Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Story of the Phantom by Lee Falk


The Phantom made his debut as a daily newspaper comic strip in 1936. The Phantom is one of the greatest pulp heroes alongside The Shadow, Doc Savage, Superman, The Phantom Detective and The Spider, at least in my humble opinion. Lee Falk, the Phantom’s creator died in 1999. The Phantom, or “The Ghost Who Walks,” was running as a comic strip in 1972 when the first Phantom prose version was published by Avon Paperbacks. The comics continued but the paperbacks added another resource for us die-hard Phantom fans. The cover artwork by George Wilson captured the flavor of the comic book series. This first paperback constitutes the most comprehensive prose version of the Phantom’s origins. As you all know, the story began over 400 years ago when a shipwreck sailor named Kit vowed: “I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice, and my sons and their sons shall follow me.” This, of course, was the Oath of the Skull. Making his home in Skull Cave, Kit, and eventually his ancestors, all donned the mask and costume of The Ghost Who Walks, and so a crime-fighting legend was born. Each generation became The Ghost Who Walks, The Man Who Cannot Die, The Phantom. Falk’s series documented the adventure of “The Phantom in our time” whose real identify is known only to the pygmies who still live near the Deep Woods, secret location of the original Skull Cave. The Phantom also has hide-outs throughout the world to enable him to fight injustice. The Story of the Phantom re-tells the story of the twentieth Phantom, from his childhood through the moment he takes his father’s body to the burial chamber and emerges as The Phantom. Subsequent paperbacks recounted individual adventures. The paperbacks lasted for fifteen novels. Lee Falk wrote four, including this first one and The Mysterious Ambassador, Killer’s Town and The Vampires & The Witch. The last paperback, The Curse of the Two Headed Bull, was written by Carson Bingham based upon a story by Falk. The other writers in the paperback series were Basil Copper, Frank S. Shawn and Warren Shanahan but the books were credited to Falk. Most collectors prefer the Charlton Comics incarnation or the mid-60s Gold Key comics. The original newspaper dailies are also available in book form. The two film versions, first starring Tom Tyler in 1943 and eventually the 1996 film starring Billy Zane, are must-haves on DVD for Phantom fans. That really cool Billy Zane feature has become a cult favorite. The Phantom is still being produced as a comic book series, but I ignore them. I’m a fan of Lee Falk’s original series. Meanwhile, these Avon paperbacks are fun to track down while the first five or so are priced high when found in fine condition. The ancient battle against evil is endless – Long Live The Phantom!

4 comments:

  1. I bought most of these new and really enjoyed them. The novels were actually my introduction to The Phantom. I had never seen any of the comic strips at that time. Carson Bingham was really Bruce Cassidy, and Frank S. Shawn was Ron Goulart. I've wondered if Goulart or someone else ghosted the novels attributed to Lee Falk, but it's certainly possible Falk wrote them himself. I saw the Billy Zane movie when it came out and liked it a lot, but I haven't watched it since then. I really ought to.

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  2. Thanks James! I am especially grateful for your clarifying the pseudonyms use by Bruce Cassidy and Ron Goulart which I obviously didn’t know. It’s always a pleasure hearing from you!

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  3. I knew Ron wrote some of these, but didn't know which pseudonym was his.

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  4. It's fascinating how many of these series were ghosted and by so many talented writers.

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