The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
The Phantom Stranger
The Phantom Stranger is a powerful and mysterious DC Comics character John Broome, Carmine Infantino and Sy Barry. The character was introduced in Phantom Stranger #1 (Aug./Sept. 1952). His real name and origin is unknown.
The Phantom Stranger may or may not be Jewish.
The Phantom Stranger may or may not be a Christian.
At least one and possibly more of the four contradictory origins for the Phantom Stranger published in Secret Origins #10 overtly posits a Jewish ethnic and religious background for the character. One story presents the character "The Wandering Jew," identifying him as a figure from ancient Christian folklore. In this traditional story, "The Wandering Jew" was a Jewish Israelite who mocked Jesus on the cross. For this, he was condemned to wander the Earth as an immortal. The character eventually came to accept the divinity of Christ, and is often regarded as an eventual Christian convert.
The archetypal "Wandering Jew" story does not necessarily match the version presented as the Phantom Stranger's origin in Secret Origins #10. Furthermore, this is just one of the four possible origins presented in this story. The Phantom Stranger might have Jewish origins in one or more of the other three origins, but is not so clearly identified as Jewish in those origin stories. One Jewish commentator noted that at least three of the four possible origins present a possibly Jewish background for the Phantom Stranger.
Given the vaguaries surrounding the Phantom Stranger's origins, motivations, cosmological status and personal beliefs, and in light of the character's own god-like powers, it is mostly meaningless to try to define the character in terms of specific real-world religious and denominational affiliations. Could the Phantom Stranger be considered a "Jewish Christian"? Yes. But it would probably be equally accurate to say that he is neither Jewish nor Christian. This enigmatic and little-defined character could presumably be interpreted as a representative of any religious group, or none at all.
From: "The Phantom Stranger" page on Wikipedia.com website (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phantom_Stranger; viewed 23 December 2005):
The Phantom Stranger is a fictional character of unspecified paranormal origins who battles mysterious and occult forces in various titles published by DC Comics, sometimes under their Vertigo imprint.
The Phantom Stranger is unique among most of his contemporary comic book characters in that neither his origin nor his exact nature have ever been revealed. DC produced a special issue of Secret Origins that gave him four different possible origins:
1. One tale (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Joe Orlando) postulated that the Stranger was a fallen angel that sided with neither Heaven nor Hell during Lucifer's rebellion and thus was condemned to walk the Earth alone for all time.
2. Another proposes that the Stranger was originally a private citizen during biblical times that was spared God's wrath. An angel was sent to deliver him from divine wrath. After questioning God's actions, he commits suicide. The angel forbids his spirit from entering the afterlife, reanimates his body and condems him to walk the world forever to be a part of humanity but also forever separated from it. He is charged with turning humanity away from evil, one soul at a time.
3. A variation of the Wandering Jew story, as he offended Jesus on the way to the cross. Jesus then sentenced him to walk away from his home and country; to be errant until Doomsday.
4. The last was a proposal that the stranger is a remnant of the previous universe. At the end of the universe, a group of scientists studying the event are approached by the Phantom Stranger, warning them not to interfere in the universe's natural conclusion. The story concludes with the Phantom Stranger passing a portion of himself to a scientist, the universe is reborn, and the scientist from the previous universe is the Phantom Stranger in the new universe (a recursive origin?)
It is interesting that three out of four of these origins rely specifically on Judeo-Christian concepts (thus acknowledging them as reality-based within the DC Universe), which rarely figure into the origins of most comic book characters.
In his earliest appearances, the Phantom Stranger would prove supernatural events to be hoaxes. In later stories, the supernatural events were real and the Phantom Stranger was given unspecified superhuman powers to defeat them. He later appeared in various other DC Universe titles, sometimes as a major participant; in others, the Phantom Stranger just appears and gives advice or warning to the featured heroes. Occasionally he serves simply as narrator. In some stories he seems to be answerable to a mysterious Voice, implied to be God, although within the DC Universe mysterious benign Voices (such as the one responsible for Hawk and Dove's origin) are usually identified as the Lords of Order (albeit not always at the time of their original introduction).
