Tagged: Lee Falk

Dennis O’Neil: Iron Fist and the Costume Unseen

In peril, poor Polly Pearlwhite plunges from the pinnacle… And I, a superhero, really should fly up and save her and so I shall as soon as I change into my hero garb and… But what is this? I don’t seem to have worn the cape and tights under my Brooks Brothers suit and how could I forget such a thing? Well, come to think of it, I didn’t have my morning coffee and I’ve been Mr. Cottonbrain all day and… Never mind. Sorry, Polly.

So there I was – this is me taking now and not the fictitious person in the previous paragraph – and I’m about to reveal that early this morning, at about one, I finished watching the Iron Fist television serial and can report general satisfaction with it. But during the final minutes of superhero action I wondered if the film makers were going to give Mr. Fist a costume. He had one in the comic books where he first came to life and back when I was editing his monthly biography I regarded him as another one of Marvel Comics’s costumed dogooders, in the same area code as Moon Knight, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Hulk, et cetera: not as popular as some of Marvel’s output, but clearly of the same ilk.

The show I was watching earlier today ended – mild spoiler-alert, one you needn’t pay much attention to – with Mr. Fist and a companion climbing to the top of a mountain and finding… not what they expected but rather things that must certainly have ruined their day and, not incidentally, provided a hook into another story. That, we will probably be seeing soon. Mr. Fist was wearing clothing appropriate to climbing snow-covered peaks, but it was just clothing, not a costume.

Marvel’s last adaptation of one of the company’s characters to television went costumeless too. This was Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man, who, in the comics I worked on, was Iron Fist’s partner. Coincidence? Probably. But might it not also be the harbinger of a trend?

The costume trope has been a part of the superhero narratives ever since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced it with Superman in 1938. But they didn’t give us the first costumed hero. That honor goes to Lee Falk who began syndicating a newspaper strip titled The Phantom a couple of years before Superman appeared on the cover of Action Comics #1. The Phantom wore a skin-tight costume and a pair of holstered automatics. He lived and operated in the deep jungle, which makes the costume a bit puzzling: it doesn’t seem appropriate. But we won’t be foolish enough to quarrel with success.

Back to Mr. Fist. There’s no reason why action folk have to wear odd suits and a reason or two for them not to. The reasons usually provided are, well… as much excuses as reasons and I don’t completely buy them. It might be that they’ve outlived their time.

Certainly, Iron Fist did just fine in something he could have gotten at a mall.


Dennis O’Neil Gestures Hypnotically



Chortle chuckle yukyukyuk. O, boy ain’t we having fun hee-hee-hee here in Nyack ho ho ho ho and how about that last Tuesday wasn’t that darn day a rib-tickler heh heh gargle lipticon smoothie ha ha ha ha ha ha giggle snortle honk.

Enough – hee hee – merriment. Where were we? Oh yeah. I sort of vaguely suggested that I might continue last week’s discussion of Doctor Strange, who has been a Marvel Comics character since 1963 and currently is the eponymous star of a big screen movie, the box office champ for the second week in a row (and for a little extra coin you can see this champ in 3-D! And don’t tell me, mister, that life is not a party.

Here I’m going to mention that ComicMix’s resident film critic had a few reservations about the flick and I hereby bow to his acumen; oh and by-the-way he has become one of my favorite reviewers, which strikes me as a bit wonky considering that he’s considerably younger than my youngest child and I’ve known him all his life and a hefty portion of mine and aren’t authority figures supposed to be aged and wizened just like The Ancient One in the Doc Strange yarns and…

mandrake-gesturesHere we are, having survived another digression, back in Doc Strange turf. Yes, the doctor. A conjurer.

His ilk are sprinkled throughout the history of comic books. Before Superman jump-started the business in 1938, a comic strip featuring Mandrake the Magician appeared daily and Sundays in the paper my parents had tossed onto the lawn every day. Mandrake was created by Lee Falk, a St. Louisan, and first appeared in 1934. I’m pretty sure that when I read or at least looked at the strip as a kid I understood Mandrake’s modus operandi: the captions told me that Mandrake “gestured hypnotically” and illusions appeared to gebollix the bad guys. It was an okay gimmick as long as you knew little or nothing about hypnosis and in 1934, who did?

A couple of years later, Lee Falk created The Phantom. The “ghost who walks” – that Phantom – but since he is not a magician, we’ll ignore him.

And speaking of magicians… As a genre, they were never awfully important in comics, certainly no rival to superheroes. Arguably, the most prominent of them was another doctor, surnamed Fate. He could be mistaken for a superhero; he looks superheroish and he’s invulnerable and strong and he can fly and do other stuff. Mostly, he uses sorcery that doesn’t seem very defined, but it doesn’t have to be at long as it’s used judiciously.

