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Interview: J.M. DeMatteis Talks PHANTOM STRANGER Plus Exclusive Art

PHANTOM STRANGER writer J.M. DeMatteis talks about the book and the upcoming cross-over event, Trinity War.

THE PHANTOM STRANGER has a been a real fun ride so far, and a book that is in its own little pocket in the DC universe. That all changes, in July, when this book crosses over into the JUSTICE LEAGUE books for the upcoming event "Trinity War." Phantom Stranger, along with Pandora and The Question, is a member of the Trinity of Sin, will be a big part of this event, and PHANTOM STRANGER writer, J.M. DeMatteis took the time to answer some questions about the event and the PHANTOM STRANGER book.

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Comic Vine: You've been a part of PHANTOM STRANGER since issue 4, but starting with issue 9, you are the only writer on board. What was the process with DiDio prior to this, and what's it like working on this book, now that you're the only writer?

J.M. DeMatteis: Working with Dan has been a blast. He'd plot the book, it would go off to the artist and then I'd dialogue from the art, using Dan's plot as my blueprint. My job was to communicate the intent of Dan's story and then layer in as much mood, texture, character and little twists and turns as I could. Doing it this way allowed me to learn about the Stranger and his universe in a gentle way. If I'd just jumped into the book right off the bat, I might have been in over my head.

Dan was a very generous collaborator and gave me room to play; but—as the guy who cooked up the current incarnation of the character—he also had a firm vision for the Stranger that I very much respected. I enjoy this kind of collaboration (as my twenty-five years of working with Keith Giffen will attest): bringing two points of view, two ways of approaching story, together in one script. When it works, the final version is something unique, something that neither creator could have done alone.

Writing solo just allows me to follow my muse wherever it leads. I'm, of course, building on what Dan has done, but I'm going off in directions that are more reflective of my own personal worldview and thematic obsessions. So far I'm having a wonderful time. I'm lucky to have a terrific editor in Wil Moss and an equally-terrific artist in Fernando Blanco. He's doing superb work: elegant, powerful, emotional.

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CV: This is a very expansive book that has a lot of connections to other DC books (JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK, KATANA currently), yet this book comes off as a story in its own corner of the DCU. As a writer, what's is like to see these ideas/concepts/characters you've planted in this series grow into other books and is there something that sprouted from your book that jumped onto another that you're most proud of?

JD: One of the great things Dan did was use (almost) every issue to bring in another character from the supernatural corners of the DCU—the Spectre, Jack Ryder, Pandora, the Sons of Trigon, JL Dark, Nightmare Nurse—and in some cases these were the first appearances of these characters in the New DCU. (In the case of Nightmare Nurse, it's her first appearance ever.) I'm looking forward to seeing how Jack Ryder evolves into the Creeper. (Ann Nocenti has taken the next leap with the character in KATANA.) I also have to add that I've become a huge fan of JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK: I think it's a terrific book.

CV: Trinity War is upon us. What can you tell us about this upcoming crossover event and what is Phantom Stranger's role?

JD: You kidding? I'm not telling you anything

—except that the issue of Phantom Stranger that crosses over with T-WAR is a pivotal one. One of the things we all talked about was making sure that this wasn't just a forced crossover story; that it mattered. And, as you'll see, this story matters. It's a real turning point for the Stranger.

I'm not a big fan of crossovers—I always prefer to be left to my own devices in my little corner of the universe—but working with Geoff Johns on this has been a delight. He, like Dan, has been a very generous collaborator. He made the experience a very positive one.

CV: What part will the voice of God (the Scottish Terrier) play in this upcoming event?

JD: No comment!

CV: This series focuses less on the hero aspect and more on a man spending eternity paying for his sins from those he wronged in the past. It's a book that's very different from the rest on the shelves. How do you tackle a thematically heavier book like this?

JD: These kinds of stories are the ones I really respond to, whether I'm working on established characters or my creator-owned work. I love stories that get into the Big Questions, the Why of our psyches and the Why of Creation itself. The journey to redemption is one that—in one way or another—we're all on; there's something there for everyone to relate to. That's one of the things I really love about PHANTOM STRANGER: we can deal with the metaphysical and the psychological...and we can also do good old-fashioned fun superhero smackdowns, like the Spectre issue.

CV: At the end of issue #9, we see a stairway to Heaven (not the song) from Hell inside of Phantom Stranger's mind. If Phantom Stranger has to make that journey himself, couldn't anything else within Stranger's hell also follow him, and more importantly, could anything with Stranger's Hell make it into the real world?

JD: Interesting questions...and, as we'll see in the coming months, there are some interesting answers waiting.

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CV: We've seen two very powerful forces in Phantom Stranger's existence, Sin Eater and Spectre, both of which feel they were wronged, in their human lives, by the Stranger. Why does everything and everyone Phantom Stranger has contact with end up becoming either a product of his failure or his enemy?

JD: The road to redemption can be a rocky, and dangerous, one and PS has made some major blunders along the way that have made things worse. At least is appears that way. One of the themes of the book is the idea that the apparent negative just might be masking a positive. And that's a fun, complex theme to play with.

CV: In issue 9, when Etrigan and Sin Eater lead Phantom Stranger to his family, what was the deal with the tentacles in the floor?

JD: Perhaps a reflection of the pain lurking in the depths of the Stark family's collective psyche...?

CV: How much more Spectre will we see in this series, even if he is the tantrum throwing, hyper-emotional Spectre from issue 5?

JD: We've got a new, and fairly epic, storyline coming up in issue #14. (After Trinity War wraps and we tie up some loose ends with the Question.) I want the Spectre to be a part of that.

CV: Will we ever see a return of the Trenchcoat Brigade (Phantom Stranger, Constantine, Mister E, and Doctor Occult) from THE BOOKS OF MAGIC?

JD: I hadn't thought of it but, hey, that's not a bad idea!

Thanks J.M. for answering our questions! In addition, DC was kind enough to send over some exclusive pages for PHANTOM STRANGER #10! Check them out and make sure to check out the upcoming Trinity War event, starting in July!

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