Tag Archives: Lee Falk

Underrated: The Phantom

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Phantom.


First appearing in newspapers on February 17, 1936, the Phantom was the first character to wear the skintight costume that has become emblematic of the superhero (inspired, it turns out, by stage productions of Robin Hood). He was also the first character to wear a mask with no visible pupils; the Phantom’s creator, Lee Falk, explained  that Ancient Greek busts inspired the idea of the not showing the Phantom’s pupils when he was wearing his mask, incorrectly believing that the statues had no pupils, when instead it was just that the paint had faded over the centuries. But Falk felt the pupil-less eyes gave the statues an inhuman, awe-inspiring appearance – ideal for the Ghost That Walks.

The Phantom has been in continuous publication since he debuted as a newspaper strip in 1936, with Lee Falk continuing to write the character until his death in 1999 (let that sink in for a moment. That’s sixty three years on the same character), although before he died, Falk dictated his final Phantom story to his wife from his death bed.

The essence of the Phantom is that he is an undying ghost destined to protect the fictional country of Bengala, located in Africa, from the evil Singh Brotherhood – originally a gang of pirates, though they manage to evolve with the times. The Phantom’s reputation as The Ghost That Walks comes from his longevity – Bengala has been protected by the Phantom since the early 1500’s, but it hasn’t always been the same man. Son takes over the mantle from father, over and over, giving the impression of immortality to his enemies (establishing the character as the first true legacy hero in comics).

The reason I’ve gone in to such detail about the character is because I have finally found the 1996 movie on DVD from Amazon. I say finally because I’ve been looking on and off for this movie for quite some time. It hasn’t been on any streaming service that I subscribe to, and it comes and goes from online stores – usually for more than I want to pay for a Blu-ray. In the end, I needed to bulk up an Amazon order for free shipping, and the DVD was $7* or so – well worth the price for the movie.

*(Before you ask, my wife has Amazon Prime, so I could have gotten free shipping, but for some reason the item I wanted, a low end drawing tablet, gave me a coupon and not her so in the end the DVD was closer to $2 – which is an absolute bargain).

It had been nearly twenty years since I had seen this movie, and after the glut of big budget super hero films, and so I was curious as to whether it would hold up as more than a nostalgic diversion or whether it would still be a good film in its own right. Billy Zane’s performance is solid enough, though the script doesn’t give him much to do; Treat Williams commands the screen as a wonderfully camp comic book villain with just enough of a sinister bent to make you nervous; Kirsty Swanson and Catherine Zeta Jones are both able to play strong, if fairly one dimensional characters; and James Remar is James Remar – an actor who will never give a bad performance (you may see a bad movie with him in it, but it wasn’t bad because of him).

You might think that I’m going to start ragging on the movie, but I genuinely enjoyed it. It was exactly what I hoped it would be, and indeed remembered it as; a good movie that stuck to the core concepts of the Phantom (as I remembered them); the Phantom doesn’t shoot to kill, his horse and wolf are in the movie, the stunts and effects haven’t aged brilliantly, but they’re still not terrible (the only time that you really notice anything is anytime a vehicle crashes into a ball of flames; everything else is forgivable or still holds up).

Yes, it’s a kitschy movie, and the Phantom isn’t the one man wrecking machine that super heroes have become in movies today – which oddly keeps the flick pretty grounded – but it is a really fun film.

I am absolutely going to watch the movie again. And again.

If you’re curious about the Phantom in the comics, well although the character has been in continuous publication in newspaper strips from the 30’s, The Ghost Who Walks has also appeared in several comic books throughout the last few decades – the most recent of which was Dynamite Entertainment’s The Last Phantom, a fantastic 12 issue modern take on this legendary character that I highly recommend. You can find the issues collected under The Last Phantom: Ghost Walk and Jungle Rules


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Underrated: Lee Falk And The Phantom

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Lee Falk and the Phantom.


phantom-311Born April 28th 1911, Leon Harrison Gross was a writer, theater director and producer perhaps best known by the name he would use after his college graduation: Lee Falk. He took the name Lee, a childhood nickname, and Falk the middle name of his stepfather. Falk was fascinated by the mystical arts and stage magicians as a boy, and as a result created Mandrake the Magician (who not coincidentally shared a resemblance to Falk himself) who debuted in 1934.

But it was Falk’s other creation, a strip he thought would only last a few weeks, that the writer is most well known for: The Phantom,  a character of a few notable “firsts.”

Looking back on the character with the benefit of history, and the internet, we are able to see his clear influence on so many of our favourite superheroes. First appearing in newspapers on February 17, 1936, the Phantom was the first character to wear the skintight costume worn by so many superheroes today. I won’t list them all.

The Phantom was also the first character to wear a mask with no visible pupils. Creator Lee Falk explained  that Ancient Greek busts inspired the idea of the not showing the Phantom’s pupils when he was wearing his mask, incorrectly believing that  the busts displayed no pupils (in fact they did; originally the eyes would have been painted on, and over time the paint had faded) which he felt gave them an inhuman, awe-inspiring appearance. In an interview published in Comic Book Marketplace in 2005, Falk said the Phantom’s skin-tight costume was inspired by Robin Hood, who was shown wearing tights in films and on stage.

