It’s a rarity to see the Phantom Stranger interact with the superheroes of the DC Universe. In the Seventies, at the back of end of his lengthy story-hosting gig, he was kindasorta an unofficial member of the Justice League of America, appearing for a panel here or there to provide spookiness. Since then he’s been seen only rarely, usually in the role of ‘2nd mystic from the left’ at Crises of Finite Imagination. But here he is actually instigating the action, summoning Hal Jordan to Arcadia private hospital in Virginia where he senses dark ‘magicks’ (you know it’s serious when ‘magic’ gets the ‘k’).
There our heroes, who neatly cover the ‘brightest day’ and ‘darkest night’ realms, find eight severely disabled children, the result of dodgy drugs trials. One child, Cora, has begun scribbling notes in unearthly languages, along with a verse that prompted the Stranger to summon Hal. And that makes for one very creepy splash page indeed.
From there, ‘Without Sin; Part One’ spans the spaceways, as our Brave and Bold fellows try to solve the hospital mystery. We travel to Kahlo, a world whose plant-produced pleasures are reminiscent of Mongul’s Black Mercy, with people paying for the enhanced oblivion facilitated by Belamort. In Arcadia, the brain-damaged children already have a kind of oblivion, through the greed of adults who should have ensured their safe passage into the world.
Kahlo is also where we meet – no, not a monobrowed painter – a new Green Lantern and see Hal in his old ‘senior statesman of the Corp’ role. What we don’t see is much of the Phantom Stranger. The action of the issue is carried by the brother GLs, with the Stranger shunted off-panel to another field of battle. With luck we’ll see what he’s up to in the continuation of the story next issue.
That’s a minor quibble with a refreshing tale – it’s nifty to see Hal Jordan given time off from the massive storylines to partake in an adventure not centred on the Corps. Writer David Hine (District X, Son of M) captures a capable, compassionate Hal and presents a Stranger ready to take a more hands-on approach than usual. It’s an intriguing piece that nods toward the relevance period, in Hal’s reaction to Arcadia, without ramming it down our throats.
This learned story – go on, ask me about bilateral anophthalmia – is beautifully illustrated by Dougie Braithwaite (Justice, Secret Invasion: Thor) and Bill Reinhold, with colours courtesy of Brian Reber. Together they give us an artistic package that’s all their own while occasionally evoking classic GL artists Gil Kane (yup, nostril shots) and Neal Adams. There are spooky moments, sci-fi moments, even subtle comedy moments (instead of the usual bubble, Hal transports the Stranger through space in what looks for all the world like a funeral urn).
This is the first of a four-part run by Hine and Braithwaite and I suggest jumping on for the ride. It’s better than a basket of Belamort.