The Phantom Stranger played a major part in Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic, taking protagonist Tim Hunter through time to show him the history and nature of magic. He has assisted the Justice League on numerous occasions, even being formally elected to the group in Justice League of America #103 (although he did not acknowledge his membership until Justice League of America #143).
He also attempted to prevent Hal Jordan from uniting the resurrected Oliver Queen with Queen's soul in Heaven in Kevin Smith's relaunch of Green Arrow, which earned him the Spectre's wrath (as Jordan was the Spectre's human anchor at the time).
Selections from: Steven M. Bergson, "Jewish Comics: A Select Bibliography" last updated 28 June 2005 (http://www.geocities.com/safran-can/JWISHC.HTM; viewed 23 December 2005):
Barr, Mike W. "'Tarry Till I Come Again'" Secret Origins #10 (2nd series) Jan. 1987 (1st story) (NY: DC).
This story is one possible origin of the mysterious hero known as The Phantom Stranger. In this story, which takes place in the time of Jesus, the Stranger is a Jew whose wife and child were killed by Romans who were trying to kill the child who it was said would be the Messiah. When he learns that Jesus has been captured by Roman soldiers, he bribes a guard to let him beat Jesus. The strangers' immortality is a punishment and a means to repent for his great sin. There is a similarity between this story and the story of the "Wandering Jew".
Gelbwasser, Michael. "Cool Characters Entice Kids: Jewish Superheroes Work Wonders in American Comics" Boston Jewish Advocate Jan. 7, 1997.
Gelbwasser, Michael. "Look! Up in the Sky! Jewish Superheroes." Jewish Advocate Oct. 19, 1995, pg. PG.
Discusses the Jewish super-heroes Seraph, the Blasters, Colossal Boy, Ragman, Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, Mindboggler, Ramban, Golem, Judith, Dybbuk, Nuklon, Phantom Stranger and Sabra.
From: "Religion of Comic Book Characters - The List" discussion board, started 29 January 2006 on "Millar World" website (http://forums.millarworld.tv/index.php?showtopic=57496; viewed 24 April 2006):
Jan 30 2006, 11:15 PM
I have to wonder how the Phantom Stranger is Jewish.
Jan 30 2006, 11:25 PM
There is a secret origins issue post CoIE [Crisis on Infinite Earths] that explains his origin I think. I have it somewhere.
He is from Biblical times.
Jan 30 2006, 11:29 PM
Stranger has around 4 or 5 origins - in Alan Moore's version, he's an Angel that didn't take sides when Lucifer revolted, BUT I don't think Lucifer's war is a Jewish myth. I think it's Christian. Lucifer is Latin for Lightbearer and most of the other Angels have Hebrew names AND in the Book of Job, it's pretty clear that Satan is one of the Angels (host of heaven), not a fallen or rebellious angel.
Jan 30 2006, 11:40 PM
He is given four origins in that secret origins:
1) The Angel that does not take sides (the Moore version)
2) Commits suicide and is forbidden to enter heaven
3) A version of the wandering Jew
4) is a strange recursive origin where he turns up at the end of the universe and is fused to a scientist who travels back to the start of time.
From: "Wasn't Superman Supposed to be Jewish?" discussion board started 24 April 2006 on the official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread. jspa?threadID=2000073412&start=60&tstart=0; viewed 27 May 2006):
Posted: May 14, 2006 12:57 PM
It would be "interesting" if Phantom Stranger (presumably Jewish) convinced God to make everyone Jewish. That could be a maxiseries by itself!
Posted: May 14, 2006 1:12 PM
This is the second time the Stranger has come up in this thread, and I'm curious: why is he presumably Jewish? He never really talks about himself, and the four contradictory origins that have been offered don't seem especially helpful; we've got:
1) a scientist from the future who gains weird powers from time travel;
2) that one angel who sided neither with God nor with the Devil;
3) the amnesia-stricken miracle worker from a cursed city of sinners; and
4) yes, okay, the Wandering Jew.
