The Phantom

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The Phantom


The Phantom from the cover of DC Comics' The Phantom #1 (1988), art by Joe Orlando and Dave Gibbons

Publisher Egmont
Frew
Moonstone
First appearance February 17, 1936
Created by Lee Falk
Statistics
Real name Kit Walker
Status active
Affiliations The Jungle Patrol
Previous affiliations  
Notable aliases Mr Walker
Notable relatives Diana Palmer-Walker (wife), Kit Walker (son), Heloise Walker (daughter)
Notable powers None, but is at peak physical and mental fitness, has quick reflexes, and is a sharpshooter.

The Phantom is a comic strip created by Lee Falk (also creator of Mandrake the Magician), recounting the adventures of a costumed crime-fighter called the Phantom. The series began with a daily newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, which was joined by a colour Sunday strip in May of 1939; both are still running as of 2005, although Lee Falk has passed away, and the newspaper comics are now written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Paul Ryan (daily strip) and Graham Nolan (Sunday strip). Previous artists on the newspaper strip include Ray Moore, Wilson McCoy, Bill Lignante, Sy Barry, George Olesen, Keith Williams and Fred Fredericks.

The Phantom is credited as being the first "costumed superhero", i.e. the first crimefighter to wear the skintight costume attributed to comic book superheroes. Previous fictional crime fighters, such as Zorro and Doc Savage, were not designed especially for newspaper comic strips or comic books.

Contents

The character

The Phantom wears a mask, a purple skintight costume. However, creator Lee Falk had originally envisioned a grey costume and even considered naming his creation "The Gray Ghost" before settling on "The Phantom". It was not until the Phantom Sunday strip debuted in 1939 that the costume was shown to be purple, something that apparently was a printing mistake and Lee Falk himself did not approve beforehand. Although this was never corrected, Falk continued to refer to the costume as gray in the text of the strip on several occasions after this, but finally accepted the purple costume. In a retcon it was shown that the first Phantom chose the costume based on the appearance of a jungle idol, and colored the cloth with purple jungle berries.

Publishers that printed color comics with the Phantom before 1939 chose costume color based on their own preference, and even later on various publishers over the world picked different costume colors; eg - blue in Sweden, red in Italy and brown in New Zealand.

The Phantom carries two .45 pistols. His base is in the Deep Woods of Bangalla, a fictional country initially set in Asia somewhere near India but later moved to Africa, where he is the secret commander of the Jungle Patrol. He is particularly the enemy of pirates.

It is notable that he has no supernatural powers.

In the African jungle, the Phantom is called "The Ghost who Walks" and "The Man who Cannot Die" because he seems to have been around for generations. This is because the Phantom is descended from twenty previous generations of crime-fighters who all share the same persona. When a new Phantom takes up the mantle, he has to swear the Oath of the Skull: "I devote my life to the destruction of all forms of piracy, greed and cruelty. My sons and their sons will follow in my footsteps." Frequently the strip highlights the adventures of previous Phantoms, set in the past, and some European publications have featured the Phantom's children as future crimefighters. Two signatures of the character are two rings he wears. One has a pattern that he leaves on visitors to his region he approves of, which marks the person as under his protection. The other has a skull shape and is worn on his favored punching hand, which leaves a skull like scar on the enemies he punches.

The Phantom has two helpers, a mountain wolf, Devil, and a horse, Hero. He also has a trained falcon named Fraka. He is married to Diana Palmer-Walker, who works at the UN. They have two children (twins), Kit and Heloise. The Phantom had also raised an orphan named Rex (now Prince of Baronkhan).

The Phantom's family have always played a significant role in the series. His relationship with Diana Palmer was a significant ongoing plot strand early in the series; and several later stories revolved around the Phantom becoming involved in adventures as a result of his young charges (first Rex, then Kit and Heloise).

