Beginning in January, Phantom Stranger gets a new co-writer as J.M. DeMatteis comes on board to help out regular writer Dan DiDio. Assisting mainly on dialogue, DeMatteis joins the book with issue #4.
DiDio, who also serves as co-publisher of DC Entertainment, launched the book in September with artist Brent Anderson, although the book gets a two-issue guest stint by artists Gene Ha and Zander Cannon with issues #6 and #7.
The book has given the Phantom Stranger character a new origin in the rebooted DC Universe and positioned him as an important part of next year's Trinity War event.
It's not the first time DeMatteis has been called upon for his dialogue skills and collaboration as a co-writer, most famously co-writing with Keith Giffen on a beloved run of Justice League International. But he's also a respected writer on his own, not only at Vertigo and DC, but on Marvel comic books like Amazing Spider-Man and a wide variety work for CrossGen, Image, Boom!, IDW and others. The prolific writer has also penned prose books and television series.Newsarama talked with DeMatteis to find out more about his collaboration with DiDio on Phantom Stranger.
Newsarama: J.M., what attracted you to this opportunity? Was it enticing to get involved in the New 52? Was it this type of comic in particular? Or was it simply Dan's charms?
J.M. DeMatteis: Well, Dan’s charms are hard to resist. Once the lights go down and the soft music starts playing, you’re under his spell.
But, seriously — it’s the character. I’ve always loved the supernatural corners of the DCU...and I’ve had a special fondness for the Phantom Stranger. Usually, when I’m offered a new project, I take a day or two to think it over, but when PS editor Wil Moss offered me this assignment I didn’t blink: it was an immediate yes.
Nrama: How are you two breaking down the co-writing on this book? Are you involved in crafting the plots, or is your role more about lending your expertise in dialogue? I ask because, as a fan of the way you write dialogue, I'm hoping that's part of your work!
DeMatteis: Dan is plotting the book; I’m doing the dialogue. That said, as I’ve learned over the years — especially when I’m working with my old buddy Keith Giffen — when both writers are open to creative interplay, those two jobs can overlap. One of the things I enjoy when I’m scripting over someone else’s plot is the chance to add shading, psychological layering, even plot elements. There’s so much you can do via dialogue if your collaborator is open to it...and Dan seems very open.Dan has created a rock solid grounding for the Phantom Stranger’s world: a fascinating back-story, an intriguing ongoing plot, wonderful spiritual, supernatural and psychological elements, a grand quest for redemption. He’s done all the heavy lifting...and now I get to play and, I hope, add my own unique perspective to the stories.
Nrama: As a writer of dialogue on Phantom Stranger, what do you want to do with the voice of the lead character and the comic overall? What are you hoping to bring to that part of the book?
DeMatteis: I just finished scripting my first issue, and the fun of it was hearing the Stranger’s voice in my head...and getting glimpses into his psychology, finding the thread of the inner journey he’s on. Once the characters start talking to you, they reveal things that are surprising, unexpected — and that’s already starting to happen. My job is to follow that voice, see where it leads and honor it.
Nrama: As you've started to delve into the character of Phantom Stranger, what do you think it is about his story that is particularly intriguing — both as a writer and as a comics fan? Is there a "hook," or a compelling journey or theme with this character?
DeMatteis: Anyone who’s followed my work knows that I’m fairly obsessed by the quest for redemption. In some ways, we’re all on that journey, trying to remake ourselves, our lives. To atone for the mistakes — real or imagined — of our past and bring something of value to the world. Most of us tend to do it in small, quiet ways. The beauty of a book like this is that the Stranger’s quest plays out against the cosmic backdrop of the DCU. Most of us don’t run into John Constantine or the Spectre on our way to the supermarket. Each of these characters can be seen as embodiments of elements within our own psyches; reflections of the inner quest.
All that said, there’s the element of just plain "cosmic fun" to this corner of the DCU. First and foremost you have to enjoy these stories...the larger-than-life characters, the big adventure, the mind-bending fantasy. The other levels and layers have to come later.
Nrama: How much does your experience writing the Spectre in the past at DC inform your work on the book?
DeMatteis: There are certainly some similar themes at work, but the Hal Jordan Spectre was a very specific character, with a very specific psychology. The tone of this book is, I think, a little darker and the Stranger himself — especially as Dan has envisioned him — is a very different man. Complex and fascinating.
Nrama: Will the Spectre be playing a significant role going forward in Phantom Stranger?
