(MARCH 1975)

(12 pages)

Cover pencils - Jim Aparo
Cover inks -
Jim Aparo

Story - David Michelinie
Art - Gerry Talaoc
Inks - Gerry Talaoc
Colours - N.N.
Lettering - N.N.
Editor - Joe Orlando

Second feature - Black Orchid, "Operation Frame-Up" (8 pages)
Letters page - "Mail to the Phantom Stranger" (1 page)







The Phantom Stranger witnesses a young woman contemplating suicide by jumping from a bridge and succeeds in convincing her to reconsider her actions and step down from where she is standing. However, when she tells the Phantom Stranger that her name is Gola and takes his hand, she fells him with a burst of psychic energy.

As the Phantom Stranger lies motionless on the ground, what appears to be a private ambulance pulls up. Taking orders from one Doctor Nathan Seine, two crooks heave the Phantom Stranger's body into a coffin.

Having loaded it into the ambulance, the strange party heads out to a mysterious estate where Seine checks on his terminally ill wife, Margaret. She is kept alive by an array of machines which her husband carefully oversees, ignoring her agony and her begging to let her die.


At this point, Seine's thoughts drift off to his past and he reflects on how exactly it came to be that he and his wife find themselves where they are now.


Once a brilliant biochemist, Seine was always hampered by his insecurity and lack of confidence in himself. Things changed, however, when he coughed up the courage to ask Margaret to marry him - from then on, Seine felt confident in his work and his life. The price, however, was a growing need to have Margaret at his side which gradually turned into an obsession.

He thus made his wife his laboratory assistant even though she lacked any experience and expertise in the field. When the inevitable happened - an explosion in the lab which all but killed Margaret, Seine simply refused to let his wife go.

Using his specialist knowledge he designed life-supporting machines which, however, did nothing more than simply sustain his wife in her terrible state of existence. Realizing that the machines could only delay the inevitable and that his wife was still going to die, Seine abandoned science and turned to the occult in desperation.

Delving deep into dark secrets and ancient mysterious texts, Seine learned how to summon demons from Hell who promised him Margaret's life in exchange for a passage to the mortal realm so they could freely spill out into the world of the living. Following instructions, Seine crafted a soul-stealing gemstone to power such a gateway between Earth and Hell, but a mortal human soul proved too weak - only that of the Phantom Stranger would be powerful enough.

But when Seine and his goons check on the Phantom Stranger they find the coffin empty...
Appearing out of the shadows, the Phantom Stranger effortlessly takes out his muscle men and then turns to Seine, but he has Gola cast a string of life draining chains around the Stranger who then loses his consciousness...

Coming to again but bound by chains, the Phantom Stranger tries to reason with Seine, to no avail. Doing the same with Gola would be useless, as Seine tells the Stranger that she is merely a mystical automaton, built from nothing but sand and spells, and under Seine's total command and control.

Proceding with the dark ritual, Seine begins to siphon off the Phantom Stranger's soul and the gateway begins to open. At that very moment, fighting back her pain with an iron will and mustering her last bit of energy, Margaret pulls herself up and, stumbling forward, releases the Phantom Stranger.

He reduces Gola to the pile of sand she was cast from, and as Seine lunges at the Phantom Stranger he slips on the sand and shatters the soul gem. As the Stranger's soul flows back into him, the gateway closes. Margaret dies in her husband's arms, her suffering finally at an end, but Seine is blind to her relief and accuses the Phantom Stranger of having killed her,vowing vengeance...


The Phantom Stranger, created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino in 1952, is one of only a handful of comic book characters which truly elude a clear-cut characterization: Having originated from unspecified paranormal circumstances, he battles mysterious and occult forces, but his identity, reasons and motives ultimately remain unknown and unclear.

This air of vagueness which surrounds the character is sometimes mirrored in his stories, which back in the 1970s (and in which was actually volume 2 of the series) could take on all kinds of differing tones and directions.

