Dig these 13 GORGEOUS COVERS AND PAGES…
By PETER BOSCH
“I’m just a stranger and I’m here to help you.” – The Phantom Stranger in the first issue of his comic book title (Aug.-Sept. 1952).
He was part “Shadow,” but without the guns… and he was part “Mysterious Traveler,” the radio drama narrator, but this time taking direct action to help instead of just standing by and observing. The tales also included some of the feeling of those 1940s spook thrillers from Universal, where a human was usually behind so-called ghostly manifestations.
The original Phantom Stranger comic book series from DC was on the newsstand when superheroes were on the wane in the early 1950s. All-Star Comics, which had been the home of the Justice Society of America, was now All Star Western. Likewise, All-American Comics had already become All-American Western a few years earlier. Star Spangled Comics would become Star Spangled War Stories. Wonder Woman was out at Sensation Comics. Science-fiction, mystery, crime, war, and Western comic books were on the rise. Between 1950 and 1952, DC introduced Strange Adventures, Mystery in Space, House of Mystery, and one other, The Phantom Stranger.
There were only six issues in the series (Aug.-Sept. 1952 to June-July 1953), but the talent involved was a Who’s Who of the industry — Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Gene Colan, John Broome, Murphy Anderson, Joe Giella and Bernard Sachs.
In late 1968, history started repeating itself. Superheroes at Superman’s company were not as much in demand as they had been. The great Silver Age was coming to an end. It was a time of necessary upheaval at DC, which had been losing readers to Marvel. In order to recapture them, they persuaded Steve Ditko to join their ranks and Jack Kirby would soon be traveling to 575 Lexington Avenue, as well.
It may have not been a great time for four-color heroes, but horror and supernatural comics were making a comeback, including the long-running House of Mystery and House of Secrets series. Tales of the Unexpected went from sci-fi to horror when they changed the title to The Unexpected. Strange Adventures featured Deadman, back from — um — the dead to find his killer. And newer titles, such as The Witching Hour, were added. Even heroes like the Spectre were getting another chance. It was a good time for the Phantom Stranger to reappear — and he did.
Showcase #80 (Feb. 1969) went on sale December 12, 1968, with a cover by Neal Adams, whose art could make you buy anything. Such was Adams’ influence on the title that it is easy to feel now he was drawing all the stories, as well. However, he only did it one time, in The Phantom Stranger #4 (Nov.-Dec. 1969), but it was a dynamically illustrated tale that can never be forgotten.
Adams’ covers continued through #19 (May-June 1972) and were taken over by Jim Aparo, who had been drawing the incredible interior tales since The Phantom Stranger #7 (May-June 1970). (The writing had no shortage of talent, either, with Robert Kanigher, Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway and Len Wein providing the scripts.) Aparo and the Phantom Stranger were made for each other and no one, before or since, has captured those supernatural tales as well. Aparo’s art was that monumental.
As we mark the 55th anniversary of the Phantom Stranger’s revival, here are 13 COVERS AND PAGES by Adams and Aparo to boggle the imagination:
— This NEAL ADAMS BATMAN Original Will Knock You Out. Click here.
— JIM APARO: THE ARTIST’S ARTIST — A Birthday Tribute. Click here.
13th Dimension contributor-at-large PETER BOSCH’s first book, American TV Comic Books: 1940s-1980s – From the Small Screen to the Printed Page, was published by TwoMorrows. He is currently at work on a sequel, about movie comics. Peter has written articles and conducted celebrity interviews for various magazines and newspapers. He lives in Hollywood.