I am a bit anxious and curious now to tackle the six-issue run of the book THE PHANTOM STRANGER in 1952/53. These books actually present the origin of the Phantom Stranger character. There was no Phantom Stranger before, but lots of appearances after. The Phantom Stranger is a small DC celebrity. Heck, the guy even has his own Wikipedia entry!
How cool is that?!
Phantom Stranger books all have three stories featuring the Stranger (told in third-person) and one shorter story (the third in each issue) about other matters. I could borrow the books from Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. – so let’s start our overview with …
Cover: (Hooded figures and a cat beckoning to man in black accompanied by woman in yellow dress) – Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry
“The Haunters from Beyond” (Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry)
“When Dead Men Walk!” (Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry or Joe Giella)
“Goblin in the Bottle” (Murphy Anderson)
“Whistle Magic” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
“The House of Strange Secrets!” (Carmine Infantino + Joe Giella)
“The Haunters from Beyond” features the first appearance by the Phantom Stranger, gallantly pulling a desperate woman off a bridge.
The story, alas, is the usual DC ratio twist: Secretary Anne Parris, descendant of a family of witch-hunters, has inherited the Parris fortune. Her criminal cousin Bryce costumes as a witchmaster and tries to scare her to death. Anne, however, is assisted by the Phantom Stranger to reveal the plot.
NEW to all this is the character of the Phantom Stranger. The male protagonist in this story could have been the usual police lieutenant, newspaper reporter or private investigator, but it isn’t. It’s the Phantom Stranger, a true man of mystery – with no name or origin. His description reads: “Out of nowhere appears the Phantom Stranger to challenge the supernatural powers.”
That’s all we get at this point. He seems to pop up out of thin air and vanish the same way. The Phantom Stranger is most likely a fallen angel who is condemned to walk the earth alone for all time. Read that Wikipedia entry if you’re really interested in those matters…
“When Dead Men Walk!” sports a beautiful splash for an inane story. I took that synopsis from Grand Comics Database (thanks to one “Phantom Stranger” who put it there), saved me the pains to write one myself: “When three friends die in a plane crash, the spirits seem to be haunting those they left behind, but the Phantom Stranger reveals that the ghostly appearances are really the work of an embezzler attempting to cover his tracks.”
Jeez. And all of that in just six pages!
Artwork in PS #1 is pretty good, by the way.
It is as good as the art in the SENSATIONS.
“Goblin in the Bottle” is no Phantom Stranger story. He’s sitting this one out. Wise of him!
Socialite Moira Varner wants to break up the engagement of her former hubby – by presenting him with a bottle containing a goblin! It’s all hocus, of course, because a radio in the bottle commands her ex Donald to marry Moira. These women will try anything to hook up with a rich heir, that much is sure…
The Phantom Stranger wraps up his first issue with a third appearance in “The House of Strange Secrets!”. This story can be counted as a horror-suspense yarn. Stage magician Robart lures a traveler to his house. He wants to kill him and be able to cast a black magic spell. The Phantom Stranger appears on the scene, protects the innocent man and foils Robart’s evil plans.
Great artwork as well in here. It’s entertaining and moody. Carmine Infantino comes up with some gorgeous panels, e.g. this shot from below of the uncanny magician. Fun. We post the whole story HERE.
Cover: (Reddish shadows attacking woman in white dress, the Phantom Stranger comes running to the rescue) – Carmine Infantino + John Giunta
“The Killer Shadow!” (Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry or Joe Giella)
“Death’s Strange Deputy!” (Carmine Infantino + Bernard Sachs)
“Death Writes an Obituary!” (John Giunta, signed as Jay Gee)
“The Haunting Wind!” (John Giunta, signed)
“The Talking Head!” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
“The Three Signs of Evil!” (Carmine Infantino + Joe Giella or Sy Barry)
Ahhh, it’s ratio twist insanity at its finest in “The Killer Shadow!”, a story about a guardian trying to drive his wealthy ward nuts. But he’s driving us readers nuts – by performing amazing stunts as a shadow in a especially prepared room. Have a whiff of insanity right here:
And these two panels from the last page of “Death’s Strange Deputy!” pretty much sum up more ratio twist madness. Jeez!
What kid of the 50s was actually impressed by that?!
And it’s two times John Giunta, presenting us his art in two shorties: “Death Writes an Obituary!” and “The Haunting Wind”. His artwork is a nice addition to these pages, the second story is an entertaining four-page tale about mountain explorer Dan Russell. After stealing a ruby ring in Tibet, he is cursed to die by a vengeful wind.
“The Haunting Wind” is no DC formula stuff, but presents a twist I didn’t see coming. Find the story posted on my website FIFTIES HORROR.
“The Three Signs of Evil!” is kind of an action-adventure. The Phantom Stranger teams up with artist Mark Davis and together they tackle a cult of evil assassins. I have just one question: If this is a SECRET cult, why in hell do they meet in public?!
