By Will Barber Taylor
In the previous instalment of The Spectacular Stories of Superman, we looked at the original origin of the Man of Tomorrow, a character greatly different in many ways from the icon of modern American culture we know today. In this edition we shall look at a rare and odd team up for the Man of Steel with the mystical Phantom Stranger in order to battle with the forces of evil long gone. It may be an unusual pairing, but it is, as we shall see, a highly effective one. (Action Comics #585)
The story begins with Superman seemingly defeated at the hands of Arathaza, creatures from a shard of a powerful magical device called the Sherabite Stone that has infected office worker Barbara Kowaleski. As Arathaza, Kowaleski is attempting to take over Metropolis and from there take over the world.
However, Superman is aware that Arathaza’s power comes from her staff if he is able to take it away from her then he can reverse the effects of her magical spells. Using the last of his strength he does this and Arathaza is turned back into Barbara Kowaleski. As Superman takes her home, however, a piece of Arathaza’s staff flies through the air and lands in a graveyard, igniting a revival of the dead corpses.
As Superman returns to his apartment, he encounters The Phantom Stranger. After being initially confused as to why The Stranger is there, he explains that he needs Superman’s help in dealing with the force the Man of Steel has inadvertently created. Flying to the cemetery, Superman and The Stranger witness the creature gaining life and becoming tornado like.
As Superman attacks it he realises that the creature has a semblance of sentience and questions why The Phantom Stranger did not inform him before. The Stranger quips that he knows Superman’s oath not to kill and did not wish to make him question it. He reassures the Man of Tomorrow to keep up his attack on the exterior of the creature whilst he enters it.
Whilst Superman attacks the exterior of the creature, The Phantom Stranger converses with the reanimated souls. They attempt to condemn The Stranger for attempting to take life away from them; he counters this by pointing out that they are all criminals and summons the souls of their victims to question why they deserve life when they had such little regard for it in others.
The murderers deny this and instead attack The Strange, who with the aide of the victims retrieves the shard of Arathaza’s staff and ensures that the power reanimated the condemned souls turns them back into dust. He communicates with Superman and advises him that he take the earth that contained the remains away from Earth and into deep space which he does. As they conclude their adventure, The Man of Steel asks the Stranger what he saw in the heart of the creature and he responds simply by saying that there are some things that are better unknown.
Though this story appears in Action Comics, it is more of a Phantom Stranger story than a Superman story. However, when the two characters interact, they work well together and the contrasting natures of them – Superman, a brightly costumed alien and The Phantom Stranger, a dark and magical being – ensure a different dynamic but all the more enjoyable dynamic.
It is a shame that Superman is not more involved with the threat throughout the story and relegated for a part of it to just thumping the tornado like exterior, however writer and artist John Byrne beautifully renders the story and perfectly captures The Phantom Stranger’s character and his desire to seek justice. The sequence between The Stranger and the ghoulish murders reanimated by Arathaza’s staff is particularly well done both artistically and in terms of characterisation.
Though it is a simple tale, “And Graves Give Up Their Dead” is an enjoyable one. It presents a straightforwardly mystic story with a spectacularly Superman twist that is as engaging and exciting now as when it was first published in 1986.