Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: The Phantom Stranger #5

(w) Dan Didio and J.M. DeMatteis
(p) Brent Anderson
(i) Philip Tan and Rob Hunter

If God is a DJ,

Life is a dance floor,
Love is the rhythm,
You are the music.

I'm not a fan of pop recording artist P!nk's music, but her 2004 single, "God Is A DJ", was one of those songs that was on the radio incessantly when I was in high school, and somewhere along the line, it kind of stuck with me whether I wanted it to or not. Same goes for Lenny Kravitz's "Again", Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It", the unfortunate Dixie Chick's cover of "Landslide", and the Creed songs, which I list as one entity because I can't tell them apart, only that they're Creed songs based on Scott Stapp's nasally vocals. But I diverge. I preface with this short diatribe about Ms. P!nk's single because the chorus for the song (shown above) is a rather amazingly, hideously perfect representation of what Dan Didio and J.M. DeMatteis bring to the table in The Phantom Stranger #5, an issue that sees the true introduction of The Spectre into the 'New 52', as well as plays around with cosmic entities like their action figures and consequences be damned.

Since it's 'Zero Issue' last September, The Phantom Stranger has been a sort-of look into the high cosmic happenings of the DCnU. Pre-relaunch, the Stranger was far more enigmatic, his true intentions and agenda never fully revealed. Earlier issues of the series have seen a Stranger with more clarity and focus than ever before, the introduction of fan-favorite Raven, as well as dealings with John Constantine and the Justice League Dark, amongst others. The Phantom Stranger #5 differs from previous issues because it throws subtly out the window and goes for broke to set up the highly anticipated "Trinity War" even though it doesn't have to.

Basically, Stranger believes the divine hand of vengeance, The Spectre, is to blame for the kidnapping of his family and their removal from the Earthly plane. Instead of communicating, Stranger and Spectre end up duking it out, and before they rip apart time and space, God himself (herself?) shows up to put them both in their place. Taking the form of a Yorkshire Terrier, God simply gives Stranger and Spectre a good scolding before telling them to play nice or else. Meanwhile, that's when the Question shows up at the home of Terrence Thirteen to get the Stranger's attention. 

This is where Ms. P!nk's song comes in. Dan Didio and J.M. DeMatteis are really playing fast and loose with god-like entities (and God itself) as if they are just like any other DC character. In the past, the sheer breadth of characters like the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre were regarded in a way that their core concepts stayed consistent even if their forms did not. In a way, it makes sense for these kinds of revelations to take place in a series dedicated to a member of the Trinity of Sin, but mostly, it feels like too much too fast. Part of what made the pre-'New 52' Phantom Stranger and Spectre great was that they were so mysterious, that not everything about them was known.

The Phantom Stranger #5 is a perplexing issue if only because it's such a drastic shift from the slow-burn of the previous issues to the rapid-fire storytelling seen in these pages. It's quite clear this series is starting the long journey toward "Trinity War", but it's doing so clumsily at this point and that somehow makes the entire endeavor feel a little less special. I don't want to have a bias going into DC's first 'New 52' major crossover event, so I'll take this issue's events with a grain of salt.


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