By some counts the first costumed superhero in comics, the Phantom was created by Lee Falk in 1936 and has been fighting evildoers on Newspaper Comics Pages around the world ever since.In Darkest Africa, in a secret valley guarded by sinister blowgun-wielding pygmies, dwells the Phantom. Immortal, implacable, foe to all evildoers, pirates especially: criminals everywhere speak in hushed whispers of the Ghost Who Walks, the Man Who Cannot Die.Except that, well, he can. And has, repeatedly. The current Phantom is the 21st of the line, continuing a tradition begun four centuries ago when his forefather washed up on a lonely African beach, the sole survivor of a pirate attack, and was nursed back to health by the sinister pygmies (who are actually quite nice once you get to know them). He is just a normal man (well, Badass Normal), with no supernatural powers (save his skull ring, which forever leaves its imprint on anyone he punches) - but, as Batman also realized some years later, criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, and they're much easier to beat if they're already afraid of you before you even arrive...Begun in the dawn of comics' bright and breezy Golden Age, and written by a single author for over sixty years, The Phantom is a bit of a living fossil. Representations of women and minorities have become more sophisticated, but it never really saw the appeal of becoming darker and more 'realistic'. And we love it for that.Three specific things we love about The Phantom:
His Secret Identity. He doesn't have one. Each man who takes up the mantle forswears all former attachments and becomes all-Phantom, all the time, from that day forth. When he needs to walk the streets as an ordinary man, he doesn't take his superhero suit off: he puts an "ordinary man" disguise on over it. The disguise has a name, "Mr. Walker",note obligatory Clue from Ed.: it's derived from "The Ghost Who Walks" but is otherwise a cipher; if anyone asks him about himself he changes the subject. How he negotiates airline booking desks and customs checkpoints has never been revealed.
His canine companion, Devil. Faithful, courageous, and intelligent, in the tradition of Rin-Tin-Tin (and pre-dating Lassie), Devil scores over them in one important respect: he is actually a wolf, thus enabling a Running Gag where some official informs the Phantom (or, more usually, "Mr. Walker") that he can't bring his dog in here, and the Phantom breezes past, saying "Oh, that's all right, Devil isn't a dog..."
The ongoing soap opera of the Phantom's relationship with Diana Palmer, whom he met, rescued, and fell in love with on his first published adventure. Unlike most superhero romances, where the hero can spend years hesitating over whether a relationship is a good idea at all, or how much he should tell her, by the end of the first story arc the Phantom had already revealed his superhero identity and offered to show Diana around his secret lair, but the course of true love does not run smooth: she thinks she's been paralysed so she calls off the relationship, he thinks she's chosen the Romantic False Lead over him so he goes back to the jungle to brood, her mother disapproves, the latest Distressed Damsel wants him for herself, lather rinse repeat, he's afraid to propose in case she says no, he's afraid to propose in case she says yes and then finds out that the Phantom's wife traditionally stays in the Skull Cave doing housewifey stuff... After forty years of this, they finally got married in 1977; the series weathered the change much better than many series do.
