The Phantom Stranger is currently starring in his own title. In the first issue a revised origin is shown to fit in with the changes brought forth by the new 52 where it reveals him to be a member of the Trinity of Sin alongside Vic Sage and Pandora. The man who would become the Phantom Stranger is the only one of the three who openly repents his actions, while his identity is never ultimately mentioned, it is heavily implied that he is Judas Iscariot.
The first story shows him interacting with Jim Corrigan who in the process is gunned down and becomes the Spectre as a direct consequence. The Phantom Stranger learns from it, is how he is to earn forgiveness for his sins is to ultimately betray those he encounters either for their own good or that of the world, even if it horrifies him to do so.
The Phantom Stranger's background has never been revealed in full. In fact the entire concept of his origin was never even hinted at until on issue of Secret Origins in 1987 (which as the only portrayal of his background still remains canon.) true to the character though there was not one finite origin given rather four (with the kind of implied assumption that there could be more.) Three of these origins are biblical in origin and the other is more cosmological
These four origins are as follows:
- Says that the Phantom Stranger was a citizen during Biblical times who was spared God's wrath. He then commits suicide. As punishment for this, an Angel forbids his spirit from ever entering the afterlife. The angel reanimates his body and sentences him to walk among humanity forever and yet forever be separate from them.
- In a variation of the Wandering Jew story, he was an adult family man named Isaac with a wife (Rebecca) and boy at the time when Jesus was a small child. When King Herod sent his army to kill all small male children, to possibly kill Jesus, the army slew his son and wife. This made him angry at Jesus. As Jesus was being tortured, Isaac bribed a guard to assume his role in whipping Jesus. Jesus then sentenced him to walk away from his home and country; to be alone until Doomsday. he spent the rest of his time helping society, even declining God's offer to release him from his sentence.
- They say that the Phantom Stranger existed in the previous Universe. He approached a group of scientists that were studying the end of the Universe, he told them to not interfere with the conclusion of their Universe. He then passes a portion of himself to one of the scientists and at the the beginning of the new universe, that scientist became the new Phantom Stranger.
- The final says that the Stranger was a Fallen Angel that sided with neither Heaven or Hell during Lucifer's Rebellion against the Presence and then is condemned to Earth alone forever .
The Trenchcoat Brigade mini-series implied that the the fourth origin was the correct one but has not been confirmed or brought up since.
In the new 52 continuity for the first time the origin of the Stranger is told in more than vagueness. He was brought before the Rock of Eternity at some point to be judged for his sins. It is as of yet not clear what those were, only that he had attempted or committed suicide after feeling that he had betrayed a friend. He is stricken with coins by his accuser and judges and he must wear these around his neck until they have all fallen off and then he might find salvation.
The Phantom Stranger came from a period when horror based comics were more popular often appearing in the form of anthologies of various stories. His first appearance was in Phantom Stranger #1 (1952) from writer and artist John Broome and Carmine Infantino. His series lasted six issues. However, the Phantom Stranger is better known for his role in helping other heroes like Deadman and Batman as a supernatural assistant. He also stared in a mini-series in 1987, and he was portrayed as an agent of the Lords of Order. He wears a blue fedora and overcoat with either black or white gloves. His hat usually makes a shadow over his eyes, but when his eyes are visible, they are white with no pupils. His eyes and hair are white because of an experiance that happened to him long ago.
Original Continuity: New Earth
In his earliest appearances he was portrayed as a character much in the same vein as the narrators in horror comics (such as Madame Xanadu, Cain, the Crypt keeper or Elvira) but as opposed to their sort of detached roles, he became often involved in the stories to aid those in need. In fact, his earliest stories involved him proving hoaxes of supernatural happenings, much like Dr. 13 (whom he would later meet regulatory). Later on he was revealed to be supernatural himself as were the events he dealt with.
The character eventually came to be integrated more closely into the mainstream of DC comics, often appearing as a force guiding the actions of heroes. He still maintained his somewhat elusive nature though, and upon being offered membership in the Justice League of America, he disappeared before accepting (although he later showed up and stated he was a member.)
In recent years the character is generally used in one of two ways. Either as an overseer for humanity and the actions of its heroes (for instance he and Darkseid watched the proceedings in Legends) or as a mystical based secondary character (he has shown up in many different titles with such a theme such as the Seven Soldiers of Victory miniseries with Zatanna.) He generally shows little to no emotion although at times some personality is shown (as in the previously mentioned Zatanna miniseries) and has been known to show humor, warmth and friendship on occasion. His serious nature however only accentuates his mystery and occasion is scolded for his perceived lack of empathy (most notably by Madame Xanadu).
Some more backstory was given in the Vertigo series Madame Xanadu as he appears during various times in Xanadu's life from the time of Camelot to the 20th century. His clothing changed depending on the fashions of the time he was in. His habit of appearing to warn of dangers but doing little to prevent them brought the resentment of Xanadu for his lack of action though the Stranger claimed he was not allowed to directly intervene.
Post-Flashpoint: Earth 0
The Phantom Stranger was mentioned to be Judas Iscariot and part of the Trinity of Sin in The New 52 issue 1. When the being known as Pandora restores the timeline following the events of Flashpoint, she is seen being confronted by the Phantom Stranger (sporting somewhat of a new look) who knows of the timeline restoration and warns her of the consequences she may be facing. Their discussion reveals that the Stranger and Pandora are two of three similar beings, and that she knows his real identity. The 7 wizards call upon The Trinity of Sin. They are Judas Iscariot, Pandora and an unnamed individual. Judas is banished to walk the Earth for eternity because of his greed. He will be a stranger to all he meets and will observe mankind's greed. This experience turned his eyes and hair permanently white.
The unnamed individual is unrepentant and believes he did nothing. He is banished to Earth, forgetting his name and all of mankind's memory being wiped. His facial features disappear and he will search for his identity and seek the answers to questions that will never be found. This character is most likely Victor Sage, The Question. Pandora is given an eternity of loneliness, an eternity of pain, and an eternity of being told she is evil, just because she opened the box. The Phantom Stranger's origin will be told in his new title this September. The Phantom Stranger will also get his own issue 0 comic during the New 52 Zero Month. This issue will tell us about what happened after the Free Comic Book Day story, and how he is responsible for creating of The Spectre by leading Jim Corrigan to his demise.
He is later instructed to seek out Raven, who was hiding on Earth from her father who had destroyed Azerath some years ago. As is his nature the Stranger gained her trust before he betrayed her and handed her to Trigon, her father, that will teach her to use her powers and stall his inevitable invasion of Earth. The Stranger is uncomfortably reminded by Trigon of his fate and how the hellish realms actually applauds his many betrayals.
The Phantom Stranger has in the New 52 a wife, a son, and a daughter, living secretly with them as Philip Stark, a devoted father and family man. His family is something he considers a well kept secret, as well kept as they don't know who and what Philip really is. If the family, Philip and their suburban life are real in any way remains to be seen. Despite the secrecy Belial, oldest and most powerful of the three Sons of Trigon, appears in the Strangers living room to warn him against betraying other members of the Trigon family the way he did Raven.
Pandora arrives later on wishing to talk with the Stranger, claiming has located Pandora's Box, housed in A.R.G.U.S. vault called The Black Room, until she retrieved it. She can no longer open because someone with the strongest of heart or darkest of heart can open it. The Stranger will not help while she attempts to eradicate all evil from mankind because they both know there is still one evil left in the Box and it must not be set free. When he warns her about proceeding alone she tells him to stay out of her way or she will expose his lies and his true name, which would make him far more enemies than she had.
The Phantom Stranger receives a call from Doctor Thirteen who is being haunted by a being called The Haunted Highwayman. He recruits the original Doctor Thirteen to take The Highwayman back to his realm.The Phantom Stranger returns from meeting The JLD in The House of Mystery and finds his wife and kids missing and the babysitter slain. He finds Pandora in his house and she does not know who took his family but, believes The Spectre to be the most likely candidate.
The Stranger tracks Corrigan down, who is continuing his life as a Gotham detective and the two end up in a fight. The Stranger being fueled by his anger at the possible kidnapper and the Spectre by the Stranger's earlier betrayal before the Presence manifests as a terrier and breaks them up. With their differences settled the three part ways and the Stranger receives a call from Dr. Thirteen telling him there might be a lead in Las Vegas.
In the Lucky Devil casino, the Stranger finds the Sons of Trigon playing cards with Lady Luck. As the oldest of the three Sons, Belial, had appeared in the Stranger's house previously, as one of the few who knew about the family. While the three demons didn't know anything about the missing family, Belial suggested his sister Raven as having both the power and the motivation for taking the Stranger's family away. But as the Stranger brought in Deadman to rummage through the demons thoughts without their knowledge, he leaves having made enemies of them all, though Belial notes how it would be tolerable if he just cheated at cards.
He was taken back later to Metropolis and brought to a bar where he met Jack Ryder.He quickly introduced himself and became some what friends with him evne though Jack refused to accept it.They saw on the news that a monster is attacking Metropolis,so they left the bar.When they left it,Jack was threatened by one of the flying cars and Phantom Stranger just destroyed with a wave of his hand.Jack quickly changed his mind and took the Phantom Stranger with him to the news where he was an anchor.He quickly got into the mood to broadcast but right when he was ready to finish what he meant to say,the monster broke the ceiling and took him.The Phantom Stranger didn't do a thing because he couldn't.He had to leave Jack Ryder to the monster for the next phase of his life to start.Later he was called by Dr. 13 and he went to his lab where he was betrayed by 13 and stabbed with the Spear of Destiny.
Later he was found by the Justice League Dark and they quickly tried to save him.But after they tried to do it they found out that their magic can't help him because his soul was lost somewhere else.So they had to call that one person they didn't want to call,the Nightmare Nurse.She tried to heal him and found out that his soul was dragged somewhere else.His soul was dragged by the Sin Eater who started to question him why did he steal the life of Philip Stark and why did he steal his wife and kids.Later he revealed that he knows where Elena Stark and the kids are and that he actually is Philip Stark.Right when the Phantom Stranger started revealing secrets and was close to find out where his family is,his soul was dragged back to his body by the Nightmare Nurse and Zatanna.
Major Story Arcs
Original Continuity: New Earth
An agent of the Lords of Order
As with many golden and silver age comics, the earliest issues containing the Phantom Stranger were self contained, as were many of DC's mystery/horror titles. He did play a role in the Justice League of America in the 1970s, though it was generally a small one. He did accept League membership at this time though. In terms of the definition of the character, his role in Legends is the most important, as this was the first major appearance after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the one which re-established himself as an overseer on the side of good. It was also his involvement in this crossover which led him to be featured in Secret Origins and to have his origin told for the first time. The Phantom Stranger mini-series from 1987 was depicted as an agent of the Lords of Order as did many comics after, though it was suggested The Stranger did so of his own accord to battle the Lords of Chaos and that they were no authority over him.
The Rat Stranger
During Infinite Crisis and Day of Vengeance the Stranger was turned into a rat by an enraged Spectre and was protected by Detective Chimp until he was able to recover himself, and with the help of Shadowpact, able to defeat the Spectre.
He played a brief role in Blackest Night . He cannot be raised as a Black Lantern because Black Hand refers to him as neither dead or alive. He fights a Black Lantern Spectre/ Crispus Allen with Blue Devil and helps Deadman remove his Black lantern ring.
The Trenchcoat Brigade
The Phantom Stranger was one of the four mystics (along with John Constantine, Mister E and Dr. Occult/ Rose Psychic, later dubbed "The Trenchcoat Brigade" by Constantine) sent to guide Tim Hunter, a boy with the potential to become the greatest mage in history, on his way by introducing him to the magical and inter-dimensional world of the DC Universe in The Books of Magic mini-series. The team would appear again in a self-titled mini-series under Vertigo.
Powers and Abilities
The extent of the Stranger's powers seem to change upon the writer througout his pulication history. Because of this, he has an enormous amount of powers. As mysterious as his orgins are, so too are his powers and where they come from. It has been suggested more than once that he cannot be killed as his presence is protected by either a higher power or perhaps the universe itself. He's one of the few people in the DC Universe that are immortal beings. The Phantom Stranger has a wide variety of powers and abilities however that have been shown, which include:
- Teleportation over huge distances
- Energy manipulation on a huge scale
- Vast Knowledge and possible Omniscience (he knows everything about any character or situation he encounters)
- Time Manipulation and travel (though is known to only travel to past and present)
- Spectral sight (where he can perceive entities invisible to others)
- Unarmed combat (known to throw a few punches)
- Mastery over magic
- Space adaptation
- Illusion revealing and casting
The Phantom Stranger has also shown many lesser abilities throughout his comic book career, such as:
Light Projection - Used himself as a living beacon to help a stranded craft land on a runway.
Lasers - He has projected a strong laser from his finger tips to cut through walls to reveal hidden secrets.
Levitation - This has been shown many times
Swordsmanship - Though rare he has taken up the sword to defend himself and others.
Restructuring Matter - As he has transformed a shower curtain rod into a sword to fight off animated gargoyles.
Phantom Stranger appeared along side the Spectre on the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Chill Of The Night".
This episode is where Batman finally finds the man who killed his parents, Joe Chill. Foreseeing this occurrence, Stranger and Spectre make a wager: if Spectre influences Batman into taking revenge upon Chill, he'll get to use Bats as a utensil for vengeance, but if Stranger gets Batman to taking Chill into custody, Batman is free to do what he's been doing. In the end, Batman does not kill Chill, though afterwords the roof just "happens" to fall on top of him. Phantom Stranger was voiced by longtime voice of DCAU Batman, Kevin Conroy.
- Bruce Timm did intend for the Phantom Stranger to appear in the DCAU animated shows, but was not allowed, though he did show up in comics based on the series.
He also makes an appearance in the video game DC Universe Online.