December 1952 – January 1953
Cover: (The Stranger pulling a woman by the hand out of a ghost world) – Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry
“Ghosts for Sale!” (Carmine Infantino + Bernard Sachs)
“Dead Man’s Hand!” (Carmine Infantino + Frank Giacoia)
“How to Spot a Witch!” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
“The Man Who Carved Death!” (Murphy Anderson + John Giunta)
“The Day of Destiny!” (Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry/ Joe Giella)
That is the first time I notice the byline on the cover (above the PHANTOM STRANGER logo):
“Is He Man… or Ghost?” – well, they won’t tell us, will they? Just teasing us poor readers and keeping up the suspense. Ah.
I paused for some weeks in my DC HORROR studies. Returning now I’m overwhelmed again by the sheer plot dreadfulness. “Ghosts for Sale!” is one of these typical DC ratio twist stories – but now the Phantom Stranger takes the place some keen detective usually does. Huh? And what surprised me more: Every single character recognizes the Phantom Stranger instantly!
That doesn’t count as “Phantom Stranger” anymore, does it? Celebrity Stranger maybe? Or Phantom Celebrity?
“The Man Who Carved Death!” – had been credited to Manny Stallmann inked by John Giunta.
Well, it’s not Stallman, but DC stalwart Murphy Anderson inked by John Giunta. The team of Stallman/Giunta are working together on HARVEY HORROR since 1951.
Now it’s their first duo effort for a DC HORROR yarn. However, John Giunta tested the ground at DC earlier with his solo contributions to SENSATION COMICS #109 & #112 – and PHANTOM STRANGER #2, of course.
Nice artwork by Infantino in three out of four stories. The story plots are not worth even summarizing. In the last story, the Phantom Stranger steps in to prevent a company fraud – and in doing so, is not recognized by any character! That’s a relief! So things are back to normal. I guess. Whew!
Cover: (The Stranger warning a woman to read from a book on witchcraft) – Carmine Infantino + Sy Barry
“The Hairy Shadows” (Murphy Anderson + Joe Giella)
“Ring the Bells” (Mort Drucker) – half-pager
“The Riddle of the Ghostly Trumpet!” (Gene Colan + Bernard Sachs)
“Trail of the Lucky Coin!” (Mort Drucker ? + Bernard Sachs)
“Green Thoughts” (Mort Drucker) – half-pager
“The Dream Killer!” (Murphy Anderson + Joe Giella)
“The Crazy House!” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
Beautiful cover, by the way. Super stylish.
Ahaaa! “The Hairy Shadows” sports NO ratio twist, but is a full-blown suspense story about hairy cavemen-creatures from another dimension! Interesting, and a bit confusing now. There IS real mystery in Phantom Stranger’s world? Gotta be. The Phantom Stranger himself is a supernatural being.
It’s a rather mild horror yarn, more fantasy – and not much happens, except for the appearance of The Hairy Ones. Six year old kids may be chilled by that kind of “horror”…
“The Riddle of the Ghostly Trumpet!” is a feeble crime story, in which the Phantom Stranger exposes the murderer of a famous trumpet player. Over-constructed crap. Boring.
“Trail of the Lucky Coin!” is a pointless filler story of nearly 4 pages. But “The Dream Killer!” is fairly entertaining. Successful art painter William Wilson has premonitions about future deaths. He is haunted by terrible dreams and threatened by a medusa-like character. The Phantom Stranger steps in and discovers an evil plot behind Wilson’s dreams.
Ha! An art painter story, gotta love those! Is this a first one by DC?
Showing you two suspense-packed panels here (click on them to see the whole story posted in our “Stories” section).
Cover: (A huge green witch beckons to the Stranger and two passengers in a rollercoaster car) – Murphy Anderson ? + Bernard Sachs
“The Living Nightmare!” (Carmine Infantino + Bernard Sachs)
“Demon Count” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
“The Unseen Familiar!” (Murphy Anderson + Joe Giella)
“Twelve-Day Terror!” (Mort Drucker) – half-pager
“Time to Kill!” (John Giunta, signed)
“The Stars Screamed Danger!” (Jerry Grandenetti ? + Joe Giella)
“Hand of Glory” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
“The Nameless Ones!” (Mort Drucker) – one-pager
“The Living Nightmare!” is an almost comedic story about a boxing prizefighter called Jerry Samson who is made to believe he lost his powers. Cause, you know, a gambling syndicate coaxed him into thinking he is the reincarnation of the biblical Samson, then cuts off his hair, thusly securing their odds at betting. Jeez! These plots are clearly concocted by the poor writers who had to come up with hundreds of nutty superhero dramas for DC’s SUPERMAN franchise.
It’s hog washing time with “The Unseen Familiar!”, another impossible tale just right up DC’s ratio twist alley. Here, a “familiar”, a spiritual being, harasses a rich heir to sign him over all the property. The Phantom Stranger exposes the familiar as… the butler! In disguise.
Ca-ripes, I can seriously take not much more of this ca-rap.
Next John Giunta “guest spot” with the four-page science fiction yarn “Time to Kill!”. Not that bad. Two panels show a rifleman shooting from a rooftop into a crowd and assassinating someone. Reminds the reader eerily of one Lee Harvey Oswald …
Last regular story is “The Stars Screamed Danger!”, the title story about weird happenings at an amusement park. It is nonsense-business as usual, but we posted the story to give you an impression what readers of 50s DC comic books had to go through…
And, BTW: The amusement park serves as a great backdrop to the Phantom Stranger’s follies! See the story posted HERE.
