Tuesday, May 31, 2011
When we visited my grandmother as children she had a box of my father's old books and one of them was a Big Little Book about the Phantom. I was a big fan of Tarzan and Batman, and the Phantom seemed to be a wonderful combination of the two. I devoured the Big Little Book and have been yearning for more of the Phantom ever since.
Now Hermes Press is reprinting the daily comic strip from the 1930s in several volumes. The first two are out and the third will be published next month. The first is already out of print and way too expensive as a second-hand book, but I did get Volume 2 and have Volume 3 on order.
Comics fans praise the wit and sophistication of Lee Falk's text and I much prefer the early drawings of Ray Moore to the later, more realistic incarnations of the character. The Phantom is credited with being the first of the masked heroes, and Batman, for one, is clearly modeled on this crime-fighter with no super powers but superb training who lives in a cave.
Ironically, many of the 1937-39 strips collected in Volume 2 take the Phantom far afield from his cave and his jungle -- to London and Paris and the Himalayas. But the wry sense of humor and derring-do are there, along with odd purple costume (though of course the color is not evident in the black-and-white of the daily strip) and eyeless mask.
The Phantom's world is an odd mix of India, the British empire between the wars, and the spirit of adventure that characterized literature in those days.
For what it's worth, I thought the 1996 movie with Billy Zane as the Phantom was pretty good, though imdb currently has a 4.9 rating on it and it bombed in the box office. It's running on cable now and I think Zane and a still relatively obscure Catherine Zeta Jones are excellent and the photography and production values are great. Script is only so-so, though many frames were story-boarded from the comic strip itself.
Anyway, it's a pleasant daily read you-know-where, though I get through several strips at a sitting and can't imagine how people actually had the patience to read one of these stories over several months, four panels at a time.