Friends, have you had the opportunity to look out the window yet – have you possibly seen a giant signal light reflected off the clouds over the city? I am here to let you know there is nothing to worry about, it just means that once again the call has been given to unite for the Super Blog Team-Up. A special time when some of the best bloggers, podcasters, and artists unite to celebrate a common theme involving comic books and pop culture related properties. In the past we have tackled the likes of the excess of the comic book market in the ’90s with the multitude of variant and chromium collectible covers as well as the subject of immortality in pop culture – which is why I discussed Richard Matheson’s epic I Am Legend on the Pop Culture Retrorama Podcast. For this round of the Super Blog Team-Up however, my like-minded compatriots will all be casting a spotlight on the expanded universe of a particular character or even film series – in my case I have chosen to discuss The Phantom!
The Phantom debuted back on February 17th of 1936, courtesy of writer and initial artist Lee Falk, who presented the costumed hero in a daily comic strip published by King Features Syndicate – two weeks after the series premiered, the art duties would be taken over by Ray Moore. This was not the first successful hero though that Falk had created for the publisher as two years earlier he had delivered none other than Mandrake the Magician – the popularity of that character led King Features to request another hero. I have read online that Falk’s original intent was to produced a comic strip based on the exploits of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table – but that was not to be as King Features Syndicate shot the idea down. So it was that Lee Falk drew on the inspiration of other heroes such as Zorro and even Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp icon Tarzan of the Apes – with perhaps the chivalry of the King Arthur tales thrown in for good measure?
It has been said that The Phantom marks the first time that a comic strip hero wore a form fitting spandex-like costume, with a cowl and eyeless mask which was meant to invoke fear in his adversaries – perhaps not as intimidating as Batman but he beat the Dark Knight to the punch by three years with a similar idea. The Phantom has sworn to not take a life if possible instead meting out justice with the aide of two special rings that he wears on his right and left hand – one branding evil doers with a skull to mark them as enemies – with no aid or shelter to be given to them. The other is an image of four crossed swords – which lets others know this is an ally and under the protection of the hero. Besides these instruments the Phantom wears twin pistols to be used to wound and much like the protector of Gotham City, the Phantom also has a tragic past… although one that stretches back in time far, far longer than the likes of Bruce Wayne.
The legend of the Phantom begins in 1536, when the ship of Christopher Walker Sr. while in the bay of Bengalla is attacked and boarded by the dreaded Singh Brotherhood, a bloodthirsty band of pirates that ransack and sink the vessel – not realizing that young Christopher Walker Jr. witnessed his Father’s brutal murder before being knocked overboard. Finding himself washed ashore on the beach of the Bengalla bay – he is taken in by the Bandar tribe who see to his injuries and nurse him back to full health. It is later when he is wandering the beach he comes across a grisly discovery – a corpse being savaged by vultures wearing his Father’s clothes – this turns out not to be Christopher Walker Sr. but the Singh Brotherhood pirate that killed him. Letting the birds finish their meal he takes the skull of the pirate and raises it above his head to swear an unbreakable 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.”
I should point out that while the original oath mentioned only Christopher Walker Jr.’s male heirs – the truth of the matter is that there have indeed been Daughters who have taken on the mantle of the Phantom. Each Son or Daughter who has sworn the oath becomes the new crime-fighter – setting up operations in the Skull Cave and carrying out their fight against the evil of the World until it is time to pass on the mantle. Besides just a few individuals who are privy to this secret – everyone believes that the Phantom is an immortal being – ‘The Ghost Who Walks’. With most of the expanded universe concentrating on the 21st descendant to take on the role, Kit Walker Jr., although it has been mentioned that at a certain point almost all Walker Sons are named Kit.
Lee Falk worked on The Phantom comic strip – which became a color comic strip in May 28th of 1939 – from 1936 until his passing in 1999. As I understand it the character is still appearing in comic strips being published by King Features Syndicate to this very day – although I do not think it would be a lie to say that the Phantom has found greater success outside of the United States. However the masked adventurer has been featured in a myriad of comic books and media since his debut 84 years ago – besides reprints of the comic strips in the pages of Ace Comics – the first true expansion of The Phantom universe was courtesy of the 1943 serial from Columbia Pictures. The 15 chapter serial starred Tom Tyler (The Adventures of Captain Marvel, The Mummy’s Hand) as Geoffrey Prescott aka The Phantom – with Jeanne Bates (The Twilight Zone, Ben Casey) as Diana Palmer, the costumed hero’s love interest from the comic strips.
