Friday, August 28, 2009

Phantom Stranger...starring in Action Comics Weekly #614

Welcome back to part two of our look at Action Comics Weekly #614. Click here if you missed the first part, otherwise strap in for some otherworldly adventure featuring The Phantom Stranger!

Death God
  • Writer: Paul Kupperberg
  • Penciller: Tom Grindberg
  • Inker: Brett Breeding
  • Letterer: B. Sean Pennaha
  • Colorist: Petra Scotese
  • Editor: Mike Carlin
For us, the story picks up in media res, but I assume if you were reading Action Comics at the time it came out you probably read the prior issue with the previous chapter of this story in it. Being the experienced random readers that we are, we shall press on.

The Phantom Stranger is strung up in front of an Mayan ziggurat, being taunted by Ah Puch, the Mayan Death God. The Stranger is a mere husk of a man, obviously having had his cosmic life drained to the point of near death by Ah Puch.

After some mandatory villainous boasting, Ah Puch throws the Phantom Stranger into the well of sacrifice to await his eventual death at Ah Puch's touch.

As the Stranger sinks to the bottom of the well, he thinks back on how this situation came to be. It seems that Daniel Gleason was an author who published a book on the Mayan Empire that contained words not spoken since the civilization fell. The words magic is so strong, that anyone reading them has their life force drained, which in turns strengthens in his realm.

You think that there would have been a rash of deaths in the publishing world around this time with copy editors, proofreaders, and literary critics dropping dead left and right.

As the Stranger reaches the bottom of the well, he finds that his life essence has returned. The shear amount of sacrifices over the centuries that have been carried out in this well have imbued it with an essence that revives the Stranger.

Sadly, this is all according to Ah Puch's plan, as he intends to feed off of the Phantom Stranger for eternity. The skeleton's of Ah Puch's previous victims rise from the bottom of the well and try to bind the Stranger to his new resting place.

They are no match for the Stranger, as he bursts from the waters of the well to the fresh air above. Ah Puch is in pursuit, laughingly mocking him all the way, for in his city he is all powerful.

In fact, he grows stronger as the book with the accursed words still brings victims by the thousands within his grasp.

The Phantom Stranger hits the death god with blazing array of lights, that serve as a distraction for one ray of light that penetrates the back of Ah Puch's skull.

The Phantom Stranger is sure that the soul of Daniel Gleason is still alive in there somewhere, and that the light will help guide it to the surface where he can again gain control of Ah Puch.

Between that and the Stranger giving Ah Puch an extra overload of his energies, he falls to the ground defeated. The man that was Daniel Gleason claws his way out of the decaying shell of the death god.

No good Phantom Stranger story would be complete without a soliloquy delivered by the Stranger himself, giving warnings about powers beyond our control.

That's exactly how this tale ends, as the Phantom Stranger gives a lecture to the author about being respectful of powers we do not understand or believe in, and to always be vigilant to confront evil in whatever form it takes!

He's talking to Gleason, but we really know that it's us as the reader who is getting the lecture. For this has been another cautionary tale, brought to us by The Phantom Stranger!


I've always liked the characters like The Phantom Stranger, Dr. Strange, and Dr. Fate. The cautionary tales of magics, demons, and otherworldly powers always seem to pique my interests.

Unfortunately, the Phantom Stranger has never really captured the comic book zeitgeist like Dr. Strange has. I keep meaning to check out some of his books from the late sixties and early seventies, but I haven't had the impetus to track them down just yet.

Even so, The Stranger is one of those characters that I always enjoy seeing every now and again. It's a double-edged sword, as he is a bit of a cypher these days, so he has the potential to be used as merely a deus ex machina to wrap up a story out of the blue.

Fortunately, that's not what we get here. Paul Kupperberg gives us a nice little tale firmly centered around the Phantom Stranger. He does more than just speak in enigmatic double-talk, choosing to take on the Mayan death god directly. I'm not used to seeing him take such a confrontational and direct role, so this story came as a welcome surprise.

The other surprise was the artwork by Tom Grindberg. He's never been a particular favorite of mine, but his work here was exceptionally moody and very entertaining. I don't know if it was the subject matter, or the inker, or both...but I found myself really taking in each page to appreciate the artwork.

All in all, this was a well written and well drawn 8 page story. It's little gems like this that make reading anthology titles so much fun, as you never know what's going to come up next.

Up next...Nightwing and Speedy!

All characters and artwork reproduced are (c) DC Comics.

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Stay tuned for part three of our review, featuring the swinging adventures of Nightwing and Speedy!

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