After his lackluster Zero Month debut we ride into the Third Wave with The Phantom Stranger #1! The question is whether or not it has improved or even possibly become a worthwhile read.
The main problem with the Zero Issue, forgiving the the concrete origin "controversy" among fans, were plenty and varied. The writing was messy and at times just cringeworthy. The insufferable inner monologue that ran throughout coupled along with a rather weak introduction for The Spectre being prime examples. The concept, while admittedly an interesting one, was a casualty of the writing and so did not fare well. The art, done then and now by Brent Anderson, was actually good on the whole - just a few panels here or there showing slight error. Overall it seemed to be dead in the water. So...how did the first proper story shape up in comparison?
To be honest, it has improved quite a bit. That's not to say that it has suddenly become something to be on the look out for, but quality has indeed increased. No more overbearing inner monologue, which helps bring out some dialogue and scenes that actually fit The Phantom Stranger instead of obscuring them. There are some interesting set-pieces and developments that really work at hooking readers in, especially new ones. The art, with embellishments by Philip Tan, definitely emit a certain flair. A nice sketchy feeling that works with the story. A good fit with some interesting panel layouts to boot.
Now that the good is out of the way it's time to reflect on the downside to the story, of which there were still quite a few. While the writing might have improved on the front of The Phantom Stranger himself, Didio still inexplicably manages to include one or two ridiculously awful moments. One of these moments even starts the issue, setting the reader off with an awkward first impression that taints the rest. That is unfortunate since these moments truly have the power to turn the reader off what good the story has to offer. The art, similarly to the previous issue, sadly had moments that made it look more dime rate than the rest of the work in the book.
Another mark against the writing is the introduction of Raven, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was a competently written origin, unlike The Spectre's, but like the inclusion of The Spectre in the Zero Issue it is again time used setting things up for the larger DC Universe than time used building it's own story. That is one of the main problems with the book iself actually. It's a title used mainly for the purpose of building up things other than itself. Not to be too hard on it, and the Raven debut was handled with a steadier hand than The Spectre's, but it seems like a flaw that the series does not seem to be set on growing out of soon, escpecially with the heavy ties to Trinity War.
Overall it was surprisingly good. Suprising when taken with the what last month had to offer. On it's own it was nothing really good nor was it terrible, no matter how many would want to say that it was either. It was down the road mediocre, but with a tangible sense of potential. In fact, new readers could be actually find it an enjoyable read. Given time maybe it could grow into something that even older readers might find good. Time will just have to tell, but I'll be keeping my eye on this series for improvements.