The Phantom has a big following in Scandinavia, where he has his own comic book (Fantomen in Sweden, Fantomet in Denmark and Norway, Mustanaamionote "The Blackmask", from the Weird Age of Finnish Character Name Translations in Finland), publishing new original adventures by other hands. Members of the Fantomen talent pool have also kept the newspaper strip going since Lee Falk's death in 1999. Australia is The Phantom's other fan stronghold, with Australian sales of The Phantom (a locally-produced comic book that reprints both newspaper strip storylines and translations of Fantomen stories) reportedly being ten times those of the top-selling Marvel and DC titles.The Scandinavia-made adventures in the 1970s had frequent anti-colonialist plot-lines, in which the Phantom took on the regime of for instance a badly caricatured Rhodesia (the "Republic of Rhodia," which has since become a more conventional People's Republic of Tyranny) and where real-life characters, such as bishop Abel Muzorewa, appeared in equally thin disguises. That reflected the widespread anti-apartheid sentiments in those countries. In the most recent issues of Fantomen in 2013 Rhodia's apartheid regime was finally overthrown by the black RLA (Rhodian Liberation Army), with their leader and longtime political prisoner Nelson N'Dela (a thinly disguised Nelson Mandela) becoming the country's new democratic president.The Phantom also enjoyed a brief stint of immense popularity in India during the 80's and 90's, and was regularly published (including collected newspaper clips) by the now-obsolete Indrajal Comics, and later, by Diamond Comics of Mumbai. Indrajal's volumes from this period, including Phantom, are now rare collector's items. Although news of the 1996 Phantom movie initially boosted sales through the roof, after the actual release itself fans were not pleased. The film seems to have been the turning point leading to the character's decline in the region, and Phantom soon went zooming down to hit rock bottom in terms of obscurity. Indrajal's bankruptcy during that period didn't help.By mid 2000s, though you could still find further issues from Moonstone, the current publisher, those were rare, too expensive due to very low sales, and new releases were few and far in between.The Phantom has been adapted for film twice. A 1943 film serial starred Tom Tyler as the Phantom and Ace the Wonder Dog as Devil. Better known (if not better regarded) is the 1996 film starring Billy Zane as the Phantom, Kristy Swanson as Diana Palmer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Sala.The Phantom has also inspired an animated TV series, Phantom 2040, was one of the Defenders of the Earth, and is the subject of a recent SyFy miniseries.
Explorer and Olympian Diana Palmer, though sometimes the plot required her to be somewhat less badass.
Sala, who was a pilot, spy, crack shot, and second in command of the Sky Pirates.
Julie, the twin sister of the 17th Phantom, who filled her brothers place on several occasions when he was unable to wear the Phantom costume.
Actually That's My Assistant: In "The Veiled Lady", a biologist mounts an expedition to the eponymous mountain. In an early scene, biologist and assistant meet with Colonel Weeks of the Jungle Patrol to arrange permits, and Weeks initially assumes that the man is the biologist and the woman is the assistant.
Afraid of Doctors: When a missionary doctor first arrived in Bangalla, he was distrusted by the natives. However, when their shaman routinely failed to cure their ills, the natives began coming to the genial, methodical doctor.
Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Between the dowries of the princesses the various Phantoms have married, chestsful of gold and jewelery given as gifts, and that they live mostly off the land, the Walkers are very well off.
Arch-Enemy: The Phantom is traditionally opposed by the current leader of the Singh Brotherhood; the 21st Phantom first battles Dogai Singh, and later, his daughter Sandal Singh. Other notable enemies include the mercenary Gold Hand and the evil President Lubanga.
The origin of the Phantom is repeated in nearly every story.
Badass Creed: One of the classics - The Oath of the Skull - as follows: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me"
Calling the Old Man Out: The Third Phantom went through a period of this, demanding to know why his father had essentially decided his life for him from birth, and ended up running away and joining Shakespeares theater troop in London. He eventually decided to take up the cowl anyway after his wife was murdered and returned home just in time before his father died from wounds inflicted by pirates.
Cannot Spit It Out: A major reason why it took the Phantom and Diana so long to get married — they loved each other, and both knew it, but when it came to actually popping the question, the Phantom's otherwise undauntable nerve failed him. The 1947 story arc "Romance", for instance, begins with a sequence in which the Phantom works himself up to pop the question several times, only to chicken out and change the subject each time, to Diana's mounting irritation. (Then he hits on the idea of buying a ring and letting it do the talking — and that leads, by a series of steps each straightforward in itself, to the Phantom trapped on an abandoned ship that's about to be blown up, and Diana swearing never to speak to him again.)
