By Lee Falk & Ray Moore: introduction by Ron Goulart (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-41-5 (HB)
There are plenty of comics-significant anniversaries this year, and this guy is probably right at the top of the birthday cake.
For such a long-lived, influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market (except in Australia where he has always been accorded the status of a pop culture god).
Numerous companies have sought to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success. At least the former issue began to be rectified with this initial curated collection from Archival specialists Hermes Pressâ€¦
This particular edition is a lovely large hardback (albeit also available in digital formats), printed in landscape format, displaying two days strip per page in black and white with ancillary features and articles in dazzling colour where required.
Born Leon Harrison Gross, Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his King Features Syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician. Although technically not the first ever costumed champion in comics, The Phantom became the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slitsâ€¦
The Ghost Who Walks debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against an ancient global confederation of pirates. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over illustration to artist Ray Moore. A spectacular and hugely influential Sunday feature began in May 1939.
In a text feature stuffed with sumptuous visual goodies like movie posters; covers for comics, Feature and Little Big Books plus merchandise, Ron Goulartâ€™s eruditely enticing â€˜Introduction: Enter the Ghost Who Walksâ€™ tells all you need to know about the characterâ€™s creation before the vintage magic begins with â€˜Chapter 1: The Singh Brotherhoodâ€™.
American adventurer Diane Palmer returns to the USA by sea, carrying a most valuable secret making her the target of mobsters, society neâ€™er-do-wells and exotic cultists. Thankfully, she seems to have an enigmatic guardian angel who calls himself Â â€œthe Phantomâ€â€¦
As successive attacks and assaults endanger the dashing debutante, she learns that an ancient brotherhood of ruthless piratical thieves wants her secret, but that they have been opposed for centuries by one manâ€¦
Kidnapped and held hostage at the bottom of the sea, she is saved by the mystery man who falls in love and eventually shares his incredible history with herâ€¦
In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and – washing ashore on the African coast – swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the â€œGhost Who Walksâ€.
His unchanging appearance and unswerving war against injustice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades, one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken family line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle. And heâ€™s looking to propagate the lineâ€¦
In the meantime, however, thereâ€™s the slight problem of Emperor of Evil Kabai Singh and his superstitious armies to deal withâ€¦
â€˜Chapter 2: The Sky Bandâ€™ (originally published from 9th November 1936 to April 10th 1937) finds the mystery avenger caught in loveâ€™s old game as a potential rival for Dianaâ€™s affections materialises in the rather stuffy form of career soldier Captain Meville Horton – an honourable man who sadly knows when heâ€™s outmatched, unwanted and in the way. Mistakenly determined to do the right thing too, The Phantom concentrates on destroying a squadron of thieving aviators targeting the burgeoning sky clipper trade: airborne bandits raiding passenger planes and airships throughout the orient.
His initial efforts lead to the Phantomâ€™s arrest: implicated in the sky piratesâ€™ crimes, before escaping from police custody with the aid of his devoted pygmy witch doctor Guran and faithful Bandar tribe allies, heâ€™s soon hot on the trail of the real mastermindâ€¦
On infiltrating their base, he discovers the airborne brigands are all women, and that his manly charms have driven a lethal wedge between the deadly commander and her ambitious second in command Salaâ€¦
A patient plaything of the manic Baroness, The Phantom eventually turns the tide not by force but by exerting his masculine wiles upon the hot-blooded – if psychopathic – harridan, unaware until too late that his own beloved, true-blue Diana is watching. When she sets a trap for the Sky Band, it triggers civil war in the gang, a brutal clash with the British military and the seemingly end of our hero, triggering Dianaâ€™s despondent decision to return alone to Americaâ€¦
â€˜Chapter 3: The Diamond Huntersâ€™ opened on April 12th 1936 and revealed how the best laid plans can go awryâ€¦
In Llongo territory, white prospectors Smiley and Hill unearth rich diamond fields but cannot convince or induce local tribes to grant them mineral rights to the gems they consider worthless. Like most native Africans, they are content to live comfortably under the â€œPhantomâ€™s Peaceâ€ and it takes all the minersâ€™ guile – including kidnapping a neighbouring chiefâ€™s daughter and framing the Llongo; gunrunning and claiming the Ghost Who Walks has died – to set the natives at each otherâ€™s throats. Recovering from wounds, the Phantom is slow to act, but when he does his actions are decisive and unforgettableâ€¦
With the plot foiled and peace restored, Smiley flees, only to encounter a returned Diana who has acted on news that her man still lives. Seeing a chance for revenge and profit, Smiley kidnaps â€œthe Phantomâ€™s girlâ€; provoking his being shunned by all who live in the region, a deadly pursuit and a spectacular last-minute rescue. Smileyâ€™s biggest and last mistake is reaching the coast and joining up with a band of seagoing piratesâ€¦
At least he is the catalyst for Diana and The Ghost finally addressing their romantic issuesâ€¦.
To Be Continuedâ€¦
â€˜Afterword: For Those Who Came in Lateâ€¦â€™ then sees editor Ed Rhoades offer his own thoughts on the stripâ€™s achievements and accomplishments.
Stuffed with chases, assorted fights, torture, blood & thunder antics, daredevil stunts and many a misapprehension – police and government authorities clearly having a hard time believing a pistol-packing masked man with a pet wolf might not be a bad egg – this a pure gripping excitement that still packs a punch and quite a few sly laughs. â€¦
Â© 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc.: Â® Hearst Holdings, Inc.; reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.