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Phantom Stranger and Phantom Girl
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Fred Hembeck

Phantom Stranger and Phantom Girl
Uploaded June 25, 2000

Today, we're going to talk about phantoms, even though, as I write this, Halloween is still months away.

Comics publishers have a rich tradition of re-using names and concepts, with the Super- prefix being the most obvious example. (Just fill in the blank: man, woman, boy, girl, dog, horse, family, etc.) As confusing as this might get at times, we have to remember the opportunities it provides for making cheap puns and odd connections.

Like Phantom Girl going on a date with the Phantom Stranger to the Phantom Zone.

Phantom Girl is, of course, one of the early members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, joining fairly soon after the group formed with its original three members. Her name derives from her talent - she can alter her substance to pass through solid objects, like, well, a phantom.

Hey, it's better than what Bouncing Boy can do. Besides, DC artists had her in a cut-away outfit long before Elizabeth Hurley showed up at a film premiere wearing - almost - a strips-of-cloth-and-safety-pins ensemble.

The Phantom Stranger, on the other hand, has a much more convoluted back-story. He's been wandering around the DC Universe for a few decades now, portrayed originally as just another mystic-type, exploring supernatural incidents and defending people from assorted evil mystics. Starting in the mid 1970s, DC writers began integrating him into some the more traditional super-hero stories, with guest appearances in a few Justice League stories (several of which, sadly, cast him in a deus ex machina role, showing up just in time to save the day).

In their mid 1980s series 'Secret Origins', DC tried an interesting approach; they commissioned four short stories from different writers, challenging each to come up with their take on the character and an appropriate origin. They felt that this would strike a balance between those wanting to know where he came from and those who felt the mystery aspect should be preserved.

Nice try, guys, but if you wanted an equitable playing field, then you shouldn't have asked Alan Moore to write one of the stories. Moore is highly regarded for a number of projects he's worked on, most notably Swamp Thing and Watchmen, and his take on the Phantom Stranger is widely considered to be the front-runner.

Moore wrote a story that clearly implies that the Stranger had been an angel once, who had refused to take sides during Lucifer's rebellion. Cast out by both sides afterwards, he found himself alone and isolated, even as he walked the world being generally helpful and protective of the human race.

The Phantom Zone is a plot device from the pages of Superman, kind of an extra-dimensional limbo into which the Kryptonian government exiled its entire criminal element. While in the Zone (which didn't look anything like it was portrayed in the movie 'Superman II'), prisoners exist as phantoms relative to the real world, able to see and hear without being seen or heard, and unable to touch anything. And you thought you were sexually frustrated...

Superman's pappy discovered the place, and invented the zone projector (that's the red thing that the Stranger is holding in the above strip) to provide access to it. This accounts for why every felon who escapes from the zone has a serious hate going for the Man of Steel.

Sadly, the Phantom Zone no longer exists in the current DC universe, having been Byrne-ified out of continuity along with so many other bits of Superman arcana.

- NP

The copyrights, trademarks and publication rights to Fred's cartoons belong to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Fred Hembeck where appropriate. Proud Robot Productions graphics, site design, cartoon re-coloring and commentary copyrights belong to Neil Polowin and Proud Robot Productions.

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