This is certainly also true regarding David Michelinie's story for Phantom Stranger #35, which is at its core very somber as it deals with the death of a loved one and the highly controversial subject matter of how far life-supporting measures should be allowed to go on. The plot does move on rather quickly and at times erratically so, but then Michelinie only had 12 pages at his disposal. Some elements require a total suspension not only of disbelief but also logic, but as this is a supernatural title at its core readers can be expected to just follow any twist and turn in the storyline. Characterization is rather shallow with the exception if Doctor Nathan Seine, but again: 12 pages make for an awfully short done-in-one story.

All in all, it's like the Phantom Stranger himself - you just can't put your finger on it.

The artwork for Phantom Stranger #35 came from Gerry Talaoc, who was amongst the Filipino artists recruited by DC (and Marvel) in the early 1970s. Talaoc was mainly assigned to horror and war titles and was the regular Phantom Stranger artist from issue #27 (October 1973) to issue #37 (June 1975); the series was cancelled in February 1976 with issue #41.

The characteristic visuals of the Phantom Stranger, however, had been worked out and laid down by Bill Draut, Neal Adams and Jim Aparo with their cover artwork when the title was relaunched for a second volume in May 1969. The first three issues featured reprint material from the original 1952 series but included both new introductory story-framing artwork and said covers. Aparo took over from Adams and Sekowski as interior penciller with issue #7 (May 1970) and continued to provide the artwork for the stories until Talaoc took over as of issue #27 (October 1973), but Aparo also pencilled and inked numerous covers for the series (after Adams left the title in that function as of issue #19), and the cover of Phantom Stranger #35 is an example of this work.


Original artwork by Jim Aparo for the cover of Phantom Stranger #35 (scanned from the original);
the paste-up for the issue number and month has come loose at one time and was subsequently lost




"The Demon Gate" was reprinted, albeit in black and white only, in 2008 in Showcase Presents Phantom Stranger #2. DC's mystery character par excellence never really saw any coverage outside the US market; an almost singular exception is Italian publisher De Agostini who put out the first of the Phantom Stranger Showcase reprint volumes in 2008 as Lo Straniero Fantasma. This ran up to issue #25 and therefore did not include "The Demon Gate", but the second volume never happened.

Doctor Nathan Seine, who vehemently vows revenge at the end of the story, would indeed return - he was back in Phantom Stranger #37-38 and #40-41.

Knowingly or (probably) not, the opening of Phantom Stranger #35 harks back to Phantom Stranger #1 (vol 1, August 1952), when the character first stepped into a panel of a DC comic book - also to save a woman from jumping from a bridge.

  Written by John Broome and pencilled by Carmine Infantino the development of the Phantom Stranger was a pioneering move, but in the growingly hostile environment towards comic books at the time, supernatural themes were best toned down.

What seemed to be supernatural events at the outset of a story would thus be proven to be hoaxes by the Phantom Stranger in his 1952/53 series. As such, the character was operating on that fringe of gothic horror fiction which E. A. Poe had been a master of exploring.

Another identifying trait missing from the original series is the role of narrator and host, a concept which framed all the stories of the second volume. It was a plot device taken straight from old time radio shows of detection, mystery and horror, where listeners would be both warned and invited to witness what was about to unfold.

As with some of those old radio shows, the Phantom Stranger was host, narrator and involved character all at the same time - although the latter didn't always guarantee a very active role.

"The Phantom Stranger never really got noticed by most of the audience because it was a mystery book, not really a character book. The Phantom Stranger was rarely the focal point of the story. He was the host, he was the interlocutor, the interjector, he just showed up at the right moment, and ran away." (Len Wein in Slifer 1979)

This was also a constant point raised in letters sent to the editor. Some did not like the artwork since Aparo stopped doing the interiors, while others did not approve of some recuring characters which writers had started to introduce. But they all seemed to agree that they wanted the Phantom Stranger to play a more active role in the stories.

As always, the in-house ads add some interesting period information. In this case, the list of titles advertised for subscription wasn't too long, but the ad for Amazing World of DC Comics - their self-produced fan magazine - is notable.

SLIFER Roger (1979) "Lein Wein Interview", in: The Comics Journal #48 (August 1979)


The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.

(c) 2017

uploaded to the web 23 December 2017
minor update 28 June 2023