to how DeMatteis is going to bow out of the series.

As before, Fernando Blanco and Norm Breyfogle are the artists here, with Gabe Eltaeb as the colourist and Travis Lanham as the letterer. Guillem March and Tomeu Morey provide the cover art. In the early pages, the pencilwork is lacking in a subtlety and the expression-work isn’t all that great and the art is generally entirely too simplistic, but that improves later on, thankfully. The switch between the artists, when that happens, seems to be quite evident and I really wish that it was otherwise. Still, thanks to Gabe Eltaeb’s colours, the issue ends on a high and I certainly enjoyed the art, everything taken together.

So, not as great as the previous issue, but still a strong offering!

Rating: 8/10

More Phantom Stranger: Volume 1, #10-13, #14, #15, #18, #19.

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Posted on June 7, 2014, in Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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