So, Phantom Stranger is Judas Iscariot. Oh, and, uh, spoiler alert. Whoops, did I do that too late? My sense of timing is always off on these things. Best not to dwell on it, it’s time to soldier on, since I’m reviewing Phantom Stranger #0, a comic written by DC‘s co-publisher Dan DiDio about a guy who wanders around…being a stranger…to people…and sometimes does something. Only, now DiDio has made him Judas doing penance for betraying Jesus, and thus we have a Biblical pretext for a DC comic book.
Hey, does anyone else ponder why it is Judas gets such a bum rap? Yeah, yeah, the whole ‘thirty pieces of silver, leading Christ to his death’ thing makes him seem bad, but when you get down to it: if God and Jesus planned all along for someone to betray them so that the savior could be crucified and thus die for man’s sins, doesn’t that make the guy who did the betraying a key part of the plan and therefore not someone to punish for all of eternity? I’m not asking to be snotty or to tweak off the religious types out there, I’m genuinely curious about this aspect of the Bible, particularly since it’s a plot point in this comic, and I’m pretty sure nobody involved in the decision to incorporate such a major portion of Christianity into their little cape comic bothered to think about any of the implications at all. Specifically, Judas is brought before a council of (oddly) multicultural wizards representing a wide variety of faiths–as if DC were having some sort of unofficial crossover with South Park’s Super Best Friends–who sentence him to wander the earth for eternity, proclaiming that his “greed has forever darkened the world” (Again, cleansing mankind of all sin? Not exactly a good example of darkening the world).
Maybe I’m not supposed to think about this too much, since DiDio and Brent Anderson don’t really put thought into their premise so much as just state it: well, Anderson just draws it in the flattest, dullest way imaginable so that the text can fill up as much of the page as possible without distracting from any sort of art that a comic book reader might actually want to look at. It’s functional, but non-descript, with settings that largely consist of blank walls and fixtures that might as well be labelled “Place Family Picture Here” or “Insert Notable Architecture There.” There’s absolutely no personality here, which makes it even worse when we get to the second half of the issue where we get the origin of the Spectre, now with Phantom Stranger inserted into it: there’s literally a scene where soon-to-be-dead Jim Corrigan gets in an argument with his police captain over the way to track down Corrigan’s kidnapped girlfriend (a go-nowhere plot that’s only used to marginally advance the story of a do-nothing lead). The captain says “Your anger could get her killed” on the last panel of the page, then the first panel of the next is Jim responding solemnly “Yeah, all my life I’ve been filled with an uncontrollable rage,” before spilling out his life story to the captain, which is about the worst staging of a conversation ever, not helped by Anderson having his figures only act when the stage directions require them to, standing perfectly still otherwise. There’s another, similar setup earlier in the issue where Phantom Judas asks the Super Best Friends to “forgive [him] as [Jesus] would,” and then narrates in the very next panel “I pleaded for mercy,” because this is apparently meant for very small children and/or incredibly thick adults.
When it’s not being slow-witted, Phantom Stranger is lacking any sort of interest in its title character. The first half really only exists to give the requisite Pandora appearance and a hint at what I think that Trinity War crossover is supposed to be, and the second half is devoted to the Spectre. Meanwhile, we get no further insight into Phantom Judas beyond the perfunctory: he feels guilty, he’s got a death-wish, must atone, and has had to change appearance and language to fit the times, all of which could describe at least fifty other characters. Everything about this comic is arbitrary, and the time I’ve spent reading it and writing my criticisms of it is time so wasted it reminds me I’m wasting much of my time on this Earth on shallow, stupid stories that no one, not even the guy who hired himself to write it, could give a damn about.
And now, you’ve wasted your time reading about how much of a waste of time it was. Life is beautiful.