The Phantom Stranger

Not to be confused with Stranger (comics), a Marvel comics character.
Phantom Stranger
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Phantom Stranger #1
(August–September 1952)
In-story information
Team affiliations The Quintessence
Justice League
The Trenchcoat Brigade
Sentinels of Magic
Notable aliases Brotherless One, Grey Walker
Abilities Magic spells
Long lived
The Phantom Stranger
Series publication information
Schedule vol. 1 and 2: Bi-monthly
vol. 3 and vol. 5: Monthly
Format All: Standard U.S., 4 color.
vol. 1, 2 and vol. 5: ongoing.
vol. 3: Limited series
vol. 4: 1-shot
Publication date vol. 1: August/September 1952 - June/July 1953
vol. 2: May/June 1969 - February/March 1976
vol. 3: October 1987- January 1988
vol. 5: November 2012 - present
Number of issues vol. 1: 6
vol. 2: 41
vol. 3: 4
vol. 4: 1
vol. 5: 10 (including issue #0)
Main character(s) The Phantom Stranger

The Phantom Stranger is a fictional character of unspecified paranormal origins who battles mysterious and occult forces in various titles published by DC Comics, sometimes under their Vertigo imprint.

Publication history

The Phantom Stranger first appeared in a six-issue anthology comic book series bearing his name, published in 1952, created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino.[1] After an appearance in Showcase #80 (February 1969), he received another series beginning May–June 1969[2] that lasted until February–March 1976. The Showcase appearance and the first three issues of Phantom Stranger consisted of reprints from both the 1950s title and the Dr. 13: Ghost-Breaker feature from the last nine issues of Star Spangled Comics at the same time, with new, brief framing sequences. These had Dr. Thirteen, certain that the Phantom Stranger was a fake, determined to expose him. Beginning with issue #4 (November–December 1969), the series began featuring all-new material, with stories produced by Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Tony DeZuniga, and others. In these stories, while the Stranger's past remained a mystery, the writers added a semi-regular cast of characters for him. A demonic sorceress named Tala[3] would become his major personal enemy; an alchemist/sorcerer named Tannarak[4] was first an enemy and would later assist him against the Dark Circle;[5] and a blind psychic named Cassandra Craft[6] would assist him. The stories hinted at a romantic attraction between the Stranger and Craft, but he eventually left her, deciding she could not be part of his life, convincing her he had been killed in their final battle against the Dark Circle.[7] She eventually learned differently and turned up occasionally. Doctor Thirteen, dropped along with the reprints, was given a back-up series here as of #12, March–April 1971, which morphed into "The Spawn of Frankenstein" in #23, January–February 1973.

The Phantom Stranger is better known for his role as a supernatural assistant to other heroes, such as the Justice League. His status as either a full, reserve, or honorary member of the League is debatable. After a vote of the majority of the team in Justice League of America #103, they offered him membership, with Superman declaring the Stranger "a member" without qualification, though he left before accepting. This issue was part of a metafictional unofficial crossover spanning titles from both major comics companies. Beginning in Amazing Adventures #16 (by Steve Englehart with art by Bob Brown and Frank McLaughlin), the story continued in Justice League of America #103 (by Len Wein, Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano), and concluded in Thor #207 (by Gerry Conway and penciler John Buscema). Each comic featured writers Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, and Len Wein, as well as Wein's first wife Glynis, interacting with Marvel or DC characters at the Rutland Halloween Parade in Rutland, Vermont.[8][9][10] The Phantom Stranger has at least twice asserted his membership status when other Leaguers challenged his input, during the vote on the League's re-admission of Wonder Woman[11] and during the crossover with The Avengers.[12] In contrast, many in-story accounts of League membership fail to include the Stranger; when Zatanna was admitted as a member, Superman and Hawkman clarified that the twelve-member limit in the League's charter had been rewritten previously to admit Hawkgirl as the thirteenth.[13] Writer Len Wein commented on the Phantom Stranger's relationship with the JLA in a 2012 interview stating that the character "only sort of joined. He was offered membership but vanished, as per usual, without actually accepting the offer. Over the years, other writers have just assumed [he] was a member, but in my world, he never really said yes."[14]

