Welcome my comic collecting cohorts to a very special episode of – Comic Cover Of The Week, where we endeavour to pursue ‘The Man Who Cannot Die’ in our continuing celebration of the 80th anniversary of The Phantom.
The Phantom #1 was the first of a 4 issue mini-series produced by DC Comics between 1988 and 1989, which later went on to become a rather short lived (13 issues) ongoing series in 1989 through 1990. Written by: Peter David. Art by: Dennis Janke and Joe Orlando.
This post actually combines two things I adore from the wonderful world of comics – The Phantom and DC Comics. I actually chose this particular cover not because it was released by my personal favourite comic book company, but for the reason that I distinctly remember picking it up from a local newsagents in the late 1980’s.
Back then in the UK, speciality comic-book shops were very much a rarity and most collectors of comics would avidly peruse the shelves of their local newsagent. Without the benefit of that magical digital conveyance we now know as the internet (yes indeed, there was such a time!) you really had to have your wits about you if you didn’t want to miss the next issue of your favourite heroic tome, for there was no Amazon (except for the Themysciran kind, of course) or E-Bay for you to fill that precious, elusive gap in your collection.
As mentioned in our initial 80th Anniversary Post, I didn’t really start following the ongoing adventures of the The Ghost Who Walks until I saw (and loved) the 1996 movie adaptation, but my first real interaction with The Phantom was when I discovered the above comic in my local ‘newsie’ (as we called them.) I do also remember watching the ‘Defenders of the Earth’ cartoon on Saturday morning television, but that wasn’t aired in the UK until the early 90’s, so it was DC who first introduced me to Lee Falk’s classic character.
Now, there’s a problem for Phantom Phans in the UK, even now with all the superb speciality comic shops (we have at least 3 very near to where I live) it is really difficult to purchase almost anything related to The Phantom, including comics. If you were to head into 60% of the comic book emporiums in the UK and ask for a Phantom comic, many of the staff would look at you like you were speaking in alien tongues, or even (and this has happened at least twice for me) produce an issue of The Phantom Stranger!
Luckily the internet now fulfils my every need when it comes to the continuing adventures of Kit Walker, but it is rather sad to me that a character as important to the world of Superheroes (in fact, THE most important!) isn’t anyway near as popular as he should be. And so my fellow Phans, I am so happy that we are able to do our small bit to get the word out to the masses at large and hopefully introduce more and more people to the ‘Guardian of the Eastern Dark’ The Phantom is the original Superhero and deserves all the praise and reverence that can be heaped upon him. I must go now, as I can hear the faint sound of tribal drums guiding me back to my own personal Skull Cave so I can indulge once more in the phantastic 1996 movie… Long Live The Phantom!
‘When wealthy criminal genius Xander Drax endeavours to obtain the legendary Skulls of Touganda to exploit their mystical powers for personal gain and domination, mythical Bengallan Superhero – The Phantom travels to New York in an attempt to thwart his megalomaniacal plans.’
Cast: Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick Mcgoohan, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa. Director: Simon Wincer. Writer: Jeffrey Boam.
In 1996 Lee Falk’s ground-breaking, archetypal 1930’s Superhero – The Phantom made his movie debut, the ‘Ghost Who Walks’ had not been seen on the big screen since the 1943 Tom Tyler led serial series by Columbia Pictures, though there have been numerous animated incarnations over the years and a 2009 series that never made it past the second episode.
The Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936 for King Feature Syndicate, Falk cited some of the biggest influences for the character were King Arthur, Robin Hood and Tarzan. The Phantom is the original costume clad Superhero, pre-dating DC’s Superman by two years. To the uninitiated the Phantom is immortal and is believed to have been fighting crime for over four centuries, in reality the current Phantom is the 21st in line, with the son of each Phantom taking over the role when their father is either killed or too old to continue their heroic lifestyle, thus propelling the image of an immortal crime-fighter… a Ghost Who Walks.
The ’96 film adaptation of the classic 30’s Superhero starred Billy Zane, a devoted fan of the original character, whom he first discovered whilst filming the movie Dead Calm in Australia. The Phantom is extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand, eclipsing characters like Batman, with a huge variety of comics and related merchandise exclusively available in these countries alone.
The filming took place over three separate locations, Brisbane in Australia, Greystone park in California and Krabi in Thailand, and it shows, the scenery from Thailand is especially stunning with some fantastic shots of jungles and mountains, the director of cinematography David Burr hit the ball out of the park on this one, the movie is beautifully filmed, with some absolutely breathtaking shots of Thailand during the closing credits.
Directed by Australian Simon Wincer, who previously directed Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, with the screenplay written by Jeffrey Boam who also coincidentally wrote the screenplay for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and this Indy heritage really shines through in the film itself with the opening scene of henchman Quill (James Remar) leading a group of treasure hunters into the Bengallan jungle in search of an ancient and mystical skull of Touganda, which is extremely reminiscent of the opening prologue of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The film itself is set in the 1930’s and intentionally feels very much like a serial movie strip from that era, the thirties atmosphere is palpable and feels perfectly constructed for this particular Superhero, evoking a swashbuckling feel and the movie is ultimately an energetic and enjoyable romp, and faithful to its source material.
Billy Zane is perfectly cast as the titular hero of the piece, very much evoking the original character from the comics, which is helped in no small part by the amazing costume a fantastic and accurate recreation of the Phantom’s comic book form. Treat Williams is on top form as his antagonist, one Xander Drax, who you can tell is enjoying the hell out of the role throughout and almost steals the show with his stand-out and crazy performance.
With a fantastic supporting cast that includes: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kristy Swanson, James Remar, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa and the late Patrick McGoohan (the Prisoner himself), the film is a must watch to not just fans of the Phantom and comic book genre movies but also anyone who loves high adventure and movies that are just plain fun.
The plot itself revolves around the villainous Xander Drax, who has been searching for the three sacred skulls of Touganda, these mystical treasures have been lost over time and it is prophesied that if all three are brought together, the person wielding them will have infinite power and ultimately the world will fall unto darkness. As previously mentioned very Indiana Jones, except the script is actually a retelling of three classic Phantom tales – The Phantom’s Origin, The Sky Band and The Skulls of Touganda, written by Lee Falk in the thirties and forties.
An enjoyable and lively Superhero romp, beautifully shot, engaging and faithfully reverential to Lee Falk’s quintessential character. Zane is wonderful as the title character and Williams is craziness personified as the villain. The Phantom will make ‘Phans’ of you all… guaranteed.
Precinct1313 Rating: 4.5 skulls of Touganda out of 5.