In the letters column of The Phantom Stranger #39 (October-November 1975), published in July of 1975, it was announced that Deadman would have his own backup series in beginning in issue #42–right after the conclusion of the three-part Phantom Stranger/Deadman team-up that was being chronicled by writer Paul Levitz and artist Fred Carrillo. Martin Pasko was going to write the backup Deadman series. No artist was named.
In case you don’t already know, Deadman had debuted eight years earlier in Strange Adventures #205 (October 1967). After he was assassinated in the middle of his trapeze act, the female spiritual entity Rama Kushna gave circus trapeze artist Boston Brand the ability to wander the Earth in ghostly form. She also gave him the power to inhabit or possess the living–all so that he could track down his killer.
In the letters column of the next issue, Phantom Stranger #40 (December/January 1975/76), a brief publishing history of Deadman up to that point was provided. At the end of the text piece, it was wondered where Deadman would appear next after his three-issue team-up with The Phantom Stranger had concluded–perhaps in his own series. Suddenly, the announcement of Deadman’s upcoming backup series had been ambiguously contradicted.
Then, in the letters column of Phantom Stranger #41 (February-March, 1976), it was announced that The Phantom Stranger had been canceled, which explained the previous issue’s contradiction of a Deadman backup series. There would be no issue #42 published in January of 1976. The Deadman backup by Pasko, which had to have had several installments already written, never saw publication even though it was noted that it might soon appear in Adventure Comics.
Two and a half years later, in mid-1978, Deadman did finally begin appearring in his own feature in Adventure Comics #459-66, but it was written by Pasko; it was written by Len Wein and illustrated by Jim Aparo.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Phantom Stranger continued to wander through the pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths DC Universe–teaming with Batman in The Brave and the Bold and Superman in DC Comics Presents, and residing in the back of The Saga of the Swamp Thing for a spell.
In the post-Crisis, oft-rebooted DC Universe, the Stranger was given multiple origins in Secret Origins #10, enjoyed his own four-issue miniseries in 1987, and crossed over into the Vertigo universe in the 1990s while also keeping a firm footing in the DCU.
Finally, thirty-four years later, in January of 2010, The Phantom Stranger #42 has been published. Of course, it’s not the issue #42 that was originally planned 34 years ago. It’s also not something that I’ve been on pins and needles waiting for during the past three-and-a-half decades. It’s simply a pleasant surprise.
When I last purchased The Phantom Stranger’s ongoing title, Gerald Ford was President and getting shot at, pop superstar Elton John was at the peak of his popularity, standard-sized DC comics cost 25 cents for 18 pages of original material, Evel Knievel had his own toy line, the newsprint that comics were printed on smelled better, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (my beloved football team) were on the verge of starting their existence.
Oh, and I was fourteen-years-old.
Upon release of The Phantom Stranger #42, Barack Obama is President and Gerald Ford has passed on (not as a result of gunshot wounds, thankfully), Elton John just teamed with Lady Gaga at the Grammys, standard-sized DC comics cost $2.99 for 22 pages of original material (although Phantom Stranger #42 gives you 24 pages), Evel Knievel is dead, the paper that comics are printed on stinks, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a Super Bowl title but are almost as bad now as when they first started.
Oh, and I’m forty-eight years old–and I’m still collecting and reading DC comic books, and loving every minute of it.
The coolest thing about this “revival” of The Phantom Stranger #42? It features Deadman. After all, it’s what DC had me anticipating since the summer of 75!