This article is about the comic strip "The Phantom". For other uses, see The Phantom (disambiguation).
The Phantom is an American adventure comic strip created by Lee Falk, also creator of Mandrake the Magician. A popular feature adapted into many forms of media, including television and film, it stars a costumed crimefighter operating in the African jungle. The series began with a daily newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, followed by a color Sunday strip in May 1939; both are still running as of 2023.
Lee Falk died in 1999. As of 2021, the comic strip is produced by writer Tony DePaul and artists Mike Manley (daily strips) and Jeff Weigel (Sunday strips). Previous artists on the newspaper strip include Ray Moore, Wilson McCoy, Bill Lignante, Sy Barry, George Olesen, Keith Williams, Paul Ryan, Fred Fredericks, Terry Beatty, Graham Nolan, and Eduardo Barreto.
While the Phantom is not the first fictional costumed crimefighter, he is the first to wear the skintight costume that has become a hallmark of comic-book superheroes, and the first to wear a mask with no visible pupils, another superhero standard.
After the success of his Mandrake the Magician strip, the King Features newspaper syndicate asked Lee Falk to develop a new feature. Falk's first attempt was a strip about King Arthur, which Falk both wrote and drew. When King Features turned him down, Falk developed what would become The Phantom, about a mysterious, costumed crimefighter. He planned out the first few months of the story and drew the first two weeks of a sample strip.
Inspired by Falk's lifelong fascination with such myths and legends as that of El Cid and King Arthur, and such modern fictional characters as Zorro, Tarzan, and The Jungle Book 's Mowgli, Falk originally envisioned the Phantom's alias as rich playboy Jimmy Wells, fighting crime by night as the mysterious Phantom, but partway through his first story, "The Singh Brotherhood", he moved the Phantom to the jungle. He had tinkered with the idea of calling his hero The Gray Ghost (which later became the name of a Batman character) after thinking there were already too many Phantoms in fiction, such as The Phantom Detective and The Phantom of the Opera. But he could ultimately not come up with a name he liked better than The Phantom.
In an A&E American cable TV documentary about the Phantom, Falk said Greek busts inspired the idea of the Phantom's pupils not showing when he wore his mask. The Greek busts had no pupils, which Falk felt gave them an inhuman, interesting look. In an interview published in Comic Book Marketplace #121 in 2005, Falk also told that the Phantom's skin-tight costume was inspired by the legendary figure of Robin Hood, who often wore tights in film and stage adaptations.
The Phantom started as a daily strip on February 17 1936, with the story "The Singh Brotherhood", written by Falk and drawn first by him, for two weeks, followed by Ray Moore, who was an assistant to artist Phil Davis on Falk's Mandrake the Magician strip. A Sunday Phantom strip was added May 28 1939.
During World War II, Falk joined the Office of War Information, where he became chief of his radio foreign language division. Moore also served in the war, during which he left the strip to his assistant Wilson McCoy. On Moore's return, he worked on the strip on and off until 1949, when McCoy succeeded him. During McCoy's tenure, the strip appeared in thousands of newspapers worldwide.
McCoy died suddenly in 1961. Carmine Infantino and Bill Lignante (who would later draw Phantom stories directly for comic books) 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, with Keith Williams joining as inker for the daily strip. The Sunday strip was inked by Eric Doescher until Mandrake the Magician artist Fred Fredericks became the regular inker in 1995.
Falk continued to script Phantom (and Mandrake) until his death on March 13, 1999. His last daily and Sunday strip stories, "Terror at the Opera" and "The Kidnappers", respectively, were finished by his wife, Elizabeth Falk. After Falk's passing, King Features Syndicate began to cooperate with European comic publisher Egmont, publisher of the Swedish Fantomen magazine, which now went from only publishing Phantom stories in licenced comic books to providing the stories for the newspaper strip as well. Fantomen writers Tony De Paul and Claes Reimerthi alternated as writers of the newspaper strip after Falk died, with De Paul handling the daily strips and Reimerthi being responsible for the Sunday strips. Today De Paul is the regular writer. Some of the stories have been adapted from comic magazine stories originally published in Fantomen, but most have been new original stories.
