…the Phantom Stranger’s origin?

The Phantom Stranger is one of DC’s bedrock mystics.  No one knows his origins, although DC did feature the Phantom Stranger in an issue of Secret Origins in which they gave four different alternate tales for possible origins of the Phantom Stranger:

  • A man saved from God’s wrath and charged with turning people away from evil;
  • The Wandering Jew from the Christ’s crucifixion tale;
  • The essence of an already dead universe traveling in the body of a man who survived that universe’s collapse;
  • A fallen angel who did not take a side in the great war between Heaven and Hell, force to walk the Earth for all time.

While it’s been left up to the reader to decide if any of these origins are true or not, I’d like to offer up my own fix for the truth behind the Phantom Stranger’s story.

What is known is that the Phantom Stranger shows up to advise, provide information, and to guide others, rarely does he take direct action in the events before him.  It is clear most of the magical community are aware of the Stranger and many have an extensive past with him, such as Madame Xanadu, who apparently was quasi romantically involved with the Stranger once upon a time.

The Phantom Stranger was a member of the Justice League of America, however due to his… unreliability, he was downgraded to honorary status.  When he shows up however, only the new members give him any sarcasm as the others have learned that the Phantom Stranger is best to be heeded should he make an appearance.  The JLA should they need to summon him now go through Zatanna.

First Appearance

Created By:  John Broome, Carmine Infantino, and Sy Barry

The Phantom Stranger’s first appearance questions whether he is “MAN… OR GHOST?” and so I’m going with ghost… but not the supernatural kind…

Rather I’d suggest the truth behind the Phantom Stranger’s origin is that he is the “quantum energy signature” of a dead person… a dead person already known to us in the DC Universe.

Who that dead person is I’d reveal as Jor-El, Superman’s biological father!

The “Phantom” prefix of his name I’d relate to the irony that in order to escape the destruction of Krypton he had to project himself into the Phantom Zone – which he had earlier discovered – which likewise enables him to “travel” from place to place, including to “Earth space”.

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6 Responses

  1. Alan Moore cheated a little by subtly confirming his own version in the conclusion of “American Gothic” via hints in dialogue — no great loss as I never like any of the others in that issue. (One of them I considered genuinely offensive and tasteless, but that’s another story.)

    Your idea is a bold stroke, to be sure. But did the Stranger have any dialog in any of his appearances alongside Superman suggesting any special regard for him or a bond between them? As I recall, the Stranger seems dispassionate even when rescuing the ghost of Kal-El from Hell. The one other thing missing is that the Stranger never shows any regard for inventors or builders or makers of things…which is the primary attribute of Jor-El.

    Funnily enough I have a totally different origin for PS in mind, but one that’s not entirely unrelated to yours…

  2. @Richard: I recall that at the conclusion of American Gothic, though the angelic identity Moore intended for Spectre is the one I’m more interested in after all these years.

    While Gaiman hinted it as Raguel in Books of Magic I was unsure if this was Alan’s intent but knew he was intending one from de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal.

    I can guess the one you considered as tasteless too.

    I’ve not read all of his appearances so can’t confirm if any dialogue hinted as such, but with regard to his seeming dispassionate about rescuing the ghost of Kal-El, does he remember who he is? Is his lack of regard for engineers, etc. due to his realisation after his ‘death’ that he had it all wrong and there was more to the universe than science alone? Just saying this doesn’t dismiss the possibility.

    Would love to know your alternative origin, and you have my email address if you don’t want to divulge online;)

  3. May I suggest a sort of “quantum panspermia” for this? Instead of simply escaping into the Phantom Zone, where they send criminals to be imprisoned…so, not much of an escape, really…instead Jor-El does something crazy and last ditch with his original prototype PZ projector, some theoretical thing only the inventor could have thought of, something no other PZ machine had the capacity to do…

    Turns up all the dials to “overload” and steps through and becomes “seeded” into multiversal spacetime itself…essentially originless. You couldn’t try this if you weren’t someone whose planet was about to blow up (maybe he tapped the energy of that, and that was the theoretical possibility?) because it’d erase your worldline, everything you were ever a part of would be unmade as you got wiped from Time…but Jor-El’s causal influence never left Krypton’s surface anyway, except for his baby boy…and maybe Krypton is so far away from everywhere that those gravitational waves won’t get here before they slip back over the particle horizon as cosmological expansion swallows the sight of distant galaxies? In the actual DCU as things stand, it’d require some fancy physics footwork perhaps…currently Superman has been to Rao’s system, right? But if one finds the “quantum ghost of Jor-El” thing attractive (as I do) then it’s worth messing around with to this extent…

    …as in: why Earth? Well, the answer is that Earth had to be far enough away that by the time Kal-El could get there at superluminal speeds, Rao’s system would already have gone walkabout behind the Big Curtain, and so Jor-El’s causality could never again link up with his son’s. Maybe he was thinking of this very ultimately last-ditch solution all the time, and chose Earth because it was just at the limit of what he could see through his telescope, and he knew it was only going to be visible for the briefest of times before the window shut. As soon as Kal-El’s rocket is away he calculates when the big boom is coming, sets the PZ projector to overload at just that same moment…

    Fizzes away into originless cosmological ubiquity, time-free. Heck, maybe Lara is out there too, somewhere, but he just can’t find her. That’s your revelation point, I think: one day the Phantom Stranger sees some glowing female form and says “Lara…”

    And then Cassandra Craft says “WHO?! Why, you two-timing…!”

    It’d be good, though. Imagine the quantum ghost of Jor-El is in some strange elevated state, infinitely old, it took him billions of years just to re-encounter his son at all, and before he did so he had to experience the future, too, and learn everything about the total structure of the universe. He would be emotionally-involved, but the emotion would be wistfulness, mostly…and he’d disguise it, no doubt. Basically you’re proposing Jor-El as the Merlin of the DCU here, right? So…

    Merlin never really tells Arthur, does he?

    It’s such a stimulating idea! It would never work, it’s Seventh Doctor territory. But it’s stimulating…!

  4. Speaking of panspermia, wait until you read my Triffids Fix:)

    Not much of an escape I agree but somewhat better than an event horizon. I like your thinking.

    And why Earth? Well you know I love that idea of Krypton being the Earth of the far flung future and Kal-El being sent back in time as a warning to turn us from our ways of destroying the planet.

    I totally love the “Lara…” revelation point. Pure genius!

    Re: Cassandra’s reaction she forgot he is a Stranger, after all;)

    Basically I am proposing Jor-El as the Merlin of the DCU, including the idea he is perhaps living backwards in time (a human tachyon perhaps).

    Bring on Sylvester McCoy I say. There’s the way to make the Stranger work as a title, by having him travelling with younger companions. Why has no one thought of that before?

  5. have to admit your idea for the phantom stranger orgin is intriquing as him really being Jor els ghost. though given how long he has gone without his origin being revealed i would just assume the phantom stranger has never revealed his origin because he and dc really do not know what fits best for him though always liked the cast out angel who refused to get involved in the heaven and hell war mixed with the ghost of a dead man who survived his own universe blowing up

  6. The more I think of it, the more I like the idea of the PS being “originless”, the dropped stitch in the carpet…perhaps not the Merlin of the DCU so much as its Tom Bombadil?

    Ha!

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