Constantine makes the Stranger an offer, but it's one he can refuse. He shouts down the idea of a partnership with the team, even though he's lately made some powerful enemies that Constantine says will likely cause trouble sooner rather than later. To prove a point, the Stranger shows the mystical heroes that they're no match for him. So Constantine tries another approach, a bargain - join up, and he'll hand over the lost coin from the chain the Stranger wears, one of the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas - the future Stranger - for betraying Jesus Christ. Condemned to walk the Earth until he's exchanged every coin as part of a cosmic bargain, the Stranger desires the talisman desperately. But it's the hubristic Constantine who dismisses the Stranger, sending him back to Earth, convinced he's shown him a worm that will reel him back in on his terms.
Maybe, maybe not. The Stranger has other concerns, when he finds that 20 minutes have passed and his wife is missing ...
And there's more. And it's great. But I suggest buying this book, which has improved hugely with the arrival of JM DeMatteis to script Dan DiDio's plots. Suddenly the Stranger sounds real, whether he's in mortal guise or cosmic form. There's a personality at play, one that bears watching. DeMatteis even makes the headscratching notion of the Stranger's family life enjoyable, by giving wife Elena a fun, sexy personality and having Philip respond in kind.
As a longtime Justice League writer, having helmed its heroes in their lightest and darkest hours, DeMatteis can handle a League team with his eyes closed, and he immediately captures the JLD's voices and natures. And as a veteran of DC's mystical realm - if you've never read his Dr Fate, do yourself a favour and seek it out - DeMatteis elegantly weaves a dark mystery that makes next issue a must-buy.
So yes, securing DeMatteis's services is a big win for this book, and credit to DiDio for bringing him on side, and for an intriguing plot.
While it's undeniable Phantom Stranger is a contrived set-up for the upcoming Trinity War series - there's some of that here - this issue sees the book gain its own voice, and hints at a more interesting direction. It's one of the most enjoyable superhero comics I've read this week, and well worth a look.
Not convinced? Would a grumpy wee Scottie dog do it for you?
My thanks to the Grand Comic Database for the Doctor Fate image.