I've been waiting a LONG time to read The Phantom from the beginning. Well, the wait is finally over. Hermes Press has published the first two volumes of the complete daily strips, and the third is due out next month.
Having just finished the first volume, I'm pleased to report I am not disappointed. The strip is off to a great start, and it's only going to get better.
Here's some stuff I didn't know:
1) The Phantom was just possibly the first long-underwear hero. While clearly influenced by guys like The Shadow and The Spider (and before them, The Gray Seal), The Ghost Who Walks made the scene more than two years before Superman, and set the fashion standard for comic book heroes right down to the present. And . . .
2) When the strip began, Lee Falk intended The Phantom to be a wealthy playboy who donned the gray duds to fight evildoers. We meet this playboy persona in the beginning of the strip, and the the dual-identity thing is never actually spelled out, the clues are pretty obvious. But before the secret identity became official, Falk got a better idea - to give the character a 400-year history, with 20 generations of Phantoms behind him.
In case you're not hep to the mythos, the original Phantom was the son of Captain Standish, a merchant captain who was captured and killed by the Singh Pirates in 1525. The son swore on his father’s skull to wipe out the Singh Brotherhood, and committed his male descendants to follow in his footsteps, creating the illusion that The Ghost Who Walks was immortal. Pretty cool stuff, then and now.
Prior to The Phantom's debut in 1936, Lee Falk had created Mandrake the Magician, who was also a pretty cool dude. The assistant to Mandrake artist Phil Davis was a guy named Ray Moore, whom Falk chose to illustrate his new strip. Moore stuck with The Phantom until 1942, when he was drafted.
The only bad news here - and I consider this truly scandalous - is that Volume One, published just five months ago, appears to be already out of print. Let's hope that travesty is corrected soon.
Here are some samples from Volume One: 1936-1937 . . .
Feb 21, 1936. First appearance of The Phantom.
First frontal view.
Note the skull belt and striped shorts.
He's quick on the draw.
The Phantom relaxing at home.
Nobody, but nobody, messes with Devil.
Babes dig him.
Smiley's last nice day.
The Ghost still Walks.