There are three nice one-page contributions by Mort Drucker in this issue, one of them about the “Hand of Glory” .The candle-bearing severed hand of a hanged man was believed to have magic powers, you know. Hard to come by nowadays. That is the third or fourth time I read about this. Other comics publishers exploited this lore as well. If you want to learn more (or try things at home…) please click HERE to see a full story illustrated by the great Matt Fox.
And we assemble a choice of Mort Drucker’s “one-page art HERE in our “Stories” section.
Cover: (Giant claw-like hands push open a door in the sky which the Phantom Stranger and a woman try to shut) – Murphy Anderson + Joe Giella ?
“The Ghosts in the Locked Room!” (Carmine Infantino + Bernard Sachs)
“The Busy Brownie” (Mort Drucker) – half-pager
“Doorway in the Sky!” (Murphy Anderson + Joe Giella)
“Dead Man’s Bluff!” (John Giunta)
“Stop that Yawn” (Mort Drucker) – half-pager
“Horror in Miniature!” (Jerry Grandenetti ? + Frank Giacoia)
That cover is probably NOT by Murphy Anderson, although he allegedly recalled having done this. Compare the cover to the Anderson story (and splash) inside – it’s looking quite different!
Here we go, last issue of the PHANTOM STRANGER. Getting the axe in summer 1953, the same as SENSATION MYSTERY. We don’t know why the titles were canceled at the height of the horror craze. One can only guess that maybe DCs horror lore was too soft for those wild times (though they kept HOUSE OF MYSTERY running) – or the writing was so much more needed and better suited to their superhero books.
“The Ghosts in the Locked Room!” presents itself as a detective mystery, wherein the Phantom Stranger solves a clever jewelry theft, committed out of a locked room.
O, how the mighty fall. In “Doorway in the Sky!” the Phantom Stranger saves actress Lorna from a deadly intrigue – on a Hollywood movie set! How lame can you get?! I know, you might think this could be interesting, but it’s not. Trust me.
“Dead Man’s Bluff!” is this issue’s John Giunta guest spot, a four page story without the Phantom Stranger. Frankly, I didn’t get it. The gangster Ace Mitchell claims he can cross into another dimension – with the help of a special wrist watch. But where is his original body, why does everybody recognize him, however, and what’s with the watch maker? Spare me. It all doesn’t quit add up… Whatever! On, on, on, wrap this mess up, pleeease.
Fun fact: Before the next story, there’s a half-page filler called “Stop that Yawn”! You wish!
“Horror in Miniature!” is about the Phantom Stranger and cameraman Tim Harley fighting back an invasion of elves. Yes, elves. Real ones, no ratio twist here! They dress up in armor to be protected by the elven/ Elvin/ elflike magic and go bust some tiny heads. Not politically correct!
I also resent that story title – “Horror in Miniature!”. Tchh.
Ah, well. That’s all, folks. No more DC HORROR. But always remember:
Stop that yawn! Read something else.
Harmfph. Kidding. Jump right over to our “Stories” section and enjoy the chosen FEW tales we picked for your entertainment.
Closing the phantom shop with our statistics for PHANTOM STRANGER.
Interesting trivia – NONE of these artists worked for HOUSE OF MYSTERY (except Jerry Grandenetti, I have to add).
They worked on the SENSATIONS, though. An explanation might be that HOM was edited by Whitney Ellsworth; the other lines were supervised by Julius Schwartz!
I counted 24 full-length stories in 6 issues (NO first-person narratives here!), with artwork by:
Carmine Infantino 11 with inkers Sachs (4), Barry (3), Giella (3) and Giacoia (1)
Murphy Anderson 6 with inkers Giella (4) and Giunta (1)
John Giunta 3
Jerry Grandenetti 2 with inkers Joe Giella (1) and Frank Giacoia (1)
Gene Colan 1 with Bernard Sachs
Mort Drucker 1 with Bernard Sachs
No doubt, Phantom Stranger, who’s your daddy? Carmine Infantino rules this series, along with Murphy Anderson.
What – more horror?!
The DC title STAR SPANGLED COMICS ran from 1941 to 1952 for 130 consecutive issues.
The lead story in the last books (#122 – #130) featured the detective-mystery series “Ghost-Breaker” and dealt with allegedly supernatural phenomena.
“Ghost-Breaker” even got the prominent cover spot, see here:
We did not look into these. We assume they run in the same vein as our Phantom Stranger.
STAR SPANGLED COMICS was relaunched as STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES with issue #131.
In these weeks of the summer of 1952 SENSATION COMICS were renamed SENSATION MYSTERY and the full blown detective-mystery book PHANTOM STRANGER saw the light of publication.
The title STRANGE ADVENTURES, if you might wonder, is no horror book, but DC’s first science fiction comic book.
Launched in August 1951, it ran highly successfully for 244 issues until October 1973.
The companion title MYSTERY IN SPACE followed in April 1951 and lasted until September 1966.