Suddenly Human: Exclusive Preview of "Phantom Stranger #2"

Suddenly, it's the moment of choice for the Phantom Stranger. And unexpectedly, it plays out in Soccer-Dad Country, with the unseen presence of Norman Mailer…


"Suddenly I realized you could write about your own life", Norman Mailer says in and interview with Steven Marcus for The Paris Review. These are the words of a man seeing the sky for the first time, a man realizing that there's no fate, only choice and consequence. In a far more compact form, Dan DiDio tilts at exactly the same webwork of themes in next week's issue of Phantom Stranger.

Last month's debut issue of Phantom Stranger ended on the most unexpected twist in the character's history. Slowly, painfully, over the course of September's Zero issue and last month's first issue, DiDio took the trouble to reestablish the core of the Stranger--that the Stranger is doomed to walk alone. That because of some unarticulated sin (during Old Testament days, the word for "crime" was "sin"), the Stranger would be made to karmically repay the damage he'd done, and he'd forever be alienated from others until such time as he'd find redemption.

And last month? In the most curious denouement of all, we discover that somehow, the Stranger has bucked the system. He has a wife, and a child, a loving family and he seems to have found his happy ending. All of which are threatened by the appearance of Pandora, the mysterious figure seen first in the climactic ending of Flashpoint, and again throughout the pages of the New 52.

The Stranger walks out onto the soccer field where his son plays, projecting himself astrally to confront Pandora. Pandora, for her sins, threatens the Stranger's safety and the safety of his family directly. And in that precise moment, we're returned to Norman Mailer. To an established writer remembering himself as a young writer, wrestling with the kinds of protection that anonymity can purchase.

"This is a democratic country", Mailer will say years later on Charlie Rose, "and democracy is noble. And because it's noble it's always in danger. Nobility is always in danger. A democracy is perishable. I think the natural government for most people, given the perversities and the depths is fascism…". What happened to Mailer in those intervening years? What changes and evolutions did he manage to trace out that led him from articulating that nexus of the problem first at the level of the personal in 1963, and then at the level of the political in 2003?

Whatever the change, it is exactly the same moment the Stranger faces confronting Pandora on a children's soccer field, in a place where everyone surrounds him, but no one can see him.

Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Phantom Stranger #2.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.