About that (those) costume(s): one of the nifty things about the doctor – Strange, not Fate – is that his clothing is definitely a costume, but one that suggests magic. And there are his powers; in a way, he’s a first cousin to Iron Man as both spend a lot of time shooting energy of some kind from their hands – very visual and so very appropriate for comics and, oh heck, we’ll admit it, also to movies. Whoever Doc Strange’s haberdasher was, hooray!

We’ll end with what you can consider another digression, a couple of lines from Lord Byron:

And if I laugh at any mortal thing

‘Tis that I may not weep.

Chortle chortle?








Ed Catto: Comics’ Original Mustachioed Magician!

Mandrake Covers for ComicMix 

Mandrake oct 30 1938The world has quickly forgotten that Iron Man was always kind of a B-level superhero. As you know, mid-tier comic titles like Iron Man or The Guardians of the Galaxy have now become blockbuster movie franchises. And next up is Doctor Strange, the thoughtful, deliberative sorcerer of the Marvel Universe who was always a well loved, but ultimately B-level player. We know that bigger things are in store for him as his cinematic manifestation, in the guise of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, was plastered all over downtown San Diego.

There have been several other comic book magicians with pencil thin mustaches and one was so popular that his adventures also enjoyed time on the big screen. It seemed like Mandrake should have broken out of that B-character ghetto by now.

Mandrake the Magician, created by Lee Falk (who created The Phantom almost two years earlier), is regarded by many comic historians to be one of comics’ very first superheroes. Falk was the original artist, but before long the masterful Phil Davis was brought in to handle those duties. Mandrake, with his faithful friend Lothar, started in the funny papers, and soon graduated to comic books, movies, radio and more. There was a television pilot developed in the 50s, a cartoon in the 80s and even a made-for-television-movie. Throughout the 50s and 60s, Mandrake was so big he was regularly parodied in Mad Magazine.

Mandrake_2 Don HeckThis character is a dapper magician, with slicked back hair and a tuxedo that would look great onstage in Vegas. In the early days, he employed reality-bending magic and traveled to the astral plane, not unlike Doctor Strange, but he would later settle into a routine of simply fooling evildoers with hypnotic trickery.

Mandrake seemed to have it all. His girlfriend was beautiful and exotic, and after a loooong courtship, they married. His best friend was an African strong man and prince. (In many ways, I think the bromance of Spenser and Hawk from the Robert B. Parker detective novels were a modern version of how that friendship could have been presented.) He was well respected in his community. Mandrake had an over-the-top house called Xanadu that could certainly be featured on MTV Cribs. Everybody loved him… except for dirty rotten crooks.

Lee Falk photoAnd Mandrake’s 60s comics even have that Silver Age Marvel feel. Mandrake #1, reprinted in Hermes Press Mandrake The Magician The Complete Series: The King Years: Volume One offers stories in that vein. The first story, for example, is illustrated by Marvel stalwart Don Heck and uses a real New York City location as a backdrop for adventure.

“If you like Silver Age Marvel comics, I don’t know how you couldn’t like it,” said publisher Dan Herman.

I should also note that Titan is reprinting Mandrake the Magician newspaper strips, while Dynamite spins new adventures of Mandrake in solo series and the Kings Watch team-up comic. As an aside, we had the honor of including a Mandrake the Magician backup in an issue of Captain Action a few years ago.

Over time, Mandrake drifted off the pop-culture radar while Doctor Strange came into pop-culture focus and is ready to take center stage this fall.

The Hermes Press collection, Mandrake The Magician The Complete Series: The King Years, Volume One is a celebration of Mandrake’s glory days. It collects five issues of Mandrake’s King series and Mandrake backup stories from Flash Gordon comics.

Mandrake Cover Vol_1This volume includes scans of original artwork, in that wonderful IDW/Scott Dunbier Style. A reprinted interview with Fred Fredricks, the “modern” Mandrake newspaper strip artist, also provides insights to the character.

But would there have been a Doctor Strange without a Mandrake? One might argue that via Mandrake and Lothar, we can see the prototype for Doctor Strange and his assistant Wong. Mandrake’s adventures harken back to a simpler time, when magicians and gangsters and super-villains all knew their place in the world, and the world’s most insidious problem could be solved in half a comic book.

Mandrake and Lothar, full of self-confidence and purpose, never thought of themselves as B-listers.

Ed Catto: Branding The Phantom at 80 – in Dublin!

Phantom 80 Anniversary art

Geek Culture is both spontaneously youthful and historically well heeled. New brands emerge frequently, like BOOM! Studios Lumberjanes and The Backstagers, just written up in the New York Times. But brands like Batman and Captain America are more than 75 years old and provide a rich history for storytellers and collectors alike.