A failed pilot for a Phantom television series was produced in 1961 and starred the likes of Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) and Richard Kiel (Moonraker) with legendary stuntman Roger Creed as Kit Walker. Harvey Comics, Gold Key Comics, and King Comics had a go at releasing comic book adventures for The Phantom starting in 1962 – all together 74 issues were produced with the last issue coming out in January of ’77. In addition between 1972 and 1975 there were 15 novels produced for The Phantom – with some being written by Lee Falk and others by Frank S. Shawn. While of course the character continued to appear in newspaper strips around the World, it would be 9 years before Kit Walker and his masked alter-ego stepped boldly into another expanded universe direction – this time in animation with the Defenders of the Earth syndicated series.
For 65 episodes, the Phantom battled Ming the Merciless and his cronies with the aid of a stable of King Features Syndicate characters including Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and Lothar as well as their children. Galoob toys produced a series of action figures for the main characters in addition to vehicles, children’s books, and even a 1990 computer game for a handful of the popular home computers of the day. I must point out that there were some liberties taken with the character of the Phantom in this animated version – for one thing he is the 27th Walker to take on the mantle – and by reciting a chant he is bestowed the strength of ten tigers for a short time. Don’t take that as a knock or anything as I never missed Defenders of the Earth… in fact a few times I almost missed the school bus trying to watch all of an episode.
The Phantom would appear in both the short-lived Marvel Comics tie-in to Defenders of the Earth in 1987 – written by none other than Stan Lee – as well as a 13 issue series from DC Comics beginning in 1988 and running until 1990. Returning to Marvel Comics once again for two different comic book series in 1995, The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks which focused on the 22nd Phantom, and the Phantom 2040 tie-in series based off the acclaimed animated series that featured character designs by Aeon Flux‘s Peter Chung.
Phantom 2040 was a syndicated series that debuted in 1994 and ran for two seasons – focusing on the futuristic adventures of Kit Walker as the 24th Phantom – it also boasted the voice talents of Scott Valentine (Family Ties), Margot Kidder (Superman), J.D. Hall (Lincoln Heights), Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Mark Hamill to name just a few. This really was a fantastic animated series and while no toys were produced from the series that I am aware of – I do know that there was an excellent game released for the SNES, Sega Genesis, and Game Gear. A unique title that provided over 20 different endings depending on the choices you made throughout the game – I also would add that I won not only a copy of the game but my Sega Genesis through the Phantom 2040 contest.
It was back to the 21st Phantom with the big screen debut of 1996’s The Phantom starring Billy Zane (Critters, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) as Kit Walker and the Phantom with Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Diana Palmer. In addition it featured Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner) Treat Williams (Deep Rising), Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Haunting), James Remar (The Warriors), and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) to name just a very few of the delightful cast. While I realize that I am in the minority I LOVE this adaptation of the Phantom – a wholesome throwback to adventure serials and the spirit of the character itself.
It failed to set the box office alight however – raking in 17.3 million on an estimated budget of 45 millions dollars – having said that though I believe that over the years it has found it’s intended audience. While the merchandising for this big screen version of the Phantom saw some nice rings being produced, a novelization, and a really amazing soundtrack by David Newman (Which you heard a bit of in that tribute video) – that was about it.
Moonstone Books began to publish graphic novels for The Phantom in 2002 which lasted until 2010. Which is when Dynamite Entertainment began producing a comic book series entitled The Last Phantom which ran for two years – 2010 was also the same year that a pilot for a new television series debuted on the Syfy channel, although it had actually premiered the previous year on The Movie Network as as mini-series in Canada.
In my personal opinion I was really happy with this mini-series/pilot and truly wish it could have been picked up – I thought that Ryan Carnes (Doctor Who) did a fantastic job as Kit Walker and as the 22nd Phantom. What does the future hold for The Phantom I cannot say but for a character that gained fame in newspaper comic strips 84 years ago and is still being published today – I feel we have not seen the last expanded universe offering for the Ghost who Walks.
This is far from your last look at Extended Universes however as you will see if you kindly follow the links to my fellow members of the Super Blog Team-Up below – some links will go live later than others. In closing I want to thank Charlton Hero for both the wonderful banner below as well as that awesome Phantom header at the top of this article!