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.
I can’t agree with fans that hate big crowds at big comic conventions. I tend to like big crowds. And I am always astonished by the way the San Diego Comic-Con takes over that town. I’m also in awe that the New York Comic Con is the biggest convention held in New York City’s Javits Center. The massive attendees at every big comic-con are both testaments to Geek Culture, and virtual victory laps for all fans everywhere.
To be honest, I also enjoy smaller comic conventions. There’s something special about being able to just wander up to a favorite creator and engage in a conversation with him or her. And at smaller shows, it’s empowering to be able to casually flip through a long box of comics to search for treasures, without elbowing your way through a crushing wall of other fans searching for their own treasures.
I’ll never forget a great experience I had at a smaller show years ago. A local comic con decided to expand with a second show. They decided to hold this spinoff convention in in the open area of a mall. Attendance was abysmal, but that worked out in my favor. Jim Shooter, the headlining professional, very patiently answered all my young fanboy questions for hours and hours. There was no one else waiting to speak to him, after all. I don’t think I talked for 24 hours straight, but I’m sure it seemed that way to Jim. And you know what? That was a kindness I’ve never forgotten.
So it’s no surprise that I’m very excited for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con in June. I’ve recently moved from metro New York to the Finger Lakes, and we’re finding so many cool things going on up here. This convention looks to be a very substantial comic-con with a small show feel.
One of my favorite artists, Graham Nolan, will be a guest at this year’s show. Part of why I like his art so much is that he’s been involved with so many of my favorite stories. I fondly recall the introduction of Bane, the first villain to soundly defeat Batman. And the adventure of two immigrants from Thanagar assimilating to American culture in the Hawkworld series was fascinating and fresh.
But the other part of why I enjoy his work is that Nolan’s always been able to deliver solid artwork with a flair for the dramatic. It’s grounded, but it’s fantastic. Every Graham Nolan page is an example of fine draftsmanship, but also always infused with a thrilling level of action and adventure.
So, unable to wait until the convention in June, I wanted to have a one of those
substantial convention conversations with this fine artist. I reached out to Graham Nolan for this pre-con conversation:
Ed Catto: You were an early graduate of the Joe Kubert School. What are your fondest memories of that experience?
Graham Nolan: Actually, I never graduated from Kubert’s. I ran out of money for the third year. The two years I did attend were a great experience though. I learned a lot and was surrounded by people that shared the same passions as I did.
EC: We tend to revere Joe Kubert around here – what was it like learning from him?
GN: Joe was a force of nature. He had a presence that few have. When he spoke, you listened. He made everything he did seem so damn easy.
EC: You worked on Power Of The Atom, an Atom reboot, with CNY-er Roger Stern. Those were exciting times and it seemed to shine through in that series. What stands out in your memory about that series?
GN: It was a fun series that I wish I had been on from issue #1
EC: Our regular readers know how enamored I am with your Hawkworld series. Can you tell us a little about that series, what you were looking to achieve with it, and what your thoughts on it today are?
GN: That was a tough act to follow. I was passed the reigns from the popular mini-series by Tim Truman and Alcatena. I wanted to capture the feel of that series but add my own sense of storytelling dynamism to it.
EC: Follow-up question – Any thoughts on following in the footsteps of Joe Kubert on Hawkman?
GN: Not really. Hawkworld was so far afield from Joe’s work I felt like I was following Truman and not Kubert.
EC: You spent so much time working The Phantom – with fantastic results. Was that a labor of love for you?
GN: I always loved The Phantom. When Don Newton did the art for the Charlton books, I really flipped over the character. The Phantom was my Mom’s favorite character growing up. I regret that she passed before getting to see me take over the character.
EC: Comic strips like Rex Morgan, M.D. don’t seem to get the same fan appreciation at comic conventions. Do you find that frustrating?
GN: Comic strips don’t seem to get fan appreciation anywhere! The newspaper is a dying delivery device for comic-strips. They are so small these days that there are some strips I can’t even read!
EC: Monster Island was your own property. How different is it work on something like that as opposed to big company characters?
GN: Everything has to be created from scratch vs. it being established by others. But the creative freedom is wonderful.
EC: Let’s look ahead – can you tell us what you’re working on now?
GN: I’m currently doing my weekly humor strip, Sunshine State for GoComics.com and Chuck Dixon and I are back at DC working on a 12 issue Bane project called Bane: Conquest.
EC: Sounds like fun stuff, Graham, really looking forward to it all.
