Comic Book Reads: The Phantom by Lee Falk

The Phantom: Fighting crime since 1936


Before Superman and Batman, arrived the Phantom…

Did the creators of Superman and Batman borrow from Phantom’s heroic features? 

May be they did, by the likes of it.    

Zero superpowers, full of grit, clearly wealthy, outlandish costumes, moral code, just like Batman. 

The ghost who walks…

Man who cannot die…

When the Phantom strikes, lightning stands still…

When the Phantom asks you answer…

Call the Phantom anywhere, and he will hear…(yes, even in regions without cellular network…)

Lee Falk’s legendary crime-fighting vigilante, Phantom was an addictive, immersive comic book childhood hero, with an unending air of regality and mystery. 

A costume that fitted kiddie exagerration hand in glove, mesmerized females – only person supposed to see the Phantom without his mask is his wife, as he mischievously quips in one episode, even as the girlfriend (soon, wife to be) smiles away. Way to go Phantom, you smooth operator! 

The 1996 movie version poster

Adaptation hiccups 

Live action movie transition hasn’t been smooth for the celebrated crime crusader. 

For one the purple spread is jarring in live action, certainly not a colour for camouflage, also the ears bulging out in certain adaptations is funny. The hero’s enigma is lost in live action, masked face closing out most emotions.  

Having said that The Phantom (1996) seems like a good watch, will be doing a review soon on my blog, Movie Reviews, Mini.  

The animation adaptations have been great in some instances, particularly Phantom 2040, a superb well-written futuristic French-American TV series that aired between 1994-1996.    

Racial jibes? 

The eighties and the nineties were the golden age of comic book reading for me – exceptional, engaging stories, crackling dialogues, beautiful heroines, lavish colouring and illustrations, superb hero-villan face-off, cute, loyal pet animals and trademark mannerisms. 

It didn’t occur to me then that underneath the costume, it was a first world white man saving the world from third world’s darker-coloured villans (among others).  

In one’s adolescent years, who thinks of that, and as comic book fiction, a lot of it is irreverent, bubblegum fun, apart from when the racist undertones are painfully obvious.

Phantom’s wacky origins 

The back story for the ghost who walks…man who cannot die… is stuff of legend, classic comic book storytelling, with white supremacy splashes perhaps, you decide. 

Falk along with Ray Moore created a origin story that was often repeated in the initial frames of a new adventure, for those who came in late

Once upon a time, four hundred years ago, the sole survivor of a merchant ship attacked by pirates near the Bay of Bengal, washes up a remote shore, having witnessed the Singh pirates killing his father. The survivor is nursed back to health by natives.

Then many days later, a body washes up the shore dressed in his father’s clothes! It’s his father’s murderer! 

Brazenly, I must say, the survivor takes an oath upon the murderer’s skull to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty in all its forms, vowing that the eldest of each generation will succeed him as the next Phantom. 

Yet, common folk will think it is the same man, timelessly fighting crime across generations. I love that deceptive part, the fabulous, carefully manufactured and protected myth. 

To quote the comic strip: 

AS THE UNBROKEN LINE DOWN THROUGH THE CENTURIES, THE ORIENT BELIEVED IT WAS ALWAYS THE SAME MAN! THE MAN WHO COULD NOT DIE! SO THE LEGEND OF IMMORTALITY GREW! 

MOVING SILENTLY AND QUICKLY , THE PHANTOM WAS USUALLY KNOWN BY THE SIGN OF THE SKULL, HIS MARK, WHICH HE ALWAYS LEFT BEHIND HIM! 

TODAY, AS ALWAYS BEFORE, STRIKING SUDDENLY, MYSTERIOUSLY, THE PHANTOM WORKS ALONE!

Yes, with the same bold emphasis and specifically underlined text. 

It did make me groovy to think that the Phantom worked alone, now it seems a bit sad, a kind of self-imposed social qarantine, even though the present Phantom, Kit Walker, has it all, gorgeous, intelligent wife, two lovely kids, thus ensuring employment to future Phantom artists and gifting bloodline continuity to the next Phantom generation. 

Did I mention, a cosy skull home deep in the jungle, away from the dreary city pollution with definitely no mortgage, skull ring to leave a mark on his enemies, comfy skull throne, well-guarded secret identity (Hush! Only you and me know!), two faithful animals (Hero, his white steed, more on Devil later) and a protective African tribe. 

What more does a crimefighting comic book hero need?   

Ultra cool Phantom moment       

My all-time favourite Phantom moment: 

When airplane authorities don’t allow his dog, Devil, into the passenger aircraft as it is against the rules, the Phantom utters with gentle dark sunglasses-adorned relish, “He is a wolf, not a dog.”

The authorities, baffled and stunned, allow Devil in. 

When the Phantom requests, you comply.

Thank you Lee Falk, and if legend has to be believed, hospitalized before his death in March 1999, Falk narrated the latest Phantom episode to his wife Elizabeth, while tearing off his oxygen mask to do so. 

Now there’s a hero! 

(Article by Snehith Kumbla) 

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