Now, being Jewish, I hate the tale of the Wandering Jew as much as the next guy - but what's important here is that even in that fourth story, the Phantom Stranger is portrayed as someone who has gradually come to accept the divinity of Jesus.
So what's the evidence I'm maybe not aware of?
Posted: May 14, 2006 1:19 PM
Me also being Jewish, at least three of his possible four origins are Jewish related. That is still good. The more Jewish superheroes, the merrier. Hey, even the Thing is Jewish.
From: "Muslim characters in comics" message board, started 22 January 2006 in Batman discussion board area of official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000059913; viewed 9 June 2006):
Posted: Jan 22, 2006 9:15 PM
Problem is, most people who hear this will probably say that there's nothing much to write about a Muslim or Islamic character, but then I think of the Phantom Stranger and the Judeo-Christian references in his origin and more recently Brian K. Vaughan's Runaways that has a Judeo-Christian reference here and there...
From: "Religion in comic books", posted 14 June 2006 on "Get Religion" blog website (http://www.getreligion.org/?p=1679; viewed 14 June 2006):
[Comments section for this page]
Posted by Avram at 1:41 pm on June 14, 2006:
...And there's the Spectre, and the Phantom Stranger. . .
I've often thought that the way that big-company superhero comics are written - generations of writers trying to introduce new material while staying faithful to what's gone before - resembles the way religious texts are assembled over the years. And that the Talmud resembles a collection of Marvel No-Prize letters.
From: "Any Christian Superheroes?" thread began 22 April 2004 on rec.arts.comics.dc.universe newsgroup (http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.comics.dc.universe/browse_thread/thread/4e5839f075fecf76/394c4ad930a0e68c; viewed 20 June 2006):
I can't think of any major superheroes that strongly believe in any real faith, and that surprises me. Certainly not in the DC Universe. I think there are more minority superheroes than religious ones...
From: Brian Doyle
Date: Fri, Apr 23 2004 10:12 am
The Brother Blood wears something which is apparently the Robe of Christ, though it's power has been corrupted by his intents.
The Phantom Stranger is tied in with God in some respect, various origins have included him being an angel who stayed neutral when Lucifer rebelled (And thus being accepted by neither side) and another that he is the legendary Wandering Jew.
From: "Sacreligious amd anti-Christian Comic characters" forum discussion, started 28 February 2007 on official DC Comics website (http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000107545&start=0&tstart=15; viewed 19 July 2007):
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 12:49 PM
Any character that uses magic, sorcery
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 12:58 PM
Is this crap serious? This all depends on what faith you practice. It's conservative braindead and downright dangerous thinking like this that makes more and more people turn on the church.
Zauriel, and the Spectre are representatives of God. Only freaky, religiously paranoid people would find them Anti-Christian.
Good Lord, (sigh)
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 1:09 PM
No, I would find them [Zauriel and Spectre] sacreligious.
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 1:17 PM
This is kind of a dumb topic, but I'd argue that Zauriel and Spectre are pro-Christian, since they are designated as Christian angels.
I wouldn't automatically classify all magic-users as anti-Christian or sacrilegious; I'd only count the ones that derive their power from demons or divine entities other than the Judeo-Christian deity.
Characters that derive their power from Christian mythology should count as pro-Christian IMHO, since their existence supports the Christian mythos...
Phantom Stranger is clearly a Christian character based on his back story, albeit a sinner who is being eternally punished by the Christian god.
Posted: Feb 28, 2007 2:25 PM
...I do NOT necessarily see the Spectre and Zariel as pro-Christian. They come from a theist tradition, and they imply belief in YHWH, but Christ does not necessarily follow from that. Same with Phantom Stranger unless you accept the possible origin that casts him as the Wandering Jew.
Throw the Fallen Angel into the pot of sacrilegious characters, though.
Webpage created 23 December 2005. Last modified 19 July 2006.
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