The Stranger also starred in a mini-series in 1987. This series portrayed him as an agent of the Lords of Order. They temporarily stripped the Stranger of his powers, due to his desire to continue a battle against the Lords of Chaos. This went against the wishes of the Lords of Order, who had believed a victory by darkness over light was necessary and preordained. This series also featured Eclipso as an agent of Chaos. In Green Lantern/Superman: Legend of the Green Flame, this role is continued. However the Stranger claims he belongs to no group. The Lords of Order threaten to strip him of his powers, and he leaves, claiming he shall continue to wander.

The Phantom Stranger received a new ongoing series in September 2012 written by Dan DiDio and drawn by Brent Anderson.[15]

Fictional character biography


Unusual for a comic book character of such longevity, the Phantom Stranger's given name, his true nature, and his origins have never been revealed. DC produced a special issue of Secret Origins that postulated no less than four equally possible origins:

  1. One proposes the Stranger was originally a private citizen during biblical times and was spared God's wrath. An angel was sent to deliver him from divine wrath. After questioning God's actions, he commits suicide. The angel forbids his spirit from entering the afterlife, reanimates his body and condemns him to walk the world forever to be a part of humanity but also forever separated from it. He then discovered his divine charge, to turn humanity away from evil, one soul at a time. Some versions of this story imply that the angel to do this was not just a random angel but the incarnation of The Spectre of that time period.[16]
  2. In a variation of the Wandering Jew story, he was a man named Isaac with a wife (Rebecca) and a son during the time of Jesus' childhood. When King Herod heard that there was born a child who would be king of the Jews, he ordered the deaths of all baby boys in order to kill the Christ child. Among the people killed were Isaac's wife and son. Blind with anger, he spent the next 30 years in a rage against Jesus. Later, after being tried in part by Herod's son, Jesus was subjected to torture. On learning this, Isaac bribed a guard to assume his role in the flagellation of Christ. Upon this Jesus sentenced him into exile from his home and to wander until Doomsday. After the crucifixion, Isaac recognized his mistake and let go of his anger. He has since spent the rest of his life helping society, even declining an offer from God, father of Jesus himself, to release him from his sentence.[17]
  3. Another was a proposal that the Phantom Stranger is in essence a time looped being. Near the end of the universe the Phantom Stranger approaches a group of scientists who are trying to drain a portion of the Big Bang to extend the life of the universe. The Phantom Stranger realizes that one of the scientists is in reality Avatar of Anti-life and the plan to drain energy from the Big bang will in fact prevent the universe from ever existing. The story concludes with the Phantom Stranger passing a portion of himself to a scientist, who dives through the portal to the Big Bang, intercepts the beam that would have drained the Big Bang, and becomes the Phantom Stranger completing the cycle.[18]
  4. Another tale postulated that the Phantom Stranger was a fallen angel who sided with neither Heaven nor Hell during Satan's rebellion and thus condemned to walk the Earth alone for all time.[19] In the comic book miniseries The Trenchcoat Brigade, John Constantine sees that the fourth origin story is essentially correct. The Vertigo Visions: The Phantom Stranger one-shot by Alisa Kwitney and Guy Davis builds upon Moore's fallen angel story and adds the story of the woman Naamah, who was condemned to Hell for loving an angel. This angel is strongly hinted to have become the Phantom Stranger.

Another possible origin was hinted at in The Kingdom (the sequel to Kingdom Come) in which it was implied that Jonathan Kent, the future son of Superman and Wonder Woman, might grow up to be the Phantom Stranger. This also tied some of his abilities into the Hypertime concept, saying that he had the innate ability to enter other alternate timelines and to exist in the spaces between them. However, the story ultimately revealed this a red herring. The character in question had been deliberately drawn in shadows to suggest that he was the Stranger; but when Wonder Woman finally saw his face, she said that she now realized he was not the Stranger.