In this, my second of three articles exploring Geek Culture’s fascination with The Phantom, an 80 year old brand, I’m taking our conversation to Ireland.

Eoin McAuley is an ambitious professional who helped launch the Dublin Comic Con. And this year, there’s a charity overlay at this convention spotlighting The Phantom. Here’s my recent interview with Eoin.

Ed Catto: I’m anxious to hear about the Dublin Comic Con, Eoin. Can you please tell me about your convention?

Phantom 3Eoin McAuley: Dublin Comic Convention was first launched in 2013 by two friends, Karl Walsh and Derek Cosgrave, who wanted to bring a small bit of the New York Comic Con to Ireland. These friends had props and costumes from films and also made their own. They wanted to give the Irish a chance to see these props and sets and also to meet the stars of film, TV and comics. With a dedicated team behind them, Dublin Comic Con (DCC) was held in the National Show Centre in Swords in August 2013. Over the two days more than 7,000 members of the public came through the doors. We had sold out both days and had to close the doors to more people entering by lunchtime on both days.

The same was true for the second year. So last year, 2015, we moved to the Convention Centre in the IFSC. This, too, sold out with a capacity of over 15,000 people over the two days coming through the doors.

DCC is very much a family affair and is very family oriented. Our age group is from a week old baby to people in the late 60s early 70s. The majority of our guests would be people between the ages of 25 and 40. We also have a very even distribution between males and females. No longer is the comic world just the playground for boys. You will also find a lot of women in the comic world and quite a large female following.

This year (at our DCC) we will be hosting Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Jim Beaver (Supernatural), Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) and Robert Maschio (Scrubs), and others yet to be announced.

DCC is a fun family event and is the biggest Irish owned Comic Con in Ireland. While it is may still seem a relatively young event it is well established as a corner stone for the growing interest in the Comic Con scene in Ireland.

While there are many smaller Cons throughout Ireland during the year, this is the only Irish Con to cater to families and be all-inclusive for attendees.

Phantom 2EC: That sounds fantastic. Congrats on your great success. And as I’m exploring the branding of an 80 year old property, can you tell me why The Phantom was a good fit for you?

EM: Last year DCC, in partnership with Lightning Strike Comics, produced a special one-shot comic featuring Sherlock Holmes with the kind permission and consent of the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. The comic was produced to raise money for charity and this year the show’s organisers wanted to produce another special comic but this time use it to help promote unpublished talent and give local artists the opportunity to showcase their work.

This year marks the 80th Anniversary of The Phantom. The character’s rich history provided the perfect forum for creators to express their story telling capabilities while working on a licensed character. Also, the opportunity to work on such a character who served as the template for so many later costumed characters proved to be a chance of the lifetime.

The Phantom as a character (or should that be characters given his legacy tradition) is so rich featuring high pulp action, mysticism and at the centre of it all, the beating heart of a family. There’s a reason why the character has continued to have so many stories told through a multitude of different mediums for nearly a century, and everyone working on this project feels honoured to leave their contribution to the story.

EC: I’m impressed by your charity efforts. Can you tell me a little about the charity comic?

EM: In celebration of Lee Falk’s Phantom turning 80 this year, Dublin Comic Con have been granted special permission by King Features Syndicate to produce an exclusive comic of the character to celebrate his anniversary. The comic will be available for sale only at Dublin Comic Con, taking place in the Convention Centre in Dublin on August 6th and 7th.

All proceeds from sales of the comic will be donated in full to Tallaght Hospital’s Children Ward, Temple Street Children’s Hospital and Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin.

Phantom 1The comic itself will feature previously published comic strips, including The Phantom’s origin strip from May 1939, material on the history of The Phantom, his creator Lee Falk and an article on King Features Syndicate.

There will also be original comic strips created by local artists featuring the work of: Cian Tormey, Johnny McMonagle, Arif Iqbal, David McDonagh, Karl Orowe, Simon Hall, Roisin Young, Basil Lim, Vanessa Ronan, Ashwin Chacko, Derek Keogh, Sean Hill, John O’Reilly, Jerry Higgins, Sinead O’Neill, John Fitzwilliam and Dave Williams. The project will be edited by Lightning Strike Comics Publisher Eoin McAuley.

EC: How did you go about working with rights holders to develop this Phantom project?

EM: We initially approached King Features Syndicate in the US to discuss the possibility of working on such a project for charity. We felt that the character was very recognisable among comic book readers and would serve as a strong vehicle to raise money for the three designated Children’s hospitals at the Con.

We then engaged in negotiations with their UK representatives All Sorts Media and after serial months of negotiations arranged a contract providing us with permission to proceed with the project.

Throughout the development of the project both All Sorts Media and King Features Syndicate have been very accommodating and have provided us with great archival material.

EC: How can fans support the charity/get the comic if they can’t attend?