I have wonderful Yuletide memories. Like every young boy, I quickly learned that the true meaning of the Holiday Season was… getting more stuff. And being the greedy little monster I was, (and, I guess, I remain) I also learned that I could extend that wonderful feeling of “Christmas Acquisition” through books. More than a toy, or apparel or certainly candy, the enjoyment of a book would linger well past the twelve days of Christmas.
As a comics fan back in the day, actual books about comics were few and far between. One that did make it onto the traditional bookstore shelves was Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. Soon after Superman: From the 30’s to the 70’s was a one of those “big wow” books about comics that was gifted to me. It was so massively thick that I couldn’t imagine anyone would be able to read the whole thing in one lifetime!
That holiday-hardcover comic tradition carried on each year with Stan Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics, The Son of Origins, Bring On the Bad Guys, The Superhero Women and that Silver Surfer graphic novel that reunited Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. (It was kind of a dud for me.)
When I was a parent, my kids would always get me similar treasures – most often DC Archive Editions and Marvel Masterworks. I’ve been one fortunate bookworm.
So with all that in mind, here are a few suggestions for holiday books:
There’s something about Norse mythology and the Yuletide season that just naturally go together. On the other hand, any day is a good day to enjoy the incredible work of comics legend Walter Simonson. IDW just published Ragnarok: Last God Standing as a collection of the first few issues of the ongoing comic, featuring Thor, the last of the Asgardians. It’s a fresh thriller by a comics master, and keep an eye out for my upcoming column spotlighting Walter’s Ragnarok series.
IDW has also teamed up with Eaglemoss to produce an ongoing reprint series of all the Star Trek comics. And the nice thing about this effort is that each volume mixes and matches Star Trek comics from all the different publishers over the years: Marvel, DC, Malibu, IDW, Gold Key and even the strips from the British weekly comics. What a great way to experience it all. While I love the Gold Key strips, I can’t read more than a few at a time. With this series, fans get a smorgasbord rather than just one heaping main course. Check out Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection.
It seems like it’s a golden age for Classic Comic Strips reprints. While some brilliant artists like Thomas Yeates, Mike Manley and Terry Beatty are doing great things with comic strips printed in the actual newspapers, there are now s great many options for reprint books. In fact, in the Diamond’s most recent Previews Magazine (the one with the cool Kamandi by Bruce Timm Cover) “From The Archives” was the monthly theme, celebrating comic strip reprints.
Hermes Press is the run by a passionate guy named Dan Herman. When it comes publishing and reprinting old comics with the respect they deserve, he’s the real deal. A few books of particular note:
Alex Raymond was a phenomenal artist and a groundbreaking entrepreneur for what would evolve into Geek Culture. But at that time, the world thought of him as an advertising artist who made a living doing those silly comic strips. And today, when comic fans look at his work, I’ve heard comments like “That looks like Dave Stevens’ art.” Hermes’s gorgeous coffee table book Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey: Adventure, Intrigue and Romance offers readers a ringside seat to experience Raymond’s work again or for the first time.
And while it’s not a collection of reprinted comic strips, The Phantom: The Complete Avon Books Vol. 1 looks to be fun. This ongoing series reprints the old 60s prose Phantom paperback stories. The first one is an origin story by series creator, Lee Falk and it’s wrapped in a gorgeous painted George Wilson cover.
Max Alan Collins is a favorite here on ComicMix for so many reasons, and he’s contributed essays to two fantastic Hermes books. His thoughts aren’t the only reasons, or even the main reason to check these out, but like a good bottle of wine, he makes the main dish that much better. So I’d also recommend:
Zorro: The Complete Dell Pre-CodeComics which gathers together wonderful Zorro adventures from Dell’s Four Color
The collection of Mike Hammer strips from the mid-fifties in Mickey Spillane: From the Files of Mike Hammer.
My highest recommendation will probably go to Vanguard Press’ The Sensuous Frazetta by J. David Spurlock. I purchased this book at San Diego Comic-Con in July, and haven’t been able to officially move it from my reading pile to my shelf of favorites in the bookcase. Each time I pick it up I see something new and enjoy it more.
Also on my short list is another Wally Wood book from Vanguard. The latest is called Wally Wood Jungle Adventures and it features the “lost hero” Animan. I’m not sure how much of an Animan fan I am, but you can never go wrong with Wally Wood.
Have a great Yuletide Season and be kind to your friends and foes alike!
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…
Here 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:
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?
Eoin 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.
EC: 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.
The 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?
A 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.
Dan 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.
After 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.
Industry 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.
As many of you know, Nancy Reagan recently passed away at the age of 94. Her legacy, as well as her husband’s, invoke incredibly powerful emotions from both ends of the political spectrum. We’ve been reminded of that this past Friday. Some of you reading this may not be aware of Nancy Reagan’s connection to comics. It’s a very loose connection, don’t get me wrong, but it’s there. I’ll try not to embellish this connection to avoid having the townspeople show up at my doorstep with pitchforks and torches in hand.