In 2000, Olesen and Fredericks retired from the Sunday strip which was then taken over by respected comic book artist Graham Nolan. A few years later, Olesen and Williams left the daily strip after Olesen decided to retire and artist Paul Ryan, who had worked on the Fantomen comic stories, took over the daily strip in early 2005. Ryan succeeded Nolan as artist on the Sunday strip in 2007.
The Phantom is one of few adventure comic strips still published in the mid-2010s.
International names of "The Phantom"
Fictional character biography
In the jungles of the (fictional) African country Bangalla, there is a myth about "The Ghost Who Walks", "The Man Who Cannot Die", The Phantom. Because he seems to have been around for generations, people around the world believe him to be immortal. In reality, the Phantom is descended from twenty previous generations of crime-fighters who all adopt the same persona. When a new Phantom takes up the mantle from his dying father, he has to swear the Oath of the Skull: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me." Frequently the comic highlights the adventures of previous Phantoms, set in the past.
Today's Phantom is the twenty-first in the line. Unlike most costume heroes, he has no superhuman powers, relying only on his wits, physical brawn, skill with his weapons and fearsome reputation to fight crime.
Two signatures of the character are the two rings he wears. One has a pattern that he leaves on visitors to his region he approves of, called "The Good Mark" which marks the person as under his protection. The other has a skull shape and is worn on his favored punching hand, called "The Evil Mark", which leaves a skull-like scar on the enemies he punches.
His base is in the Deep Woods of Bangalla (originally Bengali, renamed Denkali in the Indian edition), a fictional country initially said to be set in Asia somewhere near India but moved to Africa in the 1960s, where it has stayed since. The Phantom lives in the fabled Skull Cave, where all previous Phantoms are buried.
The Phantom is also the unknown commander of Bangalla's world famous Jungle Patrol. Due to a betrayal leading to the death of the 14th Phantom, the identity of the commander has been kept hidden from members of the patrol ever since. The 6th Phantom originally formed the Jungle Patrol with the help of former pirate Redbeard and his men back in 1664.
Another character who aided the Phantom is the chief of the Bandar pygmy tribe, Guran. Guran is the Phantom's best friend since childhood, and he has been a valuable support in the hard battle against evil.
The Phantom has two helpers, a mountain wolf, Devil, and a horse, Hero. He also has a trained falcon named Fraka. From 1962 on, The Phantom raised an orphan named Rex King, who was later on revealed to be the prince of the kingdom of Baronkhan.
In 1978, he married his sweetheart since his days in American college, Diana Palmer, who works at the United Nations. Guran, his best friend since boyhood, was best man. The guests present at the wedding included Mandrake the Magician, and the Presidents of Bangalla and Ivory-Lana; Luaga and Goranda.
A year later, twins were born to the Palmer-Walkers, Kit and Heloise.
The Phantom's family have always played a significant role in the series. His romance with Diana Palmer was an ongoing part of the story from the beginning, and many later stories revolved around the Phantom becoming involved in adventures as a result of his young charges, first Rex, then Kit and Heloise.
When the Phantom leaves the jungle, he dresses as a normal person, wearing a fedora, a trench coat, and sunglasses, and known as "Kit 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. Like The Lone Ranger, the Phantom does not allow his unmasked or undisguised face to be seen except by close friends or members of his family.
Details on the Phantom's origin may vary from story to story, published by different publishers, although the core of the story is essentially always the same.
The story of the Phantom started with a young sailor named Christopher Walker (sometimes called Christopher Standish in certain versions of the story). Christopher was born in 1516 in Portsmouth. His father, also named Christopher Walker, had been a seaman since he was a young boy, and was the cabin boy on Christopher Columbus's ship Santa María when he sailed to the Americas.
Christopher Jr. became a shipboy on his father's ship in 1526, of which Christopher senior was Captain.
In 1536, when Christopher was 20 years old, he was a part of what was supposed to be his father's last voyage. On February 17, the ship was attacked by pirates of the Singh Brotherhood in a bay on the coast of Bangalla. The last thing Christopher saw before he fell unconscious and fell to the sea was his father being murdered by a pirate. Both ships exploded, making Christopher the sole survivor of the attack.