DeMatteis: I just received the plot for the next issue and the Jim Corrigan Spectre plays a large role in it. It’s a massive, old-fashioned magical battle between Stranger and Corrigan — with some extraordinary visuals provided by Brent Anderson, who’s doing great work on the book. (Brent illustrated one of the very first stories I ever did at Marvel—a Doctor Strange fill-in—at the start of my career. It’s a pleasure to be working with him again.) At the same time, we’ll be using that outer battle to explore the minds and hearts of these two characters...as well as helping to define their roles in the DCU.
Nrama: You've created a very, very wide variety of styles over several media during your writing career. Is the tone and style you're bringing to Phantom Stranger at all comparable to anything you've done before?
DeMatteis: I think the style will reveal itself as I continue to work on the series. Each book develops its own unique tone, often based on the main character’s voice and psyche. That said, I’m sure if you look at things like my work on dark fantasies like Man-Thing, Spectre, The Gargoyle or Doctor Fate, to name a few, there will be some tonal overlap.
Nrama: What can you tell fans about what's coming up in Phantom Stranger?
DeMatteis: The first issue I script — #4 — involves Justice League Dark and sets up a mystery involving the Stranger’s human family (one of the most intriguing and exciting elements of the new mythos Dan has created). Phantom Stranger #5, as I said, brings in the Spectre and beyond that? I’d rather not say. I want the readers to be surprised. I want to be surprised!
Nrama: We've seen lots of short appearances by various supernatural characters in the first few issues. Is one of the mandates for Phantom Stranger to constantly keep readers on their toes by introducing lots of new characters to the New 52? Or will we see more development of the ones we've seen so far (and if so, can you describe who and/or how)?
DeMatteis: I think there’ll be a combination of both. Dan has brought in new characters, new elements; in a way, the Stranger himself is totally new. Very different than the one we’ve known, yet still rooted in the cloak-swirling cosmic mystery we’ve come to identify with the character.But there’s also the fun of playing with the established DCU supernatural cast. It was great fun to jump into the first issue with the Justice League Dark (a wonderful series. I highly recommend it), getting a chance to write Constantine, Deadman and the rest. There’s a huge scope to this book, with room for new characters and old. It’s a massive, cosmic playground.
Nrama: And as a mom with kids who love you for your all-ages prose work, are there any more books like Abadazad or Imaginalis on the horizon for you?
DeMatteis: Yes! At this very moment you can go to your local comics shop and buy my original, all-ages series The Adventures of Augusta Wind, designed and illustrated by an extraordinary artist named Vassilis Gogtzilas and published by IDW. I love writing all-ages material and Augusta has quickly become one of my favorite projects ever. It’s a massive fantasy that’s allowed the two of us to build a new universe from the ground up and allowed me to explore all the themes and Big Ideas I’m obsessed with, all in the context of our main character’s magical journey. It doesn’t get better than that.
I’m very proud of Augusta Wind and I hope it does well enough that we can continue once the first five-issue mini-series is done. This first mini is really Chapter One of a much larger novel, and I can’t wait to get to Chapter Two.
As for my kids fantasy novel, Imaginalis, it’s still out there, courtesy of HarperCollins, and available on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites. So if you’re looking for a Christmas present for the young fantasy fan in your life!
I've also got several ideas rumbling around for another young adult fantasy novel. It's just a matter of finding the time.
Nrama: Speaking of time, you always seem to be dabbling in a dozen different projects. What else are you working on that you want to let your fans know about?
DeMatteis: Along with Phantom Stranger and Augusta Wind, I’ve got a new series I’m developing with my Abadazad collaborator, the great Mike Ploog, that I’m hoping we’ll be able to announce early in the new year. Can’t say much about it beyond the fact that it will feature many amazing Ploogian monsters.
I've got a story coming out this month in Amazing Spider-Man #700, the massive anniversary issue, that I'm very happy with. It's a tribute to the entire history of the character, straight from the heart. I've probably written more Spider-Man stories than just about any other Marvel-DC character and it was a real pleasure, and a genuine honor, to be a part of this celebration.
I just finished my second episode of Cartoon Network’s new Teen Titans Go! series, which (I think) will be debuting in the spring. I’ve got quite a few other creative irons in the fire right now, but I can’t talk about them yet.
Nrama: Is there a possibility your work on Phantom Stranger might lead to more work in the DCU?
DeMatteis: Yes. Time will tell.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell potential readers about working with Dan on Phantom Stranger?
DeMatteis: Just that it’s a pleasure working with Dan and Brent on this classic character. There’s so much untapped potential here, Dan has got so many wonderful ideas, and I can’t wait to watch it all play out in the coming months. I’m having a blast already and I suspect it’s only going to get better.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!