Anyone aware of the Reagan’s and life in America in the 80s knows of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, which, ironically is my stance on the Republican Party today. What you might not be aware of is back in September of 1986, Nancy Reagan was greeted by members of the Defenders of the Earth including Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Lothar and Mandrake the Magician. No, not the “real” Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Lothar and Mandrake the Magician. They were merely actors portraying the characters on a five-day coast-to-coast tour to help kids say no to drugs. I imagine the real Defenders of the Earth were too busy saving us all from Ming the Merciless to tour the country themselves.
At the time, Defenders of the Earth was a cartoon produced by Marvel Productions in association with King Features Entertainment. King Features owned the above mentioned comics properties used in the cartoon. They added a bunch of kids to the mix to make it more relatable to them (I guess) and in turn we got a cartoon that was good enough for one season. In that one season we got the episode titled “The Deadliest Battle”. The deadliest battle, of course, was against drugs.
Yes, drugs. In this episode, Rick Gordon (Flash Gordon’s son) is being pressured not only by school to make good grades, but by his father to be a better hero. Randomly, a suspicious juvenile at Rick Gordon’s school offers Rick drugs unsolicited and for free in the middle of the school’s busy hallway. I can’t quite tell if that was a lack of understanding on how these things happen or a cynical assumption that kids would actually be that stupid. Anyway, we then have a scene in a classroom with a teacher going over D.A.R.E. which stands for drug abuse resistance education. We even get a nice shout out to Nancy Reagan with the teachers saying, “Just say no.”
Rick takes the drugs anyway which do in fact make him feel a whole lot better, but it comes at a high price. The drugs also make Rick absent minded, causing him to forget to finish setting up their new defense system. This allows Ming the Merciless to come right in to take out the Defenders of the Earth once and for all.
After Flash Gordon uses some excessively harsh words with his son, one of the other kids on the team is able to help save the day and teach Rick a valuable lesson about responsibility and how it’s never okay to take anything that will get your mind off of how the walls of your life are closing in on you.
Flash Gordon does at least acknowledge that he’s been too harsh with his son Rick, which was a nice touch. I was expecting something that put the entire weight of the drug problem on Rick and the dealer.
If it wasn’t for Nancy Reagan, we might have never been able to experience this animated gem. If you want to experience it for yourself again or for the first time, you can check it out here. Many other cartoons also tackled drug prevention at the time including Thundercats, He-Man, Jem and the Holograms, and many others. And the drug war legacy still plagues us to this very day. However, Nancy Reagan didn’t meet with the Thundercats, or He-Man, or Jem and the Holograms. When she got a chance to meet the heroes to help kids say no, she chose comics heroes. Or her scheduler did. Either way, when she wanted help getting her message to kids she met with classic comics heroes that have stood the test of time to this very day. To some of us at least.
Did Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign help people? Maybe a few. Did it give people a false sense of security and a cramp in their arms from patting themselves on the back too much for doing something about an issue that over time ended up destroying countless more lives than it ever saved while also wasting an unbelievably large amount of our taxpayer dollars?
You bet! Maybe she should have asked the Defenders of the Earth to help end the Cold War instead.
People 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.
It 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.
The 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.
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?
He’s the Ghost Who Walks. And recently he’s been walking a fine line between right and wrong. Mostly wrong.
As a regular readers of ComicMix www.comicmix.com, you probably already know the eponymous star of the comic strip The Phantom. But just in case, the Phantom – real name Kit Walker – is the latest crime fighter in a family of crime fighters. The first Phantom appeared in Bangalla, Africa in the year 1536 and made the solemn 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.”
In every generation since, the oldest Walker son, upon the death of his father, dons the costume of the Phantom – a skin tight purple body suit that’s about as practical for running around in hot tropical jungles as a suit of armor would be for swimming the English Channel – and fights crime. The Phantom is also the commander of the Jungle Patrol, a Bengalli police force which, unless it was really bad at names, operates in the jungle.
For 21 generations the Phantom has fought crime. Now he’s committing them.
Recently, the Phantom chased a murderer named Barker through the jungle.
As Barker ran, he wiped his fingerprints off his gun then threw the murder weapon into the brush.
The Phantom found the gun, brought it back, and placed it in Barker’s hand so that his finger prints would be on it when the Jungle Patrol found him.