EM: At the moment The Phantom 80th Anniversary Comic is a Dublin Comic Con exclusive and can and will be only sold at the show in August. Attendees will be able to reserve collection of the book at the show by email, a system which will be put in place by the end of June. But if anything changes with regards to the release of the comic this news will be shared across all of DCC’s social media and website www.dublincomiccon.com.

But for those who wish to donate to the cause they can donate at the below links at any time:




EC: Are there any other things going on at the convention that feature The Phantom?

EM: We will hopefully be arranging a signing session at the show featuring all of the contributors to the comic to sign copies and there’s always the possibility of one or two cosplayers.

EC: Why do you think The Phantom is so endearing and enduring?

EM: I personally feel that the idea of there being a dynasty of Phantom’s really allows the character to grow and evolve over the years and keeps stories and the character fresh much in a similar way that the Doctor Who franchise is sustained by the process of regeneration.

Also the whole aesthetic of the character is just pitch perfect, it’s no wonder that later superheroes borrowed elements (skin tight costume and blank-eyed masks) from him. Truly Lee Falk created a timeless character.

EC: Where can fans, exhibitors and brands that wish to participate find more information?

EM: For More information on Dublin Comic Con please visit www.dublincomiccon.com or find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/comiccondublin/ and Twitter: @DublinComicCon

Thank you very much for taking the time to cover this story and this support, I will update you as the project progresses.

EC: Thanks for your time and continued success, Eoin!

And now, I think I need to call my Irish pals, like Kevin Patrick O’Connell and Sean McCooe, to plan a Dublin trip!

Dublin Comic Con logo

Ed Catto: How To Turn 80 In Comics

Phantom Issue #6 Cover_72 dpiA business magazine recently featured a story about the astoundingly short average life span of today’s companies, brands and product leaders. They noted that the average life expectancy of a modern company is something like 15 years. I think about a brand like PalmPilot, where one of my college buddies made a fortune, and how that name is practically a trivia question for this year’s MBA graduates. (“Is it a helicopter operator in Palm Beach?”) Likewise, cool companies they want to work for include Google and Lululemon – brands that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

So with all that in mind, let’s explore the opposite: the challenges of working with an 80-year-old brand in such a fickle climate.

Created in 1936, Lee Falk’s The Phantom was the first costumed comic hero. Bridging the gap of the masked vigilantes of the pulps (The Shadow, The Spider, etc.) and comic book superheroes, the Phantom enjoys a comfortable, ongoing popularity domestically and a rabid international fandom.

In fact, in occupied countries during World War II, the Phantom became a symbol of hope and resistance. And in Australia and New Zealand, seat at the pop culture table today is much closer to the head of the table than it is in the US.

So how does a domestic publisher best manage, and bring to life, this 80-year-old brand? I reached out to Dan Herman of Hermes Press, one of the US companies who license the Phantom from King Features.

Hermes Crew 2014Dan is a fast talking lawyer, but don’t hold that against him. He’s also a super-passionate fan, dedicated to creating top quality books and comics to spotlight his favorite characters and artists. And his knowledge of comic book history and geek cred runs deep.

Hermes Press offers a wide variety of books. They reprint classic characters like Brenda Starr and Pogo. They just created art books focusing on Jim Davis and Alex Raymond. At their San Diego Comic-Con booth last year, author Max Allan Collins was touting their new Mike Hammer collection.

Dan Herman is not afraid to zig while other publishers zag, either. While IDW has published reprints of Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, Dan publishes the later adventures by George Wunder. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Milt Caniff was difficult, but Wunder did it for an impressive 27 years. “I always felt that Wunder was not as bad as they said,” noted Dan.

Angst Free Zone

Dan feels The Phantom is a character that occupies a unique spot in heroic fiction. “In his own universe, he’s a myth. He’s only tangible in his own country. And part of the charm and power is that he ‘never dies’,” explained Dan.

Phantom Avon Cover 1_72 dpiAfter watching WB’s blockbuster Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie, Dan’s next observations seem all the more striking. The publisher explained that The Phantom is free of angst.

“He’s not really a revenge myth,” said Dan. “He’s a myth of the commitment to good.” In fact, noted Dan, The Phantom employs two icons. One is his dreaded Skull Ring, a symbol of punishment, and other is his Good Mark, a symbol of protection and hope.”

“The Phantom knows who he is, where he comes from and what his job is,” said Dan.

Hermes Phantom Comics

Hermes has embarked on an impressive quest to reprint The Phantom comic strips and The Phantom comics, but also wanted to add to the mythology with new comic book adventure. Dan explained he was asked, “Why don’t you create a new Phantom?”

His answer was clear and unwavering – he believes in the essence of the brand. “The Phantom is a myth and you have to keep the myth,” said Dan.

