“Twenty generations of Phantoms lived, died and fought – usually violently – as they followed their oath. Jungle folk, seafolk, and city folk believed him to always be the same man; The Man Who Cannot Die.”
Lee Falk – The Story of The Phantom
The Ghost Who Walks – Comics
Lee Falk’s The Phantom was a big part of my life growing up. Each morning before school, I’d read the three or four panels of the latest chapter in the hero’s saga. Once I even clipped the strips out each day for months to create my own full-length comic book. On Sunday, the full-color edition would be analyzed for every detail. Long before Marvel began creating elaborate back-stories for their characters; Falk created one that magically resonates to this day.
In 1536, the father of British sailor Christopher Walker is killed during a pirate attack. The young survivor (Kit) washes up on the African coast and is saved by a tribe of Bandar natives. As he ponders his fate, he discovers the skeletal remains of the pirate he believes killed his father. During the night, he builds a fire, and on the skull of his father’s murderer, he swears an oath to fight piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice. It is the beginning of the legacy of the Phantom, which would pass from father to son.
The daily newspaper disappeared from my life years ago and with it the weekly strips. There are websites that offer up a dosage of the old days, but for me, it just isn’t the same. However, The Phantom came charging back into my life recently. First, I discovered that Hermes Press had been reprinting the original Avon paperback stories of the 1970s. I confess to having already collected all but one of the originals, book #1, The Story of the Phantom. On sale from one of my favorite online books sellers, I scooped up a copy and once again immersed myself in the magic of The Phantom.
Reading the book brought back reminiscences of comic books, featuring The Ghost WhoWalks that I had read growing up. One comic, purchased for 12 cents was my literary companion during one of my families extended stays at my Grandmother’s cottage on the Outer Banks. Those were the days of no AC, no TV, and no telephone. That tiny 900 sq foot bungalow sat several miles south of Wink’s General Store, the only visage of true civilization (a comic book rack, ice cream, and candy) on the sandy strip. Life along the NC coast in those days was not too far removed from Gilligan’s Island. Water came from a well, and hot water came from an old oil drum painted black that sat on the roof. In the summer, that water could scold you.
The Phantom comic was loosely based on H. Rider Haggard’s SHE and pitted our hero against an evil queen who in the end was discovered to be thousands of years old, and once defeated crumbled into dust. I was unsure who published the comic, Gold Key, King or Charlton comics, but during my recent adventure at Charlottes Heroes Con I set out on a quest to discover that comic once again.
In the end, my Holy Grail escaped me, but I did pick up three Gold Key editions in fair condition. Two focus on The Phantom as a Jungle Enforcer, while the third follows him into a den of Modern Day Pirates. Just like the days of my youth, I have read and even re-read each issue with the same zeal. Cool, clever, strong, and resourceful, The Phantom could be me (Ha, Ha), or you. Long before Batman trained to fight crime, The Phantom and his son’s (even one time a daughter) were schooled in the sciences, languages, fighting skills, and more to fight evil around the world.
For a generation, The Phantom remains a solid figure. His adventures according to online sources are still published worldwide in newspapers. A number of countries have or had huge Fan Clubs. Several comic companies have attempted to update his exploits with marginal success. The 1996 film starring Billy Zane was exciting and I encourage everyone to watch it. I only wished they had made more.
Updating The Phantom for future audiences is no doubt the next step in the evolution of the character. While Sherlock’s use of the cell phone manages to fit within the context of his updated adventures, I have a hard time envisioning The Phantom with a Bluetooth earbud communicating with Guran back in the Skull Cave.
For those interested in learning more about The Phantom there are a number of websites devoted to the character. To read The Phantom – The Phantom Trail – seems to be an easy to use website that doesn’t charge. Also, check with your library. Several editions of original strips (dailies & Sundays) have been bound in book form starting with the 1936 tales. Because The Phantom doesn’t have the same selling power as Spiderman, you can also find lots of back issues of comic books in those $1.00 bargain bins at your favorite shop.
Finally, the Avon editions can be found on eBay selling for a variety of prices, or check out the Hermes Press website for their reprints and even more stuff on The Phantom.
In closing, I share this from the Phan-Mail within the pages of one of my Gold Key editions:
Joyce from Orland Park, Ill writes: “You said all of our ideas are important. I was wondering, why don’t you have subscriptions like some other comics?”
Gold Key answered: “Sure we have subscriptions! – And you can get one too. Just 45 cents a year will bring the Ghost Who Walks right to your mailbox! Tell your friends!”