Christopher was washed ashore on a Bangalla beach, seemingly half dead. He was found by pygmies of the Bandar tribe, who nursed him and took care of him.
A time later, Christopher had a walk on the same beach that he had been washed ashore on, and found a dead body there, who he recognized as the pirate who killed his father. He allowed the vultures flying around the body to finish their work, took up the skull of the killer, raised it above his head, and swore a sacred oath: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms! My sons and their sons, shall follow me".
After learning the language of the Bandar tribe, Christopher found out that they were slaves of the Wasaka tribe, a tribe consisting of what the Bandars called "giants". The Bandars who had found him was only a small group of people who had managed to escape from the village of the Wasaka. Immediately, Christopher walked into the village of the Wasaka, and asked them to set the Bandars free. Instead of achieving this goal, he was taken prisoner, and laid before the Demon God of the Wasaka, who was supposed to decide his destiny. Christopher was tied up and laid on an altar made of stone, where vultures surrounded him, the Wasaka allowing them to eat him. Christopher was quickly saved by a group of Bandars before the vultures or the Wasaka could do him any real harm. They managed to escape from the village of the Wasaka unharmed.
Christopher learned about an ancient Bandar legend about a man coming from the ocean to save them from their slavery. He made a costume inspired by the look of the Demon God of the Wasaka, and went to the Wasaka village again, this time with a small army of Bandars (armed with their newly discovered, extremely poisoned arrows, capable of killing a man in a few seconds). The Wasaka, shocked at seeing what many of them thought was their Demon God come alive, were fought down, and the Bandars were finally set free, after centuries in slavery. This resulted in a dedicated friendship between Christopher and the Bandars, which would be brought on to the generations to come after them.
The Bandars showed Christopher to a cave, which resembled the look of a human skull. Christopher later carved it out to make it look even more like a skull. What was later on known as the Skull Cave became his home.
Wearing the costume based on the Demon God, Christopher became the first of what would later be known as The Phantom. When he died, his son took over for him, and when the 2nd Phantom died, his son took over. And so it would go on through the centuries, causing people to believe that the Phantom was immortal, giving him nicknames as "The Ghost Who Walks" and "The Man Who Cannot Die".
Over the course of more than seventy years' worth of stories, the backstory "legend" of the Phantom grew to become an integral part of the series. 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. The series regularly gives quotes from "old jungle sayings" surrounding the myth of the Phantom. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the tradition that anyone who sees the Phantom's true face without his mask will certainly "die a terrible death." However, the Phantom's close friends and family have frequently seen him unmasked, without anything happening to them.
The Phantom is feared by criminals over the entire world, and he knows how to use his frightening image against them.
As part of the official uniform, the Phantom wears a black mask and a purple skintight bodysuit, and carries two .45 pistols in a special belt with a skull-buckle. While there had been masked crime fighters like the costumed Zorro or the business-suited The Clock, the Phantom was the first fictional character to wear the skintight costume that has become a trademark of superheroes.
In later years, Falk was quoted as saying that he had envisioned a grey costume and even considered naming his creation "The Gray Ghost"1. The Phantom's costume was referenced as grey in early stories like "The Singh Brotherhood" and "Fishers of Pearls", but when the Phantom Sunday strip debuted in 1939, the costume was colored purple. Falk, however, continued to refer to the costume as grey in the text of the strip on several occasions afterwards (for example in "The Seahorse", "The Mermaids of Melo Straits", "The Devil Road" and "The Matchmaker), but finally in the 1956 daily story "The Heavyweight Champion" the costume was mentioned as purple.2
In the Sunday story "The First Phantom" 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.
Over the years, the Phantom's costume has for example been colored blue in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland; red in Italy, Turkey and formerly in Brazil; and brown in New Zealand.
- 1. "A Visit with Lee Falk" by Anthony Tollin, Comics Revue #27
- 2. A purple Phantom? by Bryan Shedden
This article, in the version of October 11, 2007, includes information from Wikipedia: The Phantom.