Hermes just published a Phantom series written by Peter David and drawn by Sal Velluto. It was an exciting period piece that delivered on the action and also cleverly tied up decades-old continuity questions.

Dan revealed that next up is another Phantom comic book series. In this new adventure, John F. Kennedy reaches out to the Phantom to send him on a secret assignment. And while the Phantom isn’t an American, he did attend school in the states and his wife is an American.

Alex Raymond Page 12_72 dpiIndustry veteran Ron Goulart is the writer, but the artist is new to comics. “We loved Sal Velluto’s art, but for this we wanted something different,” said Dan.

The new illustrator is a Hollywood artist, and he will be creating matte paintings in the style of the legendary Alex Raymond. “His work is on par with the best of George Wilson,” teased Dan. But he wasn’t ready to reveal the artist’s name to me at this time.

The Prose Phantom

In the 70s, Avon published a series of prose Phantom adventures. There were 15 paperbacks in all, many written by Phantom creator Lee Falk and all with excellent George Wilson covers.

To further develop this 80-year-old brand, Hermes will be reprinting these prose stories. And these tales are a treat for longtime fans, as they expand upon many of the adventures and settings in the classic mythology. “These stories filled in a lot of the blanks,” said Dan.

The new series will be published in the 5 x 8 paperback standard, and will be smyth sewn on a higher quality paper. A new one will be offered every other month for 30 months. Look for the solicitations in the upcoming May/June Previews.

Looks like busy times ahead for publisher Dan Herman and this particular 80 year-old hero.

Mike Gold: The Ghost Who Rocks!

phantom first sunday

Harvey HitsPeople have been arguing the “who was comics’ first costumed hero” question for decades. Some feel it was Mandrake the Magician, by Lee Falk and Phil Davis (1934), others cite the truly obscure Red Knight created by John Welch and Jack McGuire, and still others prefer to credit E.C. Segar’s Popeye (1929). But I think it’s safe to say that most comics fans and scholars bestow that honor upon The Phantom, created by Lee Falk and Ray Moore 80 years ago this past week.

Neither Mandrake nor Popeye are “costumed heroes.” They perform their feats of daring in their regular work clothes. Whereas the Red Knight got his start in 1934 as a guy named Bullet Benton, he did not don the Red Knight costume and, therefore, the costumed hero persona until April of 1940. I suspect somebody at the Register and Tribune Syndicate took a gander at the McClure Syndicate’s success with Superman.

So much for history. Here’s where it gets personal. Yep, this is really all about me.

I discovered The Phantom in a comic book called Harvey Hits #26, which was sort of like DC’s Showcase but with a much shorter attention span. This was in 1959, when costumed heroes were very few and extremely far between. DC had just given The Flash his own bi-monthly title, Archie was struggling with The Fly and The Shield, and Marvel was devoting its energies to such monster fare as “Invasion of the Stone Men.” So finding this treasure was quite an event for a kid who had just turned nine years old.

PhantomIt didn’t matter that Wilson McCoy’s artwork was, to be polite, clunky. So clunky that Falk hated it, but the guy was foisted upon him by King Features. Even the cover to this reprint comic was clunky – if you take a good look at it, the perspective is out of the Negative Zone. Attributed to Joe Simon, the cover was in keeping with the interior art.

That didn’t matter. I loved it. The whole bit about the hero replacing his father for an uninterrupted chain of 400 years or so was breathtaking – sort of like how my peers in England felt about Doctor Who in 1966 when the Time Lord “reincarnated.” But, for me, something more important came out of my discovery of Harvey Hits #26.

I was sitting around my school’s lunchroom talking with my pals and mentioned this Phantom comic book. One of my friends said “Oh, that’s in the newspaper!” Really, I replied excitedly. “Yeah; the Chicago American.” Well, until a couple years before the Chicago American was a Hearst paper and no such rag would befoul my parents’ home. It had been sold to the Chicago Tribune and that paper was allowed, but only on Sundays.

KMBT_C454-20130923132755The next day my friend brought in the American’s Sunday comics section and changed my life forever. Yep, the Phantom was there – but so was Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon. Every Sunday morning I was wedded to our teevee set watching Buster Crabbe gleefully taunt Charles Middleton, but I had no idea he got his start in the comics. And Raboy’s art was something mighty to behold… and it still is. Blondie, the Little King, Bringing Up Father – I was familiar with all of them from other Harvey Comics reprint titles. But when I turned to Hal Foster’s full-page Prince Valiant feature, I was incapable of speech and I might have needed a respirator.

This led to my discovering the other newspapers in my town – Chicago had five back then – as well as in neighboring areas. That, in turn, led to my falling in love with newspaper lore. Within a year I was buying four of those five newspapers every day, and I read them damn near cover-to-cover. This exercise had a massive expansionary impact on my worldview and it led me to journalism school which ultimately led to my typing these words now.

