DC Comics' Dan DiDio On Their 'Zero Month' And The New 'Phantom Stranger' Series

Exclusive promo image for "The Phantom Stranger" (not final cover)

As announced earlier this morning, one year after launching the New 52, in September the DC Universe is rebooting... Again. Okay, that’s not totally true, but DC is reverting all of their comics to the number Zero, and giving one month to reintroduce the world to the DCU. Along with the tried and true titles, they’re also launching four new books, including The Phantom Stranger, written by Dan Didio, with art by Brent Anderson. After the zero issue, the title continues in October with a new #1, and keeps going from there.

To find out more, we chatted with Didio about the announcement, rebooting the classic character, how this may be a lynchpin book for DC going forward... And found that Didio is even more mysterious than the title character:

MTV Geek: Phantom Stranger kicks off with a #0 issue... What can you tell us about that?

Dan Didio: A lot about that - but not too much. In the Zero issue, we’re actually picking up and filling in some scenes before and after the character’s first appearance... Which was in the Free Comic Book Day book back in May. What we’re doing is showing a little bit about how he got to that location, and what happens to him after he meets the Council of Wizards... Where he’s sent off to. Then, we’re going to get back into more current times with The Phantom Stranger, and actually give a sense of what his purpose is on Earth, and what his motivations for all his actions have been as he moves through mankind.

You’ll some surprising guest stars throughout the series... In the very first issue, we actually see the creation or origin of another mainstay character in the DC Universe.

Geek: Why was it important to bring back The Phantom Stranger, and why in this way?

DD: On a personal note, I really enjoy all the characters that inhabit the corners of the DC Universe. We have a lot of wonderful top line superheroes, but the ones that always excited me most are the ones that filled in the horror aspect, or the science fiction aspects of the DCU. Phantom Stranger is a character who has played through the DC Universe, not even just in the New 52, but he was a character introduced back in the ‘50s. There was always an air of mystery around him, and that’s always attracted a lot of people to him... But never made him stick as an ongoing series. That was the big challenge here, how to make him work as both a mysterious character, and as an ongoing book.

Geek: Before this, there’s always been possibilities, but we’ve never discovered what the origin of the Phantom Stranger is... Is that something you’re going to be saying more definitively with this new iteration?

DD: We will never identify him by name in the series. There’s a lot of people that have been making suppositions based on his actions, and how people treat him. In the past, they did do a Secret Origins book where they showed four potential origins for the Phantom Stranger... But we felt that in order to really go with an ongoing series, you had to give a little bit more of his back-story, so you got a better sense of his motivations, and what type of adventures you’re reading a monthly basis.

Geek: I have to imagine you’re going to give a “No comment,” on this, but will we find out if he is, in fact, Judas?

DD: You’re absolutely right, I am going to give a no comment! [Laughs]

Geek: Okay, fair enough! Let’s talk about Brent Anderson on art... What does he bring to the project?

DD: He brings a level of emotion to the characters and the stories that is so necessary for this particular book. If you think about it, it’s a guy with a long cape, and a dark hat, and whitened out eyes... But there’s an expressiveness, and a subtlety to Brent’s art that’s essential to moving the story along; so when there is a spoken word you still understand what’s going on in the scene, and the actions. He’s such a strong storyteller... I like to work in a plot/script format, so realistically, I’m giving him plots, and he’s fleshing out the story based on that. He brings so much as we go forward.

Geek: How does that compare to something you’ve done before, like, say, OMAC?

DD: As a matter of fact, it’s diametrically opposed to OMAC. If OMAC is about big, bombastic action... This has that level of action, but it has a lot more subtleties to it, a lot more introspection about who these characters are, what makes them motivated, what makes them tick. And you approach things differently when you’re working with a talents like Keith Giffen and Brent Anderson. But in this particular case, there’s a lot more ambiguity of the character in regards to whether he’s doing the right or wrong thing... And there’s a lot more edge to his motivations, and the outcome of all his actions. In the world of heroes and people he interacts with, he is not well liked by anybody.

Geek: How much is the ongoing series The Phantom Stranger’s own adventures, and how much will be “Countdown to Trinity War?”

DD: Actually, as we count down to Trinity War, he’s going to play an important role in that. You’ll see a lot of his interaction in the DCU. You’ll see in the very first three issues, there’ll be two heroes that we haven’t seen in the new DCU appear, there’ll be a third one that’s mentioned appear, and Pandora will be playing an important role... And we’ll also have the return of one of the greater cosmic threats in the DCU.

Geek: So it seems like this’ll be a bit of a key book for those interested in what’s going on in the DC Universe.

DD: Yeah, I’ve been talking a lot with Geoff [Johns] on this, and we were discussing Phantom Stranger in the early stages as we led into the Free Comic Book Day comic, and Geoff had plans for him with his appearance, as he confronted Pandora... This is all naturally spinning out of that, so therefore Pandora will be playing a role in the Phantom Stranger series, starting in the first issue.

Geek: Last thing, I don’t think I asked you... What’s the pitch line for the book? What’s the thing that’s going to hook ‘em and get them excited?

DD: That’s a good question, because the pitch line gives away the whole story. [Laughs] Pitch line for the series is - it gives it away, but that’s okay: “In the attempt to do the greater good, sometimes you have to betray the ones closest to you.”

The Phantom Stranger launches from DC Comics with #0 in September.