Yet another story, in the mini-series Conjurors (outside regular DC continuity), has him as the Father of Magic, the first human ever to wield arcane forces through his medallion, which he had stolen from extradimensional Lovecraftian deities, arcane forces he then shares with humanity.

It's been shown in his appearances in Doctor Fate-related titles that the Stranger was a servant of the Lords of Order during the Ninth Age of Magic (at least). However, this may be a later development unrelated to his actual origin.

In Phantom Stranger #0 (2012), the Phantom Stranger is Judas Iscariot. He is judged by the Circle of Eternity, who are implied to be proxies for a higher power. The Stranger is condemned to walk the Earth forever as an agent of God. He wears a necklace made of the thirty pieces of silver which he took as payment for betraying Jesus. When the Stranger facilitates the transformation of Jim Corrigan into the Spectre, one of the coins falls from the necklace and crumbles, bringing him one step closer to redemption.

Depictions by different writers

In his earliest appearances, the Phantom Stranger would prove supernatural events to be hoaxes perpetrated by criminals, predating Scooby-Doo by more than a decade. He would directly confront the villains, and displayed no supernatural abilities apart from his uncanny ability to appear where and when he is needed and to disappear just as mysteriously, with nobody ever seeing him coming or going. In later stories, the supernatural events were real and the Phantom Stranger was given unspecified superhuman powers to defeat them.

In his second comic book series, the Phantom Stranger became a truly supernatural hero.

The Phantom Stranger played a major part in Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic, taking protagonist Tim Hunter through time to show him the history and nature of magic. He has assisted the Justice League on numerous occasions, even being formally elected to the group in Justice League of America #103 (although he did not acknowledge his membership until Justice League of America #143). The Stranger also had his own limited series, where, lacking much of his power, he tries to foil Eclipso's plan to cause a nuclear war.

During Kevin Smith's relaunch of Green Arrow, he prevented Hal Jordan from uniting the resurrected body of Oliver Queen with his soul in Heaven. This earned him Jordan's wrath; indeed, the Spectre threatened to judge the Stranger to see whether God had "punished" him properly by refusing him access to Heaven itself. Nonetheless, the Phantom Stranger assisted Hal Jordan during his tenure as the Spectre on numerous occasions as well, most notably in a short stint babysitting Hal's niece, Helen.

In 2005's Day of Vengeance, the Stranger had been turned into a small rodent by the Spectre. Upon the Spectre's confrontation and battle with the Stranger, the Stranger states that "You can't kill me. I doubt that the universe would allow it." He was still able to advise the Detective Chimp, who sheltered him in his hat while he recovered his powers. He changed back using recovered energies in Day of Vengeance #6 and aided the Shadowpact, allowing them to see the battle between the Spectre and Shazam. The series makes a point that the supernatural community generally regards the Phantom Stranger as invincible. The first reaction of some characters to the Spectre's assault on magic is simply to presume that the Stranger will take care of it. Other stories have shown the Stranger nearly as powerful as the Spectre.

In the Day of Vengeance: Infinite Crisis Special, The Phantom Stranger works with Nabu, Doctor Occult, Zatanna, the Shadowpact and other mystics to re-form the Rock of Eternity and help defeat the maddened Spectre.

The Phantom Stranger's relationships with the other mystic heroes are usually a bit tense. The Stranger has no qualms gathering various forces in order to combat a certain evil (the Sentinels of Magic, but also other loose outfits), often invading those people's personal lives. However, he does not usually extend them that same courtesy. The Phantom Stranger has resisted such people as Doctor Fate (notably Hector Hall) in this, although Fate is in almost any incarnation an ally of the Stranger. Despite this, he does get along well with Zatanna; in Justice League of America #6 he appeared by her side to help remove the influence of Faust on Red Tornado, and in the Justice series he seems to have a fatherly affection for her, calling her "my dear."