"There are times when the Phantom leaves his jungle home and travels as an ordinary man." When he does, he wears a fedora, sunglasses, and a trench coat and is known as "Mr. Walker". References to "Mr. Walker" are traditionally accompanied by a footnote saying "For 'The Ghost Who Walks'", although some versions of the Phantom's history suggest that Walker was actually the surname of the man who became the first Phantom.

The legend

Over the course of more than sixty years' worth of stories, the "legend" of the Phantom grew to become an integral part of the series' raison d'être. The legend of the "Ghost Who Walks" made the character stand out from the innumerable costumed heroes who have battled crime throughout the 20th Century, and has helped maintain his appeal through the present day.

Much of the underlying, continuing plots and "themes" of the series focus on the continuing legend of the Phantom, and a number of stories have included mysterious coincidences and bizarre twists of fate (often in the hero's favor) that have suggested there is a supernatural element to the legend of the Phantom — something that makes him more than just an ordinary man in a costume.

The newspaper strips

The first Phantom Sunday strip from May 28, 1939. Art by Ray Moore.
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The first Phantom Sunday strip from May 28, 1939. Art by Ray Moore.

The Phantom started out as a daily strip on February 17, 1936. It was written by Lee Falk and initially also pencilled and/or laid out by him. The first Phantom artist was Ray Moore. At the time, Lee Falk was already the creator of the successful Mandrake the Magician newspaper strip. Ray Moore was previously assistant to Mandrake artist Phil Davis. A Sunday strip version of the Phantom was added on May 28, 1939.

During the war, Falk joined the Office of War Information. It is rumored that during this time the Phantom strip was at least partially written by Alfred Bester, but this is still somewhat disputed by those who say Bester wrote Mandrake instead.

Ray Moore also was also active in the war and during that time left the strip to his assistant Wilson McCoy. Moore returned after the war and worked on the strip on and off until 1949, when he left it completely in the hands of McCoy.

During McCoy's tenure the strip was at its peak, appearing in thousands of newspapers worldwide.

McCoy passed away suddenly in 1961. Carmine Infantino and Bill Lignante (who would later draw Phantom stories directly for comic magazines) filled in before a successor was found in Sy Barry. During Barry's early years, he and Falk modernized the strip, and laid the foundation for what is considered the modern look of the Phantom. Barry would continue working on the strip for over 30 years before retiring in 1994.

Barry's longtime assistant George Olesen remained on the strip as penciller. New inker for the daily strip was Keith Williams. The Sunday strip was for some time inked by Eric Doescher before Mandrake the Magician artist Fred Fredericks became the regular inker in 1995.

Lee Falk continued to script the Phantom (and Mandrake) until his death on March 13, 1999. After that, King Features Syndicate began to cooperate with European comic publisher Egmont; publisher of the Swedish Fantomen magazine which has contained original comic book stories since 1963. Fantomen writers Tony De Paul and Claes Reimerthi alternated as writers of the newspaper strip after Falk passed away. Today De Paul is the regular writer. Some of the stories have been adapted from comic magazine stories originally published in Fantomen.

Phantom daily strip from 2005. Art by Paul Ryan.
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Phantom daily strip from 2005. Art by Paul Ryan.

In 2000, Olesen and Fredericks retired from the Sunday strip which was then taken over by Graham Nolan. A few years later, Olesen and Williams left the daily strip. A new artist was found in Paul Ryan, who by then already was a Phantom veteran after having worked on the Fantomen comic stories for a couple of years. Ryan's first daily strip appeared in early 2005.

Reprints

The entire run of the Phantom newspaper strip, up to the death of creator Lee Falk, has been reprinted in Australia by Frew. In the United States, most of the Ray Moore daily stories have been reprinted, by Pacific Comics Club or in Comics Revue.

In comic books

In the U.S., the Phantom has been published by a variety of publishers over the years. Through the 1940s, strips were reprinted in Ace Comics published by David McKay. In the 1950s, Harvey Comics published the Phantom. In 1962, Gold Key Comics took over, then King Comics in 1966, then Charlton Comics in 1969. This lasted until 1977. Some of the main Phantom artists during these years were Bill Lignante, Don Newton, Jim Aparo and Pat Boyette.

