Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Phantom Stranger #4

Phantom Stranger #4 (On Sale: September 16, 1969) has a cover by Neal Adams.

We begin with "There is Laughter in Hell This Day" by Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams and Bill Draut. In my mind I have always considered this to be the first real story of the modern Phantom Stranger. Before I get to the story though, I have to say that the strange combination of Neal Adams and Bill Draut came off pretty well, though it looks like Neal went back in and reinked quite a bit of this himself, so who knows what it actually looked like.

We begin in Haiti, where Dr. Terence Thirteen and his wife Maria are witness to a crazed tourist's dive from a waterfall into a pool during a native ceremony calling for Tala. Terry dives in to save the man but discovers an underwater vortex sucking everything into a tunnel. He barely makes it back to the surface and the next morning has the authorities use explosives to seal up the tunnel. No one notices the swirling smoke the explosion released that forms into the beautiful Tala.

As the Thirteen's jet back to New York to check on a supposedly sobbing brownstone building, their jet is engulfed by an enormous black cloud. From outside it is clear that the cloud is a manifestation of Tala's cape as sit stands astride the jetliner. A crackle of lightning from a vast white cloud signals the arrival of the Phantom Stranger. As they arrive in New York that evening the area is in the midst of a strange power blackout, when, low on fuel, the plane's lights and radio also die. Terry thinks he sees a beautiful woman standing on the plane's wing, but realizes it must be an illusion caused by strain.

A glowing Phantom Stranger guides the blinded plane in safely and Tala confronts the Stranger before flying off. Terry Thirteen also confronts the Stranger, calling him a phony stage magician, but the Stranger disappears in the smoggy darkness of night. the plane down and out of danger, the power suddenly returns to New York.

The next day a quartet of teenagers trade some junk with a Brooklyn junkman for some money and what he calls a "a book to raise the dead." The foursome then head for the supposedly haunted brownstone building where they plan on crashing for a bit and on of them mentions that the old how has been dead for years and that maybe the book could "wake it up again." Inside they find a huge old fireplace with massive gargoyles and above the mantle, a painting of a beautiful girl. In a mirror off to the side is the reflection of Tala.

Suddenly they hear the sobbing the house is infamous for and they drop the book on a dusty table where, unseen, Tala forces open the catch and flips the pages to a voodoo incantation for raising the dead. They read the incantation which asks Tala to bring them life. Unfortunately, the life is passed to the two gargoyles who attack the foursome. But the Phantom Stranger suddenly materializes as well and intercepts the gargoyles doing battle with them, turning them into a pile of broken plaster. Tala then emerges from the mirror and offers herself to the Stranger, but she is rebuffed and flies off in a fury.

Moments later the Thirteens arrive and Terry accuses the Stranger of playing upon the delusions of the youngsters. But they say they have heard the crying in the building. The wailing starts again and the Stranger cuts a hole in the wall with his finger and inside they find an old, skeletal woman. Thirteen tries to explain away her existence but the woman, barely alive tells of how she came to the building when she was 18, to visit her fiancé and how she told him of her love for another and how in a fit of rage he sealed her up in the wall and became a hermit, spending the entirety of his life in the house to be near her.

In his will he saw to it that the house could never be touched and so it and she remained. Suddenly the house begins to shake and tremble. As they run from the building Tala can be seen on top of the house laughing. Thirteen calls it an illusion. The woman says all she wants is to sleep forever and the Stranger promises her it will be. The next evening he places flowers on her grave. Thirteen is there, calling it all a hypnotic illusion staged by the Stranger. The Stranger tell him that there are "more things in heaven and Earth-- than one can imagine" and then disappears, leaving Thirteen still convinced that the Stranger has duped them all. This was Reprinted in Showcase Presents Phantom Stranger Vol. 1 TPB.

The back-up story "Out of This World" is by Robert Kanigher and Murphy Anderson and is presented as one of the "Strange Tales from the Phantom Stranger." This is the old story of a guy picking up a hitchhiker, taking her out dancing and falling in love with her. The next night he returns to the house he dropped her off at and discovers that she died one year ago yesterday. This is very close to the plot of the old Dickie Lee song, Laurie (Strange Things Happen In This World).

Last night at the dance I met Laurie,
So lovely and warm, an angel of a girl.
Last night I fell in love with Laurie -
Strange things happen in this world.

As I walked her home,
She said it was her birthday.
I pulled her close and said
"Will I see you anymore?"
Then suddenly she asked for my sweater
And said that she was very, very cold.

I kissed her goodnight
At her door and started home,
Then thought about my sweater
And went right back instead.
I knocked at her door and a man appeared.
I told why I'd come, then he said:

"You're wrong, son.
You weren't with my daughter.
How can you be so cruel
To come to me this way?
My Laurie left this world on her birthday -
She died a year ago today."

A strange force drew me to the graveyard.
I stood in the dark,
I saw the shadows wave,
And then I looked and saw my sweater
Lyin' there upon her grave.

Strange things happen in this world.

Reprinted in Showcase Presents Phantom Stranger Vol. 1 TPB.

The letters page features a letter by the late comic historian Richard Morrissey and one from letter column regular Gary Skinner.

Edited by Joe Orlando.

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