‘Phantom Stranger’ and ‘Green Lantern’: Two Unoriginal Origins

So, of the DC books this week, all of which are origin-themed zero issues, there are two actual new books this week. The first is the Phantom Stranger, and the second is the new Arabian-American Green Lantern.

And neither are that impressive out of the gate.

Let’s start with Simon Baz, the new Green Lantern. He’s a car thief who steals a stolen van that turns out to have a big fat bomb in it. He turned to stealing cars because he used to build them, see. He lives in Dearborn, Michigan, and gets sucked into the bowels of the government’s black op-

You know, I can’t finish this. I just can’t. If you had asked me to sit down and write a litany of cliches that some hack would immediately stick an Arabian-American character into, I would have written the basic plot description of this book. It’s an episode of 24 that ends with a Green Lantern ring instead of a Jack Bauer torture scene. It’s not that I object to the political content, it’s just so ham-fisted it hurts.

And it kills me because I don’t think Geoff Johns, who has Lebanese ancestry, has total control here. The opening of this book is actually fairly spare and effective, detailing the tough ten years Simon dealt with as neighbors become suspicious and friends become enemies. Then it starts taking a turn to the cliched. I know that these are serious issues, but they’re handled in a thudding, obvious way.

The final kick to the teeth is that DC can’t be arsed to even make the deaths in the annual they released last week stick. Yep, Hal and Sinestro are already back, sort of.

But at least it has potential. I’ll get the next issue, because there’s a lot of hanging plot threads here that are genuinely interesting, and I trust Johns to turn this book into something great.

Phantom Stranger, on the other hand… This is not inspiring confidence in the upcoming Trinity War.

The main problem is that it’s all setup, and the payoff is… another origin. The really painful part is that it’s a reboot of the Spectre, and this origin story isn’t even that well told.

The Spectre is an obscure character to some degree, but his origin was really written best by John Ostrander. His origin really made you understand why Corrigan became the Left Hand of God. Corrigan died horribly, with everything left undone in his life about to become a bloody mess. Of course he was angry at God: By the time Ostrander got done with him, it made total sense he’d be standing at the nexus of Heaven and Hell, spitting in his creator’s face. I haven’t read Corrigan talking about his death in more than a decade, and I still vividly remember it, Tom Mandrake’s art communicating the sheer horror and terror of Jim Corrigan as he chokes on wet cement and his own rage.

Here, the Phantom Stranger gets him shot and BAM! He’s got the green booties! Because he’s angry a lot! This isn’t setup for something or anything, kids!

The worst part, though, is that they can never just come out and call the Phantom Stranger Judas, which wouldn’t be a problem if this weren’t an origin story and most of it is concerned with how the Phantom Stranger got his robe and hat. He’s obviously supposed to be Judas. They dance right up to the line. There are even thirty pieces of silver hanging around his neck. But they never actually say it, because somebody might get offended.

In short, it’s a bland, timid book that adds nothing to the character. They could have done so much with it, and instead did nothing. And this is written by Dan DiDio, for Pete’s sake. The guy who could do anything he wants and he puts no personal stamp on it whatsoever. This really needed to be a Vertigo-esque book that explored the mystical and religious side of the DCU. Instead it’s just a slice of cheese. This is especially baffling because DiDio just wrapped up OMAC, which admittedly had Keith Giffen but also a lot more style and soul.

This book is salvageable, but they need to give it to somebody either bonkers or somebody not afraid of dealing with the religious aspects. Otherwise, it’s just a pointless book to fill in a few plot holes in a crossover nobody cares about, and come on. For three bucks, we deserve at least a little effort.