The Phantom Stranger confronts a typical menace. Artists: Carmine Infantino and Sy Barry.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1952
Creators: John Broome (writer) and Carmine Infantino (artist)
If this site is enjoyable or useful to you,
Please contribute to its necessary financial support. or PayPal

In the early 1950s, most American comic book publishers used stories of horror and the supernatural, often quite grisly and tasteless, as a means of selling their wares. DC Comics, which …

continued below

… wasn't known for hopping on trends toward grisliness and against good taste, responded with a few tepid (but long-lived) fantasy titles without continuing characters, like House of Mystery and Tales of the Unexpected — and with one rather short-lived title based on a continuing character.

The Phantom Stranger debuted with a cover date of Aug-Sept, 1952, with an introductory story written by John Broome (Atomic Knights) and drawn by Carmine Infantino (Marvel Comics' Nova). Together, Broome and Infantino had created Captain Comet the previous year and Detective Chimp a few months after that, and would later collaborate on The Flash and Elongated Man.

The Stranger was an ambiguously-supernatural character, one who regularly dealt with supernatural menaces and helped people get through crises involving the supernatural, but it wasn't clear whether he, himself was anything but a mortal man. He wore an ordinary coat and tie, with a trenchcoat and a hat to cast a deep shadow over much of his face, and the whole ensemble was black. In this, he had a couple of look-alikes in '50s comics, Charlton's Mysterious Traveler and Harvey's succinctly-named Man in Black. Since he often functioned as a catalyst for the story rather than a main actor, he also had some slight kinship with EC Comics' horror hosts, The Crypt Keeper, The Vault Keeper and The Old Witch.

The comic lasted a mere six issues, the last dated June-July, 1953. Broome and Infantino had work in all of them, tho the latter did only covers on a couple of the later ones. Among the other writers and artists to work on the title are Jack Miller (Rip Hunter, Deadman), John Giunta (The Fly, Air Fighters Comics) and Manny Stallman (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Adventures of the Big Boy). Afterward, the character vanished for a decade and a half.

He was next seen in the 80th issue (January, 1969) of Showcase, the DC comic where characters like Space Ranger and The Atom had been tried out before the publisher committed itself to a full-scale launch. He moved out into his own comic again with a May-June, 1969 cover date. This time, his series lasted much longer. It started with reprints from the '50s, but those quickly ran out and it had to be continued by new writers and artists, such as Len Wein (Teen Titans, Swamp Thing), Jim Aparo (Aquaman, the comic book version of The Phantom), Neal Adams (Batman, Ms. Mystic) and Tony Dezuñiga (Jonah Hex, Arak Son of Thunder).

In this incarnation, there was no doubt about The Stranger's supernatural status. He'd disappear before the reader's eyes, perform unambiguous feats of magic, and generally deal with his fantastic foes on their own level. He also became less of an outsider and more of a main player in his own stories, and would interact more often with other characters — even, improbable as it may seem, to the point of being inducted into The Justice League of America in 1972. But they still kept his exact nature fairly mysterious. In fact when, in 1989, they finally got around to giving him an origin story, readers were given several equally plausible origins to choose from.

The series ended with its 41st issue (Feb-Mar, 1976), but this time the character wasn't consigned to oblivion. He continued to turn up as a guest star, had a mini-series in 1987 (which included a major crossover with the roving villain Eclipso), and was the subject of a 1993 oneshot from Vertigo (a DC imprint that specializes in adult fantasy). And he's still seen from time to time when a DC story skirts the edge between the supernatural and the mortal world.


BACK to Don Markstein's Toonopedia™ Home Page
Today in Toons: Every day's an anniversary!


Purchase DC Comics Archive Editions Online

Purchase DC Comics Merchandise Online

Text ©2003-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.