Amazingly enough, The Phantom has been staring in new stories since his first appearance in 1936, predating the Man of Steel by a full two years (though one is decidedly more famous hand the other). However, not every Phantom story is about the same Phantom – there have been twenty one of them, and we have been given stories about a large number of the different Phantoms, making  The Ghost That Walks the first “legacy hero” (a mantle that has been shared by different characters; think Batman, Wolverine, Captain America).phantom strip.jpg

The first man to call himself the Phantom did so in 1536 when his father was murdered in an attack by pirates. Swearing an oath on the skull of his father’s murderer to fight evil, Christopher Walker became the first Phantom starting a legacy that would be passed from father to son for hundreds of years, earning a reputation of immortality, and nicknames such as The Ghost Who Walks, Guardian of the Eastern Dark, and The Man Who Cannot Die.

last phantom 5Whether the Phantom provided Bill Finger  with the inspiration for the Batcave or not the fact remains that the Skull Cave, the Phantoms subterranean hideout, predates Bruce Wayne’s fancy basement by a couple of years.  As with the body suit and mask, another standard of modern comics  can be found first in the Phantom strips – the legacy hero. One of the first legacy heroes in comics, the character’s origin establishes him as the 21st person to become the Phantom, predating the various Robins, Flashes, Captain Americas, and Captain Marvels by more than twenty years (the second Flash, Barry Allen, first appeared in 1956).

Although he has been in continuous publication in newspaper strips from the 30’s, The Ghost Who Walks has also appeared in several comic books throughout the last few decades – the most recent of which was Dynamite Entertainment’s The Last Phantom, a fantastic 12 issue modern take on this legendary character that I highly recommend. You can find the issues collected under The Last Phantom: Ghost Walk and Jungle Rules

In what is easily the longest run by any writer on any comic book character to date, and clearly a labour of love for The Man Who Cannot Die’s creator, Lee Falk continued to write the Phantom until his death in 1999, writing a huge number of stories starring his creation (he even dictated his final story to his wife from his death bed). Falk  has never really been given the credit that he, or his creation, deserved. Together, and through the characters that have taken inspiration from them, they have influenced millions of people over nearly a century. That is why they’re Underrated.



That’s all we have for this week, folks. Come back next time  when there’s something else Underrated to talk about.

Preview: Mandrake the Magician Vol. 1

MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN VOL. 1

Writer: Lee Falk
Artists: Phil Davis
PUBLISHER: TITAN COMICS
PAGE COUNT: 160 PP
PRICE: $39.99
RELEASE DATE: March 2

Introducing the world’s first comic book super hero, predating Superman by almost four years. Created by the legendary Lee Falk (creator of the Phantom) and drawn by Phil Davis, Mandrake the Magician and his ever-trusty man-servant, Lothar, first appeared to battle crime in 1934. This collection reprints the first 2 & 1/2 years worth of full-colour Sunday newspaper strips that debuted in 1935 – from The Hidden Kingdom of Murderers to Prince Paulo the Tyrant.

Mandrake-(1)

Review: Kings Watch #1

20130913-102047.jpgIn an ode to 1930s pulp strips, Dynamite‘s latest five-issue miniseries brings together a trio of non-super superheroes  (The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon) in an epic quest to save the world. It has been nearly 30 years since their last reunion in the 1986 animated series Defenders of the Earth. This time, these unlikely heroes must join forces against nightmares-turned-reality as experienced by millions of people across the globe.

Writer Jeff Parker has huge shoes to fill. They say Lee Falk, creator of Phantom and Mandrake, ripped off his oxygen mask in his final days to dictate his last comic scripts to his wife Elizabeth to finish. Falk maintained that creator-owned passion of his pulp heroes for over six decades. As a first issue, Parker hasn’t fleshed out enough of the characters or story for me to judge whether the torch has been appropriately carried on. All three protagonists are in different locales, facing different sets of problems. From the outset though, it looks he’ll bring them together in epic fashion.

The handful of questionable artistic decisions within the story are quickly overlooked by illustrator Marc Laming‘s phenomenal cover and title logo. Like the unmistakable f, t, and g+ of the world’s social media titans, Laming’s skull, eye, and lightning bolt in the title make a fantastic brand for the series.

That being said, there were a couple panels in the Phantom’s jungle battle that bothered me. The first was a close up shot of the creature’s eye being impaled by our purple hero’s sword.  The small size of the weapon was so disproportionate to the dinosaur, as drawn in previous panels, that it completely threw me off guard. A page later, I was again taken aback when he drew the Phantom running across an elephant’s trunk. While it pays homage to the heydays of our pulp hero, the absurdity of it ruined the seriousness of that scene.

While I personally feel Dynamite Comics made a great choice in bringing this team back as a miniseries, after reading that they sold out the 10,000+ print run on the first day of release, I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing them regularly. Die hard fans can rejoice, their comic strip pulp trio is back.

Story: Jeff Parker Art: Marc Laming
Story: 7 Art: 7 Overall: 7 Recommendation: Read

Dynamite Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review