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Phantom, The

Entry updated 18 November 2019. Tagged: Character, Comics, Film, TV.

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African jungle-dwelling Comics Superhero partially inspired by Tarzan and created by Lee Falk – also the creator of Mandrake the Magician – as the star of a daily newspaper strip whose first appearance was on 17 February 1936 and which continues to be widely syndicated today. At the outset the strip was briefly drawn by Falk and then by Ray Moore (1905-1984), succeeded by many further illustrators. Like Batman, whose debut followed in May 1939, The Phantom possesses no actual Superpowers – merely great strength and intelligence – but has a terrifying reputation. Known as "The Ghost Who Walks", he is believed by fearful criminals to be Immortal; in fact he is the twenty-first in a dynasty of crime-fighters which has passed the role from father to son since the initial Phantom, who adopted the name in 1536. The character was the first "superhero" to wear the now-traditional skintight costume: purple, covering him from head to foot, with only his eye-masked face visible. (The purple hue did not emerge until the debut of a coloured Sunday strip in May 1939: the daily strips were of course black-and-white, and in early storylines Falk described the hero's garb as grey.) Again like Batman, the Phantom frequently deals with Villains employing science-fictional Inventions and Technology.

The Phantom's comic-book publishers have included Ace Comics, Harvey Comics, Gold Key Comics, King Comics, Charlton Comics and DC Comics. Six Big Little Book adaptations of comics storylines appeared from Whitman Publishing Company 1936-1947, the first being The Phantom (1936); at this time the Phantom's costume had not yet appeared in a coloured Sunday strip, and it is red on the covers of this book and its successor The Phantom and the Sign of the Skull (1939). Many novel Ties have been published from 1944 onward, beginning with The Son of the Phantom (1944) by Dale Robertson, based on the comics storyline "The Childhood of the Phantom" and illustrated by the newspaper strip's later artist Wilson McCoy. A series of fifteen Phantom novels appeared from Avon in the 1970s as by Lee Falk: contributors, often identified on the title page, included Bruce Cassiday as Carson Bingham, Basil Copper, Lee Falk himself, Ron Goulart as Frank S Shawn, and Warren Shanahan. For listings of all Big Little Book and Avon titles, see Lee Falk.

Cinema incarnations began with the fifteen-part cliffhanger Serial Film The Phantom (1943), directed by B Reeves Eason for Columbia Pictures; a Television series pilot made in 1961 went unaired but was eventually shown at Conventions; the live-action film The Phantom (1996) was directed by Simon Wincer for Paramount Pictures and novelized as The Phantom (1996) by Rob MacGregor and Jeffrey Boam. The Phantom is granted the uncanonical superpower of temporary super-strength as a member of the titular superhero team in the animated Television series Defenders of the Earth (1986-1987), his first small-screen incarnation to be broadcast. Others have followed. The animated series Phantom 2040 (1994-1996) is of particular sf interest, depicting the adventures of the twenty-fourth Phantom (whose gadgets include a talking AI wristband) in the Dystopian future of 2040 America. [DRL]

see also: David Bishop.


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