I had the privilege of knowing and working with Lee Falk – we double-teamed King Features to get them out of the way of our Phantom comic book at DC, but that’s a tale for another time. I thank Lee from the bottom of my heart for showing me my life’s path.

The Phantom is also known as The Ghost Who Walks. Not in my case. In my case, The Phantom is the Ghost Who Rocks.

Dennis O’Neil: Is Superman Super-Smart?


Yeah, I’ve heard that Superman is super smart as well as super all the other stuff he’s super at, but I don’t know. I can’t recall a single instance where he thought his way past some obstacle. More likely, he’d just uproot the obstacle and toss it to somewhere like Jupiter. Maybe he is really bright and it’s just easier to toss a problem to Jupiter than cogitate about it. But the question is there.

I mean, if he’s so smart how come he can’t remember his own name? You ask how I know that he can’t? (Maybe you’re not so smart?) It’s that big S on his chest. The darn thing serves on purpose other than that of forcing script writers to jump through hoops explaining why it’s there. And why is that? Could it be that the S is a prompt for those times, after a long bout with Kryptonite, say, when the Man of Steel needs a little help in the memory department. A quick glance at the torso and… oh, yeah, S. I’m Superman. Now if only I could recall what I’m faster than…

Allow me to escort you out of the world where we treat Superman like someone who actually exists and into the present moment, where/when we will let ourselves wonder why Joe Shuster, the guy who did the visual part of creating Supes, decided to put the S where it is in the first place. I looked at the earliest drawing I could find and yep, there it is, the S, encased in something that resembles an arrowhead. Present at the beginning, albeit in a pre-evolved form. What inspired teenage Joe to add it, that Cleveland summer’s day some 82 tears ago?

Both Joe and his writer-collaborator, Jerry Siegel, are gone and, I think, they weren’t nearly as often interviewed as they should have been, so, barring some new information, we’ll probably never know what was in Joe’s head. The best guesses I’ve heard regarding superhero suits, is that they were inspired by circus costumes and/or the illustrations in the science fiction pulps that Joe and Jerry almost certainly read.

Seems reasonable. But: no thoracic initials in those clothes. And none on the Phantom’s wardrobe, either. The Phantom’s creator, Lee Falk, later said that the Phantom’s outfit was inspired by the movies’ Robin Hood. Wherever it came from, it certainly is a recognizable superhero costume. But no dorsal P. Falk debuted the Phantom in 1936 and so his masked jungle dweller beat Superman into print by about two years. But Superman was created as a newspaper strip in 1933 and languished until Joe and Jerry peddled it to Max Gaines for use in one of those new funny book magazines. So the Phantom likely didn’t influence Superman and vice versa.

But the meme Joe and Jerry created, the costumed superman, influenced dozens – hundreds? thousands? – of later creations, a number of whom had something on their chests. No initials: that element of the meme was not widely imitated. But lanterns, lightning bolts, bats, stars, and my favorite, sported by a character named E-Man, Einstein’s E=MC2. Yep, world’s most famous equation, right there below his collarbone.

Ah, but does any of this mean anything? Well, does it?


Fred Fredericks, 1929 – 2015

Legendary comics artist Fred Fredericks died this week.

After attending New York’s School of Visual Arts in the period following the Korean War, Fredericks started drawing historical comics that attracted the attention of comic book editors. Before long, Fred was a regular at Western Publishing (Dell, Gold Key), where he drew such titles as The Twilight Zone, The Munsters, Mighty Mouse, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mister Ed, Nancy, and Snuffy Smith. After working on several short-lived Civil War newspaper strips, Fredericks created the comics feature Rebel for Scholastic Scope, which ran for 30 years.

Mandrake the MagicianIn 1965, the year following the start of Rebel, Fred was selected by writer / playwright Lee Falk to take over the art chores on his daily and Sunday Mandrake The Magician newspaper strip. Fred drew Mandrake until the Sundays ended in 2002, but he continued drawing the daily feature until his retirement in 2013. Fredericks took over the writing chores when Falk died in 1999; he already had been lettering the strip. Overall, his stint on Mandrake ran nearly a half-century.

For 10 years Fred also inked George Olesen’s pencils on Lee Falk’s The Phantom Sundays, until Graham Nolan took over following Olesen’s retirement.

Fredericks returned to comic books in 1987, inking Alex Saviuk’s pencils on Marvel’s adaptation of the animated series Defenders of the Earth – a show that featured Mandrake, The Phantom and Flash Gordon. He went on to work on such Marvel titles as Punisher War Journal, Daredevil, Quasar, G.I. Joe, and Nth Man: the Ultimate Ninja. Around this time Fred also did a fair amount of work for DC Comics, including Who’s Who, Secret Origins, Showcase, and Black Lightning.