No Phantom comic would be published in the U.S., until DC Comics did so from 1988 to 1990. The initial mini-series was written by Peter David and drawn by Joe Orlando and Dennis Janke. The regular series that followed lasted 13 issues and was written by Mark Verheiden and drawn by Luke McDonnell.

In 1987, Marvel Comics did a series based on the Defenders of the Earth TV series. Only four issues were published. Another mini-series released by Marvel in 1994-1995 explored a more futuristic, high-tech version of the Phantom in 3 issues (apparently the 22nd Phantom). Later in 1995 Marvel also released a 4-part mini-series based on the Phantom 2040 TV series, pencilled by none other than legendary Steve Ditko. One issue even featured a pin-up drawing by Ditko and another legend, John Romita, Sr.

Cover of The Phantom #4 (published in 2004 by Moonstone Books). Art by Doug Klauba.
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Cover of The Phantom #4 (published in 2004 by Moonstone Books). Art by Doug Klauba.

In 2002, Moonstone Books in the United States began publishing original graphic novels based on The Phantom, and a comic book series followed in December 2003.

Cover of the Swedish Fantomen magazine, No. 8/2003 (#1303 since the start 1950). Art by Hans Lindahl. Published by Egmont.
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Cover of the Swedish Fantomen magazine, No. 8/2003 (#1303 since the start 1950). Art by Hans Lindahl. Published by Egmont.

In addition to the two newspaper strips, original stories are published by Egmont Publications in Scandinavia (where the Phantom is very popular). Egmont publishes a fortnightly Phantom comic book in Norway (as Fantomet), Sweden (as Fantomen), and Finland (as Mustanaamio {"Black Mask"}1).

The first story created originally for the Swedish Fantomen magazine was published as early as 1963, and today the total number of Fantomen stories is close to 800. It is worth noting that the average length of a Fantomen story is 30+ pages (compared to 20-24 pages for most U.S. comics). Among the most prolific artists and writers that have created stories for Fantomen are: Donne Avenell, Heiner Bade, David Bishop, Georges Bess, Joan Boix, Tony DePaul, Ulf Granberg, Rolf Gohs, Scott Goodall, Eirik Ildahl, Kari Leppänen, Hans Lindahl, Janne Lundström, Bob McLeod, Jean-Yves Mitton, Claes Reimerthi, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk and Norman Worker. The artists and writers working on these stories have been nick-named Team Fantomen.

Another country where the Phantom is popular is Australia, where Frew Publications has published a fortnightly comic book, The Phantom, since 1948. Frew's book mostly contains reprints, from the newspaper strips and from Fantomen (in English translation), but has occasionally also included an original story.

The Phantom has a long publishing history in India also. The Phantom first appeared in India in the 1940s via a magazine called The Illustrated Weekly of India which carried Phantom Sundays. Indrajal Comics took up publication of Phantom comics in English and other Indian languages in 1964. They ceased publication in 1990. This same year Diamond Comics started publishing Phantom comics in digest form, again in many dialects including English. This continued until 2000, when Diamond Comics stopped publishing Phantom comics; Egmont Imagination India (formerly Indian Express Egmont Publications) took up publication the same year. They published monthly comics (in English only) until 2002. Today they only bring out reprints of their earlier stories with new covers and formats. The only regular publisher of the Phantom left in India is Rani Comics which started publication in 1990. However, these comics are available only in the Tamil language. It may be noted that Indrajal Comics, Diamond Comics and Rani Comics, all published reprints of Lee Falk's daily or Sunday strips. Only Egmont Imagination India printed the Scandinavian work.

Italian publisher Fratelli Spada in Italy also produced a large number of original Phantom stories for their L'Uomo Mascherato series of comic books in the 1960s and 70s. Among the artists that worked for Fratelli Spada were Guido Buzzelli, Mario Caria, Umberto Sammarini (Usam), Germano Ferri, Senio Pratesi, Mario Caria and Felmang. Ferri, Usam, Felmang and Caria have all later worked for the Swedish Fantomen magazine.

