Out of the Vault – Secret Origins 10

Okay, as you might have noticed, yesterday was April 1, so yes, The Chosen One was an April Fool’s Day joke, and no, Hero Go Home is not cancelled. I’m going to try to get a bonus chapter up this week, but I ran into some time sinks that may push it back to the normal Friday slot.

But since in the climax of Part 2, I finally unveiled Bugs under his preferred name, I thought I’d visit some of his origins. And as a small teaser to that, what better start than with the Secret Origin of DC’s Phantom Stranger?

The Phantom Stranger has been a fixture of the DC Universe for decades, sometimes battling supernatural horrors on his own, other times pointing heroes like the Justice League to impending dangers. But neither his origin nor his true identity had ever been addressed. He would just show up in his long cape and funky amulet, hat shrouding his eyes in shadow, and deliver a cryptic warning, then disappear.

Until 1986 (cover date Jan 1987), when as a tie-in to the Legends miniseries (which helped DC reboot things after the Crisis on Infinite Earths stripped away decades of alternate Earth rigamarole), the Phantom Stranger received not one, but four origin stories in Secret Origins #10.

In the first story by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo, he started out as a loving family man named Isaac, whose wife and son were killed when King Herod tried to kill all the infant sons in Israel in an attempt to destroy the Messiah. Isaac later committed an act of revenge against Jesus that led to his being cursed to become the Wandering Jew. The Stranger relates all this to a priest in the modern-day.

The Voice of God says the Stranger has learned his lesson and offers to end his punishment, but the Stranger volunteers to stay a while.

In the second origin by Paul Levitz and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, a righteous man named Joshua is living in a wicked city not named Sodom. An angel appears and tells Joshua that the city is to be destroyed down to the last man, woman and child. Only he shall be spared. Joshua demands that either the city be spared or he allowed to die with it, but the angel refuses. So in despair…

The angel declares that Joshua will live forever, but forever apart from the people he lives among. He will be a force for good and righteousness, but always a stranger.

The third origin, by Dan Mishkin and Ernie Colon, actually breaks away from the biblical stuff and posits a science-fictional origin for the Stranger. He is a researcher on a project to look back through time to the Big Bang and siphon off just a little energy to avoid the death of the universe in the present. The Phantom Stranger appears and warns him tha this course of action will not save the universe, but destroy it. So in the course of stopping the destruction, the scientist actually travels through the wormhole, and…

He is reborn as a creature of pure energy, immortal, awaiting the day when life will once again arise on the Earth.

The final story was by Alan Moore and Joe Orlando. Orlando was an EC Comics artist who had spent several years as an editor and vice-president at DC as well. In the fictional world of the Watchmen, Joe Orlando was credited as one of the artists on Tales of the Black Freighter, the story-within-a-story that mirrors Ozymandias’s own story arc.

Moore and Orlando return to the Biblical milieu and posit the Stranger as a fallen angel who refused to commit to either side during Lucifer’s rebellion, choosing instead to wait on the sidelines to see who came out on top. When the battle is over, he is cast out of heaven, but when he attempts to join with his fellow fallen ones…

Ouch. This is also notable in that it is the only origin story for the Stranger in which he already possesses his trademark white hair.

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