Since he is ultimately an unpredictable force, others often meet the Phantom Stranger's appearance with distrust. Nonetheless, most heroes will follow him, seeing not only his immense power, but also knowing that the Stranger is, in the end, a force for good. He has generally shown to side with humanity first in many supernatural-based problems, such as when he aided Superman in a confrontation with the magician Arion, who attempted to force Superman to retire in the belief that Superman and other alien heroes would hold back the 'darkness' that would make civilisation fall- Arion describing human history as existing in a cycle that would allow humanity to develop to a certain point before they collapsed and had to start again- for so long that it would destroy humanity when it came; although the Stranger acknowledged that the future Arion had foreseen, where Earth was completely destroyed by the mysterious and powerful Khyber due to Superman delaying him for so long that he only struck at his peak, was possible, he also told Superman to keep fighting to find another way as the cost in souls and experience if Arion succeeded would be too great. A notable exception to the heroes who will work with the Stranger is Madame Xanadu, who has refused to join the Stranger on a few occasions, although she is a member of his Sentinels of Magic. Eventually it was revealed that Madame Xanadu's hatred for the Phantom Stranger stems for his involvement in the events costing young Nimue her powers and heritage, and turning the young fey into the immortal yet powerless clairevoyant.

The Stranger also holds a unique relationship with the Spectre, as the two forces often come into conflict. He was responsible for gathering a group of mystic heroes in order to combat the Spectre, when its human host Jim Corrigan seemingly lost control of the Spectre. (It was during this time that they destroyed the country of Vlatava.) The Phantom Stranger participated in Jim Corrigan's funeral, when Corrigan's soul finally earned its rest and left the Spectre. The Stranger subsequently became one of the forces that stood against the Spectre when it went on a rampage without its human host, until the soul of Hal Jordan bonded with it. The Stranger occasionally took on an advisory role for this new Spectre. In Infinite Crisis #6, aware that the Spectre now has yet another new host, the Phantom Stranger gathered a large group of magic wielders in an unsuccessful attempt to solicit the Spectre's assistance in the Crisis.

In the Madame Xanadu series, the first encounter between the then young and innocent Nimue, as Xanadu was known in the Arthurian Age, and the Phantom Stranger himself is told. There, Nimue acknowledges his unearthly nature, describing him as "Ageless and yet so...uneasy", and claiming that "You're not human! Nor are you of the Ancient Folk! Nor fey creature. Nor...nor demon...". However, before Nimue is able to grasp his nature, the Stranger goes away, claiming to be "compelled to counsel and yet forbidden to interfere in the course of history".[20]

In the pages of Shadowpact the Phantom Stranger has adopted the role of narrator. He is shown to be aware of the mystical happenings not only on Earth but across several dimensions; once again he is shown unable to interfere no matter how dire the danger he's aware of.

Blackest Night

In Blackest Night #2, Black Hand refers to the Phantom Stranger as neither dead nor alive, meaning he cannot be killed, resurrected or raised as a Black Lantern. The Stranger watches as black power ring attaches itself to Crispus Allen's body, turning him into a Black Lantern, and sealing the Spectre within him. In the tie-in one shot revival of Phantom Stranger #42, the Stranger, with the help of Blue Devil, attempts to fight the Black Lantern Spectre, but fails. The two then travel to Nanda Parbat, where the Stranger helps Deadman remove the black ring from his body. The Stranger has the body brought into Nanda Parbat and placed under guard, stating that it is of "singular importance".

The New 52

In DC Comics - The New 52 FCBD Special Edition #1, Phantom Stranger was implied to be Judas Iscariot and part of the Trinity of Sin (along with Pandora and The Question). While not named explicitly, the necklace he wears is presumed to be made from the silver pieces he received for his betrayal of Jesus Christ. His hair and eyes become totally white from the experience.[21]