After his retirement in 2013, King Features put Mandrake The Magician into reruns, reprinting Fred Frederick’s work.

A personal note.

Around the time the Sunday Mandrake was coming to an end, I received a phone call from Lee Falk asking me if I knew where Fred might land some assignments. I gave him a few ideas, and later told Fred of a few more. As a “reward”, Fred sent me a package of original Mandrake art. Quite frankly, his entertaining me for decades was more than enough, but I was greatly moved by his generosity.

A man of great kindness and skill, Fred Fredericks played an important role in the world of post-WWII American comics, both strips and books. He kept Mandrake The Magician alive when all but a small handful of adventure strips fell by the wayside. Fred Fredericks will be missed by his great many fans worldwide.

(Photo above, left to right: Lee Falk, Lothar, Mandrake, Fred Fredericks)








Moonstone Books and ALL PULP are proud to present a jungle action adventure tale from MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION featuring Lee Falk’s THE PHANTOM! This is another slam bam tale by Mike Bullock, longtime writer of THE PHANTOM for Moonstone and current writer of BLACK BAT, SAVAGE BEAUTY, and creator and writer of DEATH ANGEL! This tale can be found in the THE PHANTOM: GENERATIONS trade paperback available from Moonstone at http://www.moonstonebooks.com/

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Character created by Lee Falk
As I stared downward, ever downward at the smallish puddle of my own life force, pooling on the toe of my boot, I became at once aware of a new battle I must fight. For the very ground itself was seeking to rush upon me. What new deviltry was this? A fight against man or monster was one I could relish, but to fight the very earth itself seemed too much for even one called Phantom.
Succor came by drawing nearer to my opponent, as I descended to one knee and stabbed at the ground with my fathers sword. From here, the clouds cleared briefly from my mind as I heard the voices of those who came before me, in a violent chorus of men among men.
The impact of their words drove my head back upward in a dizzying manner, as if Id been struck with a mighty uppercut intended to clear the cobwebs from my mental passages.
The voices continued to exhort me despite my bodys best efforts to defeat them. Through clenched teeth, I replied, while pushing myself to attention once again.
GET UP! The force of my own voice, echoing into the night, gave me a renewed sense of my current predicament. It was as if I needed to speak in order to reassure myself that I yet lived.
It seemed I was not the lone witness to my outcry, as the monster replied in his own way.
Knowing what fate awaited me, I stared down the blade of my Fathers sword. How many villains had met their fate at the end of this fine weapon? How many lives had this sword seen ended? While killing is not the way of The Phantom, many a man has died in the presence of those who wear the mask. The pirates and brigands who faced my father were no different.
And now, would I still have the strength to end the life of that which stalked me on this night? When the time presented itself, would I still be able to employ this blade to win the day?
As I raised the blade to the air, I knew what must be done. I would wait here, for the beast to approach, then, as so many before me had, I would end this threat to the jungle and those who called it home. For fourteen generations, the peoples of these lands had depended on the Phantom to protect them and exact justice.
These things could not be deferred due to illness, injury or even the mightiest of monsters. No. The beast would die on this very spot. I would make sure of that, even if it meant my life was forfeit.
Young Kit. Will the morrow be the day you finally assume your destiny? Will the boy I remember so fondly become the man Ive trained you to be?
There. In the fog. Deep within the recesses of my mind I see him. A lad of only five summers, armed with bow and arrow, stalking his prey through the undergrowth outside the waterfall. I watch, with eyes only a proud father can possess. He has tracked his quarry for some time and now moves in for the kill. He steps forward, from his cover, and I instinctively reach out to prevent his error, but its too late. His impetuousness has alerted the gazelle, which flees with a speed that Mercury himself would envy.
He turns to me, and with downturned lips, says Father, I failed…”
I reached out for my son, with a soul rending ache to assure him he had done well-
My eyes opened once again, as the night rushed in, washing my memory of young Kit away and replacing it with the dull pain and lightheadedness that were my only companions on that night. Oh, Kit, you must always know that you could never fail me. You are no more capable of such a thing as I was of failing my father. It simply could not be
There comes a time in the life of every man when the realization of just what you face rises up. It was not the beast that opposed me, but my own death. The specter of it haunted every fiber of my being, from the pit of my stomach to the front lines of the battle raging within my mind. It was at that moment when I realized I did not fear death, for no real man does, but what I did fear was the thought of no longer living.
I could not reconcile the idea of never again holding my beloved in my arms, feeling her warm body against mine, soaking in the scent of her beautiful tresses, drinking in the ambrosia of her loveliness.
Nor could I come to terms with never again walking shoulder to shoulder with my son, guiding him on his path through life, passing on to him that which had been passed down to me. Where would I be without these two, whom I loved more than life itself?
