Next on the list of heroes that inspired Batman is the purple people-beater (sorry, fans) himself: The Phantom. The Phantom was created by Lee Falk for comic strips in 1936. He’s been branched out to different media over the years. He’s been in serials, novels, TV, and film. He was even used as tribal art in Africa during World War 2... yeah, seriously. The character also has been shipped around the lot of comic publishers. DC even had the rights to him in the late 1980’s. I know I’ve read a couple of the strips. The Tennessean never had that strip but Huntsville’s paper had it when I was younger. I know the character best from the 1996 movie starring Billy Zane as well as a couple of animated shows.
His origin is interesting. In 1536, British sailor Christopher Walker became the only survivor of a pirate raid that took the life of his father. He washed ashore on an African island called Bangella. Its tribe found him and nursed him back to health. He remained there and made an oath to fight against injustice and piracy as the Phantom. The title of the Phantom passes on from father to son over the years. Because of this, the Phantom is believed to be immortal and is sometimes called “The Ghost Who Walks” and “The Man Who Cannot Die.” The current Phantom (the 21st one) is Kit Walker.
I’m not sure if he could be a direct inspiration for Batman. They do have some things in common. Their origins overlap. They both lost someone to crime, they swore to fight injustice, they’re non-powered, and they use gadgets/weapons. If anything, the Black Panther has a lot more in common with the Phantom which is something I just noticed recently. The Black Panther is a title given out and he is based in Africa.
The Phantom does have one thing that definitely influenced Batman and a lot of other superheroes: Tights. He was one of the first pulp heroes to don a skin-tight costume and that’s become a staple for the superhero genre. The costume is a bit weird but cool. Not many can rock a purple body suit with striped trunks. Today’s issue is from DC’s second series on the character. I found this one in the cheap bins, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It was apparently a pretty short-lived series lasting only 13 issues. Mark Verheiden was the writer. Luke McDonnell handled the art for the book.
Lee Falk's The Phantom #10
Writer: Mark Verheiden
Artist: Luke McDonnell
Colors: Anthony Tomlin
Letters: Bob Pinaha
Editor: Brian Augustyn
After a recap on the Phantom’s origin, we start the story by learning about a small African village in M’kai Valley. It experienced an epidemic of blindness and it’s something that has lasted with the village for years. We end up seeing that it’s looking worse since it looks like some of the blind villagers are being used as slave labor. We end up centering around one of the villagers named Katmara. Most of them believe the blindness is a curse and their enslavement is a part of that curse.
We then move over to another village where Dr. Axel and another doctor are trying to help stop this disease in the land. Dr. Axel heads into his tent and find the Phantom waiting for him. He asks the doctor to attend his wedding. He accepts and the two then reminisce on Kit’s father, the previous Phantom. Kit’s father and the doctor had met each other long ago when the doctor had to deliver Kit. The two then head over to M’kai Valley to deliver supplies to a doctor there. When they arrive in the village, they find that a lot of the population is gone and they find the doctor, Macnee. Dr. Macnee reveals to the two that most of the villagers were taken by slavers and he played a role in it.
The Phantom and Dr. Axel force Macnee to take them to the slavers’ base. During the trip, Macnee decides to be a douche and make Dr. Axel’s jeep crash. He escapes afterwards and heads toward the base where he gets killed afterwards for leading the Phantom to them. After the Phantom checks on Dr. Axel, he rides his horse to the base and does his hero thing. He frees the slaves and takes down the slavers. After he leads the people back to their village, the Phantom says his goodbyes to Dr. Axel who will stay behind to help the blind ones. The issue ends with the authorities finding eh slavers tied up in their tents.
I thought this was an okay issue. The story was an okay done-in-one issue. It had the Phantom going up against something that is a real threat: slavery. I did like the flashback to Kit’s birth. That was handled well for the most part. Some of the subject matter was interesting. Even though it was serviceable, the story did feel a little dull. I don’t know if it was the character or the way the story played out. I did think it needed a little more action than it did. I’m mixed on the artwork. There are times where it works for me and times where it doesn’t. I think it’s the shading or something. Since this series didn’t last long, I do wonder how the rest of it played out.
Overall, this was just okay. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t really good either. If you find it in the cheap bins, you might like it. The Phantom is still well known these days. I remember that he was another one of the heroes Dynamite Comics were playing around with. There was also a TV pilot that aired for the character back in 2009 that didn’t go forward as a TV show. I might have to revisit that since I only saw snippets of it. He’s not my favorite of the old-school heroes, but he’s not that bad. Well, that’s another one down. Peace, God Bless, and be wary of men in striped trunks.
NEXT TIME: KNONSHU?