In Phantom Stranger #0, it is confirmed that Phantom Stranger was once known as Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus. In this origin tale he is about to hang himself when his suicide attempt is stopped by a mysterious group of individuals. He is subsequently judged along with Pandora of Pandora's Box fame and another man who was turned into the Question. Thousands of years later he is guided to help desperate former detective Jim Corrigan find his kidnapped girlfriend. He leads him to the abandoned warehouse where she's been kept, but this turns out to be a trap. Corrigan is killed by the kidnappers then transforms into the Spectre and accuses the Stranger of betraying him. As Spectre is about to attack the Stranger, a Mysterious Voice sends him off to inflict his wrath on the more deserving. As payment for what occurred with Corrigan, one coin drops off the necklace he was cursed with (made of the 30 pieces of silver he betrayed Jesus for) and the Stranger realizes he has more encounters ahead of him before he is forgiven. The Stranger will always betray those in whose lives he intervenes.[22]

Pandora meets Phantom Stranger and tells him she needs his help to find the person who can open her box. He refuses reminding her of about the last time when the sins of the world were unleashed, to which she responds that she only wants to save everyone from what she unleashed.[23]

John Constantine tries to con Phantom Stranger to join the Justice League Dark by promising to return one of the 30 silver coins bound to him through his punishment. Phantom Stranger rejects the offer, but Constantine feels he will eventually come around and be on the Justice League Dark's side.[24]

Question manipulates Doctor Thirteen to impale Phantom Stranger with the Spear of Destiny.[25] Phantom Stranger is left on the door to the House of Mystery and the Justice League Dark attempt to revive him summoning the Nightmare Nurse.[26] Once they do, Phantom Stranger states they are all in his debt and asks the Justice League Dark (specifically Zatanna) to help him enter Hell to save his family.[27]

Zauriel warns Phantom Stranger that he is never allowed to enter Heaven again having gone to try to save his family. Zauriel states to Phantom Stranger that if he tries, he will be erased from time and history.[28]

During the Trinity War storyline, Phantom Stranger arrives at A.R.G.U.S. and warns of Wonder Woman recruiting the Justice League Dark to help her locate Pandora. Phantom Stranger warns them that if they succeed, it will be the death of all. Batman states that they should go after Wonder Woman, but the Phantom Stranger says they should talk to Doctor Light to get some answers.[29] In the House of Mystery, Batman asks the Phantom Stranger to bring him to the afterlife so he can question Doctor Light about what really happened. The Phantom Stranger initially declines, but after hearing how Arthur Light was a family man, and left behind a wife and three daughters, he reconsiders. The Phantom Stranger takes Batman, Katana and Deadman, who has left Wonder Woman, with him. Once through "Heaven's Basement", they arrive in a neighborhood of Heaven, that was created by the believes of a soul. However, Katana and Batman both drift off into a space of Heaven that they both created. Katana goes to spend time with her dead husband, while Batman creates a desired Christmas Eve setting he had as a young boy, imagining what it would be like with his dead parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. While the Phantom Stranger was rescuing them, Deadman was able to locate Doctor Light. Doctor Light had created a personal universe composed of light and is suspended in a globe-like "womb". Batman orders Katana to break the womb and frees Doctor Light, with the Phantom Stranger able to resuscitate him. When Batman questions him, the group learns that he doesn't remember anything about his death. The Phantom Stranger tells Doctor Light that he will try to free him from the afterlife, so he can be with his family. Weary of the end results, Doctor Light gives a piece of his soul to the Stranger in hopes that he can give it to his family as a final gift if he doesn't get out. As the group is ready to leave, Zauriel appears and dismisses Batman, Katana and Deadman. He returns Doctor Light to his "womb" so Heaven will heal him. Zauriel asks the Phantom Stranger why he risked his being by returning and why he didn't tell the group of the consequences. With no answer, Zauriel seemingly erases the Phantom Stranger from existence.[30]

Powers and abilities

The natures of these are as mysterious as the Stranger himself, who seems to be effectively immortal, never aging. The Phantom Stranger has demonstrated enormous powers and capabilities, the exact origin of which is undetermined. He can travel enormous distances in a very short period of time, such as to the JLA Watchtower and Apokolips, as well as to mystical dimensions, such as Heaven, Hell and the realm occupied by the Quintessence. He can fire energy bolts of great force, travel through time, dispel magic, reveal illusions, and survive in space without any type of life support system. The limits of his power have not been defined. In many cases, despite his obvious capabilities, he claims he is not allowed to end a crisis directly, only to guide others to take the necessary actions (this restriction allows the Stranger to guest-star in virtually any title without becoming a deus ex machina whose actions would immediately end the story).