This was wrong. The Phantom planted evidence. He moved it from the bushes to Barker’s hand, where it needed it to be for a conviction. Yes, I know he was putting it back where it had been, so it wasn’t like he planted evidence that was never there to obtain a conviction. Still planting evidence is illegal and wrong. Apparently 21 generations of getting his own way spoiled the Phantom rotten.
By putting Barker’s fingerprints on the gun, after Barker had wiped it clean, the Phantom also falsified evidence. He placed incriminating evidence on the gun which wasn’t there when he found it. Again, the Phantom restored the gun to the condition it had been in before Barker doctored it, but you know the old saying about two wrongs not making a right. Everybody knows it’s three lefts that make a right.
Don’t worry about how Barker’s trial turned out. When the Jungle Patrol showed him the gun found in his hand, he said, “In my hand!? B-but I tossed the gun!”
Barker stupidly admitted the murder weapon was his gun and that he had possessed it; thereby killing any chance he might have had to challenge the evidence as planted.
Actually, there was a third reason why what the Phantom did was wrong. When the Phantom retrieved the gun, a viper bit his arm.
What the Phantom did was wrong, because we endured what may have been the most boring Phantom story ever written; a story that ended exactly as we knew it would, as everyone knew the Phantom would get his memory back eventually. Note to the Phantom: don’t plant evidence again. Apparently Karma doesn’t like it when you do. And while it may seek to punish you, we’re the ones who end up suffering for it.
Even more recently – as in earlier this month – the Phantom broke into a condominium in a Bangalli city. He opened a wall safe and ransacked it for incriminating paperwork. Then the Phantom waited for the condo’s owner to return.
The Phantom beat the condo owner senseless, or more senseless than he already was considering he bought a condo in Africa in today’s housing market. The Phantom took the man into the building’s fire stairs. He did this because the police in Bangalla, which has a constitution very similar to that of the United States, didn’t have a warrant to search the condo and find the incriminating papers. The Phantom dumped the incriminating papers on the man
and left them in a public area of the condo building, where the police could find them in plain view.
Apparently the Bangalli constitution is so similar to our own, that it also recognizes a Plain View exception to the Exclusionary Rule. So if the police are some place where they can lawfully be, say the public stairs of a condo building, they can seize incriminating evidence found in plain view without a search warrant. The Bangalli Plain View doctrine might even be a little more liberal than the one we have in the United States. In our Plain View doctrine, the incriminating nature of the evidence must be immediately apparent. Marijuana, for example, can be seized, because police can tell by looking at it that it’s contraband. But if the police see something like expensive stereo equipment which seems out of place in a squalid apartment, they can’t move the stereo equipment and check the serial numbers, because the criminal nature of the stereo equipment wasn’t immediately apparent to the naked eye. It required further examination to determine it was criminal in nature.
The criminal nature of the papers wouldn’t be immediately apparent, either. Someone would have to read them to determine they were incriminating. If the Phantom’s staged scene put the papers under the Plain View Doctrine, it’s a more expansive Plain View Doctrine than ours. That or some writer threw a out legal term without knowing what it meant. But writers wouldn’t do that, would they? As a writer myself, I’ll give writers the benefit of the doubt and say Bangalla’s Plain View Doctrine is broader. (See, who says I can’t play nice?)
The Phantom is a member of the Jungle Patrol. Hell, he’s it’s commander. He’s a Bangalli police officer. His actions are, therefore, subject to the limitations that the Bangalli constitution imposes on the police. When the Phantom broke into the condo and took the incriminating papers from the wall safe, he committed illegal search and seizure. He also committed aggravated burglary. Then the Phantom assaulted the condo owner, who had a perfect right to defend himself against a masked and armed trespasser. Finally, the Phantom planted evidence again, when he left the man and the incriminating papers in a public stairwell rather than in the condo where they had been. It’s all very enterprising, but it’s not in the least bit admirable.
Next the Phantom called the police to the building so they could find the criminal and his papers. Did the Phantom make an anonymous call to the cops? Nope. He discharged his .45 several times in order to wake up the innocent people who lived in the building and scare them half to death so they’d call the cops.
Not a very nice thing to do. But this Phantom has no qualms about planting evidence or aggravated burglary. What’s terrorizing a little old lady or two to him?
You can call me old-fashioned, if you want. You’d be wrong – at 62 I’m certainly old enough, but anyone who’s met me knows I have no sense of fashion. However, I do admit to holding to the old-fashioned concept that heroes, the good guys, shouldn’t commit crimes in order to fight crime. They should be better than what they fight.
The Phantom. Also called “The Ghost Who Walks.” And now we know the real reason he earned that nickname. Because when the Phantom walks, he walks all over the Constitution.