Brazilian publisher RGE and German publisher Bastei also produced original Phantom stories for their comic books.

In other media

Novels

Avon Publications in the U.S. put out 15 books based on Lee Falk's stories. These ran from 1972 to 1975.

  1. The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks 1972, Lee Falk
  2. The Slave Market of Mucar 1972, Basil Copper
  3. The Scorpia Menace 1972, Basil Copper
  4. The Veiled Lady 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  5. The Golden Circle 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  6. The Mysterious Ambassador 1973, Lee Falk
  7. The Mystery of the Sea Horse 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  8. The Hydra Monster 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  9. Killer's Town 1973, Lee Falk
  10. The Goggle-Eyed Pirates 1974, Frank S. Shawn
  11. The Swamp Rats 1974, Frank S. Shawn
  12. The Vampires & the Witch 1974, Lee Falk
  13. The Island of Dogs 1975, Warren Shanahan
  14. The Assassins 1975, Carson Bingham
  15. The Curse of the Two-Headed Bull 1975, Lee Falk

Movies

Billy Zane as The Phantom
Billy Zane as The Phantom

A 15-part movie serial starring Tom Tyler was made in 1943. A sequel was filmed in 1955 starring John Hart, but after problems with the rights to the character it was partially re-shot and re-named Captain Africa.

The Phantom was also made into a movie in 1996. It starred Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson and Catherine Zeta-Jones and was directed by Simon Wincer. It was written by Jeffrey Boam, who also wrote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

No less than three unauthorized Phantom movies were made in Turkey. Two were made in 1968 and both were titled Kızil Maske (the Turkish name for the Phantom, meaning Red Mask). The Phantom was played by Ismet Erten and Irfan Atasoy. In 1971 a movie called Kızil Maske'nin intikami was made.

Television

A TV pilot was made in 1961 starring Roger Creed as the Phantom, with Lon Chaney Jr. and Richard Kiel in supporting roles.

An Indian TV serial named "Betaal Pachisi" (meaning Phantom XXV), starring Shahbaz Khan, Tom Alter and Sonu Walia, and directed by Sunil Agnihotri, was inspired by the Phantom. It was first aired in May, 1997 on the Doordarshan TV network of India. Each episode was half an hour long and in the Hindi language. There were 49 episodes in total.

Animation

The Phantom has appeared in two animated series. Phantom 2040 is about the adventures of a descendant, the 24th Phantom. In Defenders of the Earth, the Phantom teams up with fellow King Features adventurers Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician. The Phantom also made an appearance alongside other King Features characters in the 1972 animated movie Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter.

In Defenders of the Earth, The Phantom was able to use supernatural means to give himself increased strength and speed, by saying the incantation:

"By Jungle Lore
The Ghost Who Walks
Calls forth the strength of ten tigers"

Doing so would give him a massive, but temporary, boost in power. It is only in this cartoon series that the Phantom has such an ability.

Stage

A musical about the Phantom was produced in Sweden in 1985. It was written by Peter Falck and Urban Wrethagen and starred Urban Wrethagen as the Phantom. A recording of the songs was released on LP and a comic adaption of the story was published in the Swedish Fantomen magazine.

Notes

  • Note 1: Often parodied as Nastamuumio (the pin mummy).

External links

  • The Phantom at King Features
  • Fantomen - Swedish official site (in Swedish)
  • Fantomet - Norwegian official site (in Norwegian)
  • The Deep Woods - fan site with very complete reference section; also the closest thing to an official Frew site
  • A Phantom FAQ - includes list and short bios of the 24 known Phantoms
  • The 21st Phantom's Deep Woods - fan site about the Phantom, with an Indian perspective, featuring information about the Phantom, Indian comics, Indian links, etc. It also has a popular Daily Comic Strip section where you can view the Phantom daily and Sunday newspaper strips as well as Mandrake strips online.
  • Toonopedia
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