The Phantom Stranger's greatest and most well-known power is his mysterious omniscience; he seems to know nearly everything about any character and situation he encounters in the DC Universe, and in the JLA/Avengers crossover this extends to the Marvel Universe as well. This allows him to provide helpful advice and assistance to others. He claims that "nothing remains hidden to him". His knowledge has even allowed him to come to the aid of DC Universe characters trapped out of their own times. In Animal Man #19, Animal Man had found himself trapped in the 1960s in a ghost-like state in between reality and non-reality. He wandered listlessly, until the Stranger met him and offered a helping hand. The Stranger was already aware of Animal Man's current state of despair, and even knew that he was from the future (i.e. the late 1980s). However, in Swamp Thing Annual #2, the Stranger was not completely aware of all the details of Alec Holland's transformation into the Swamp Thing; he knew enough to be aware of the swamp creature's existence and life, but was still surprised when he encountered the creature's astral body on a trip through the afterlife.

Although the Phantom Stranger does not wear a mask, the shadow of his hat almost constantly cloaks his eyes. When shown unmasked in the Madame Xanadu miniseries, set in Arthurian age where the Stranger's disguise was a simple cloak, his eyes appear as white and devoid of irises and pupils even in broad light, and his eyes sunken in a gaunt, sad visage, thus perpetuating the shadowy look around them.

Other versions

Bruce Timm had intended to utilize the Phantom Stranger in the DC animated universe, but was not allowed to do so. However, his design for the character did appear in the following DC comics:

  • DC: The New Frontier #6 (He calls several magic-based heroes to a banquet on the moon, where he counsels them not to interfere in the new heroes' battle with the Center.)
  • Batman: Gotham Adventures #33 (Wherein he shows Bruce how Gotham City would be without Batman.)
  • Justice League Adventures #31 (He shows three possible fates about a boy who is mourning his family.)
  • Justice League Unlimited #14 (Helps Deadman and some other Leaguers against a magical threat.)
  • Justice League Unlimited #28 (Shows the Flash several Christmas days Batman experienced in the past in order to give the speedster a deeper understanding of Batman's psyche.)

Collected Edtions

  • Showcase Presents: Phantom Stranger Vol. 1 (Showcase #80, Phantom Stranger Vol. 2 #1-21
  • Showcase Presents: Phantom Stranger Vol. 2 (Phantom Stranger Vol. 2 #22-41, Justice League of America #103, House of Secrets #150, Brave and the Bold #89, 98; Frankenstein stories from Phantom Stranger Vol. 2 #23-30)
  • Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns (collects Phantom Stranger Vol. 2 #42)
  • Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger Vol. 1: A Stranger Among Us (Phantom Stranger Vol. 4 #0-5)

In other media


  • Phantom Stranger appears in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Chill of the Night!" voiced by Kevin Conroy. He and the Spectre observe Batman as he learns who murdered his parents. The Stranger wagers that Batman will remain on the path of justice, while the Spectre wagers that Batman will choose the path of vengeance and murder Joe Chill.


Phantom Stranger will be featured in Guillermo del Toro's upcoming film, based on the Justice League Dark comics.[31]

Video games

  • Phantom Stranger appears in DC Universe Online. He introduces magical heroes to Exobyte Research and equipment modification in the JLA Watchtower.



External links

  • Grand Comics Database
  • Grand Comics Database
  • Grand Comics Database
  • (Vertigo special) at the Grand Comics Database
  • Index to the Phantom Stranger's Earth-1 adventures
  • The Unofficial Phantom Stranger Chronology
  • Phantom Stranger vol. 2 cover gallery
  • Phantom Stranger FAQ

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