Sunday, June 8, 2014

Not Really Off-Topic: Phantom Stranger #20 *Spoiler Alert*

Well if there was an issue of any comic book that screamed to be reviewed on a theology blog, it is this one. Really, the issues I've read of PHANTOM STRANGER have made me think I should pick up some of the trade collections of back issues, because the Christian theology in this book is heavy...very heavy. This doesn't always get me as excited as it did with this issue. That is probably because I like my comic book theology to be a little subtler. I'm like that about music too. I prefer country music to gospel or Christian rock (though I enjoy plenty of songs from both of those genres) because the Christian messages are usually subtler. When faith becomes rank sentimentality it risks losing all cache with me.

But I digress. This issue of Phantom Stranger sees the Stranger meeting up with one of his biggest rivals, The Spectre. I picked up this issue because of it featured the latter character. He has become one of my favorites, ever since I picked up the SHOWCASE collection of many of his adventures from the 70s. In the New 52, the Stranger caused Spectre's death and subsequent transformation into the embodiment of the wrath of God. Here, the two make a truce at the behest of God, to fight a growing evil. Some mystical miscreant has been creating holes in creation which threaten the existence not only of Earth, but Heaven as well. And so the two go looking for the culprit in order to save Heaven and Earth.

At first the two seem to be bickering endlessly and it is a little annoying, though this is kind of what you expect from the classic 'buddy cop' story, of which this is an example. The really profound part of the story is when the demon who is ultimately behind all this, offers them both a chance to 'rule in hell rather than serve in Heaven'. He tells them that if they fight one another, then the victor will be given some special case in his diabolical kingdom. The two men, given human form, do fight one another, and it seems at first that the Spectre slays his companion. But in point of fact the two mystical beings use the moment to fuse into one "Phantom Spectre", a being so powerful that it easily wipes away the beast's minions and sends it away.

The message here is that both men, despite their distaste for one another, serve the same God, and in the end they are willing to put aside all of their differences for Him. Of course, the Christian is commanded to do more than this: he is commanded to forgive and love his enemy, but can there be any doubt that in a Church made up of sinful human beings, a subservience to a greater loyalty than one's ego is the best we get? And hey, isn't that better than the alternative? I loved this exploration of this idea, it made the characters more interesting by making their behavioral traits subtler. Sometimes the best we get is to love God more than we hate our enemies, and I suspect even that has produced a great amount of good or reduced the amount of evil in this world.

Aesthetically, everything was good, but nothing was great. The storyline was strong because of the thematic elements, and the dialogue had moments of sublimity though most of it was rather mundane and as interesting. The pacing was pretty good and the art was middle of the road. But the storyline elevated the entire issue and I am glad I bought it.

Storyline: 4 Stars
Dialogue: 3.5 Stars
Pacing: 3.5 Stars
Art: 3 Stars
Overall: 3.5 Stars

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