Where would I be?
I thought back to a time when I first donned the mask. A time before her sweet embrace, before the pure joy of hearing my boy laugh with unbridled vigor, a time before I really lived.
Some say I was more fearless then, yet I know the truth. It was not fearlessness that guided my hand, but reckless abandon, brought on by a kind of selfishness a man possesses before joining in marriage. A knowing that only I hung in the balance of my life. No others would suffer were I to fail.
These thoughts were rooted in an immaturity. Soil that had not yet been tilled with the wisdom of my lineage. For me, becoming the Phantom was a ticket to adventure, a chance to live the lives I had spent many a childhood night reading about in those old tomes. The sheer weight of my calling had not sunk in. Nor did it do so until the day I first heard my son cry out, fresh from the womb and new to this world.
It was then the beast chose to appear once again. I found the corner of my lip upturned slightly at the sight of his face. I had achieved a reckoning in our first encounter, evidenced by the deep wound he bore upon his countenance.
Apparently, my smile did little to please the monster, as he bellowed out in defiance of my spirit. Once again, my ribcage shook from the sheer power of his voice. Many a lesser man had fallen from courage upon hearing the mighty beast announce his presence. But I was not a lesser man.
As I had done so many times before, I found myself taunting my adversary. Knowing that an opponent who cannot think clearly, cannot fight clearly either.
What are you waiting for, Beast? Afraid youll not be able to stomach a meal such as this?
He stalked to the left, acutely aware of the sword held out to my right. The crook of the tree I stood against would protect my back, but the monster was still able to flank me somewhat, were he fast enough, due to my useless left arm.
This would be a simple victory for me, had I not lost my guns in our first encounter. However, those pistols were all the beast feared, that is until he saw the flash of my steel once again.
I caught him across the chin this time, drawing blood anew, as he had thought to take advantage of my inability to fight from the left.
This time his bellow nearly knocked me from my feet, as the ferocity of his anger slammed into me like a blow all its own. My sudden recoil did more to further the monsters cause, as my head collided violently with the mighty tree, sending white flashes through my vision and causing my knees to buckle.
And there was the moment the monster had been waiting for as he lunged forward, claws extended, teeth barred, unleashing all the primal energy his thousand pound frame possessed.
The sound of thunder brought with it darkness and rest.
Those were the last words of my Father, the Fourteenth Phantom, as he relayed them to me mere hours after his encounter. From his deathbed, he urged me to take up pen and tome, to chronicle his last night on earth.
While many sense impending doom before it strikes, I find that in retrospect, I had no doubt that my father would slay the beast that had slaughtered more than a dozen villagers when the grip of rabies took hold. Never had I thought this aberration of nature would best a man like my father. Despite the rogue lions freakish size and hellish ferocity, the thought had never occurred to me that he would bring the end to the one called Phantom.
It was a testament to Fathers mighty will that he survived the initial attack at all. His wounds would have killed a lesser man, outright, and should have laid him low far sooner than they did. I am convinced that his failure to give up in the face of death is the only reason he still drew breath when I found him.
I had taken it upon myself that night to follow my father, believing that even a man such as he would not stand against the mightiest rogue lion the Deep Woods had ever seen. Had my tracking skills been better honed, I might have arrived in time to prevent his mortal wounding and shoot the beast before he could injure my Father.
However, I must take solace that my aim was true and kill the monster I did, preventing him from doing further harm to the man whom I owed everything.
By recalling his teachings, I was able to stop the blood loss and bring him home, where Nuran tended to his wounds and helped him regain consciousness. Once awake, he bid me do three things.
One, tell my mother he loved her, always and forever.
Two, retrieve the latest chronicle book from the chamber and document his tale exactly as he related it to me.
And, three, always honor the mask I would soon wear with bravery, courage and selflessness.
After retrieving the tome, I promised him I would do as he asked and with his last breaths, he told me of his final moments in the Deep Woods.
And this ends the Chronicles of the Fourteenth Phantom, just as it began.
Very soon, the Bandar will gather outside and begin their chant. At that time, I will cloth myself in the uniform of my calling and once Ive donned the mask, I will step forth into my new life. A life I will lead until death comes for me as well. You see, despite the legends of The Man Who Cannot Die, the Reaper awaits us all. There is little we can do to stave it off, but just as my father did, I will give death such a reckoning that it will know it tangled with a Phantom on that far away day. Only this way, can I truly honor my fathers memory.
But I must attend to matters of today, the chant is calling. Sadly, I shall end this now, and begin my new life. As I do so, I find it only fitting to conclude this tome with the chant reverberating through these hallowed walls right now.
The Phantom is Dead! Long Live the Phantom!
Tune in next week for another great story in MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION!