Trust the Stranger

Most superhero comics feature the titular hero and his secret identity, but the Phantom Stranger is a character that has none.

Batman is Bruce Wayne, a vengeful billionaire who witnessed his parents’ death as a child, Superman is Clark Kent, the last son of an alien world, The Flash is Barry Allen, a police detective who was struck by lightning, but no one knows who the Phantom Stranger is. This is abnormal in comics. Even if other characters don’t know the hero’s identity, usually it is known to the reader, but the Phantom Stranger is just an unknown entity to both reader and characters in story alike.

The Phantom Stranger is a being that works for God. Usually he works in tandem with the Spectre to make sure that judgment of other is correctly delivered.

Secret Origins Vol. 2 #10 is an issue that readers who are interested in the Phantom Stranger or oddities or good storytelling should read. It is an issue that features four origin theories for the Phantom Stranger written and illustrated by multiple people.

The first story written by Mike W. Barr and illustrated by Jim Aparo is a take on the Wandering Jew myth. The Stranger in this story is a man whose family was slaughtered by Romans who were looking for Jesus as a babe. The Stranger writhes with anger until he finds Jesus thirty years later. He trades places with a Roman who was meant to torture Jesus and as the Phantom Stranger gets his revenge. Jesus then condemns him to walk the Earth until his return. The Phantom Stranger finds that he can no longer enjoy any human activity and has to wander forever. He earns his powers in this version by studying magic.  At the end of the story, he is granted forgiveness by God, but declines the offer to heaven.

The second story done by Paul Levitz and Jose Lopez explains that the Phantom Stranger was a man in biblical times that lived in what can be assumed to be Sodom or Gomorrah. As the city is being destroyed around him, he is offered salvation by an angel for being a decent man in an indecent world. The man however declines the angel’s offer and stabs himself out of anger for God not saving his people. The angel does not allow the man’s spirit to enter the afterlife and damns him to walk the Earth for eternity with powers to help humanity.

The third story done by Dan Mishkin is about a group of humans who are trying to keep their universe from being destroyed. The Phantom Stranger, as the Phantom Stranger, attempts to stop them from unknowingly destroying all of reality. As he succeeds, he touches one of the scientists who is plunged into space into a new universe and becomes that universe’s Phantom Stranger.  This could mean that the Phantom Stranger is either a force that travels from universe to universe or that the Phantom Stranger is stuck in a time loop and must relive the same universe over and over.

The fourth story done by Alan Moore and Joe Orlando gives theory that the Phantom Stranger was originally an angel who didn’t pick a side when Lucifer confronted Yahweh. As a result of not siding with God or Satan, the angel is kicked out of heaven. He then goes down to Hell to see if Lucifer will take pity on him and allow him to stay, but he is denied that comfort. Instead Lucifer and his followers tear off the wings of the angel and force him to walk Earth alone for eternity.

Readers may never know who the Phantom Stranger is, but he’s one of the few heroes out there where no one knows who he truly is or where he came from which makes him one of the last mysterious heroes out there.