Challenging the Chief: In olden times, the jungle tribes were united under a high chief who ruled until he was challenged and killed in single combat. An earlier Phantom gained the loyalty of the tribes by successfully challenging the high chief (but sparing his life, of course). In modern times, the challenge has evolved into an annual friendly wrestling competition in which all the tribes send their best to fight for the honour of coming second to the Phantom.
The Chewtoy: The 4th Phantom is considered by his descendants to have been plagued by misfortune. He ended up losing the iconic Skull Ring to a conspiracy led by a Jesuit priest, and had to wear a replica for the rest of his life, with the ring eventually being regained by his son, lost the love of his life to the Black Plague, and contracted the disease himself, narrowly surviving, but was left with horrific scars all over his face from the boils.
Clue from Ed.: Every single time "Mr. Walker" is mentioned, Ed reminds us that the name is derived from "The Ghost Who Walks". As such it doubles as Viewers Are Goldfish.
Costume Copycat: In the early newspaper comics, at least two different stories in which a convict on the run finds and steals the Phantom's clothes while the Phantom's having a swim. Fantomen has done both the "criminal wears a replica of the Phantom's outfit to divert suspicion" and the "hero in distant land, inspired by tales of the Phantom, wears a replica of the Phantom's outfit" plots at various times.
Covers Always Lie: An odd variation occurs with the Australian covers — they generally do show events that actually occur in the story (since, to keep design costs down, most of them are direct copies of actual panels), but they're apparently coloured by somebody who hasn't read the story. Sometimes this doesn't matter. Sometimes it does; examples range from a Fiery Redhead being depicted with black hair to several instances of African characters being given yellow hair and pink skin, as well as one instance where a criminal aviator's leather flying helmet was coloured purple, resulting in a cover that appeared to show the Phantom shooting an innocent bystander.
The Cowl: Definitely the "scares the villains in the dark" kind of superhero.
Cycle of Revenge: Of a sort. The Phantom line and the Sing Brotherhood are sworn enemies, and have a centuries long feud, with each side often claiming the life of the head of the other, which in turn just leads to a new Phantom, or a new Singh leader arising.
Daddy's Little Villain: Sandal Singh, the current President of Bangala, and secretly the new head of the Singh Brotherhood, after the death of her father Dogai Singh, the original arch enemy of the 21st Phantom.
Darkest Hour: At one point, Phantom and lifelong friend Luaga have a falling out after the disastrous presidential elections, Diana and the Phantom separate, and Lubanga is in control of the country.
Death Glare: The viewer can't tell due to the mask, but he's apparently very good at this along with a really scary voice. There's even an ancient jungle proverb about how the Phantom's glare/voice turns blood to ice.
Death Is Dramatic: The number of Phantoms who have died without having the time to dramatically pass on the rings to their son while on their deathbed (usually back in the Skull Cave, no matter where in the world they've been mortally wounded), can be counted on one hand.
The Dog Was the Mastermind: A borderline example, perhaps, but in the very first news strip adventure ("The Singh Brotherhood"), when we first meet Sala, she appears only as the pirate king Kabai Singh's useless mistress. She's gradually established as smarter and more manipulative, and in the end she's the one to tell Kabai he'soutlived his usefulness and kill him. Turns out she was really a double agent for the Sky Pirates under deep cover who sabotaged Kabai so the Phantom could destroy his organization, because it competed with hers...
Downer Ending: One historical Phantom adventure set during the Renaissance, involves the current Phantom getting involved in a feud between three brothers who have split up their father's kingdom between them, and are constantly trying to conquer the others lands. The storyline concludes with every single named character dead, including the woman the Phantom has fallen in love with, and leaves the Phantom to bury the dead alone before returning in grief to Bangala.
Drink Order: The Phantom's drink of choice is milk. Even when he's undercover in the seediest bar in town. Nobody ever mocks him for it... more than once.
Dreaming of Things to Come: One storyline from the 80s involves a super virus released after a plane crash killing all life in Bangala, including, it's implied, the Phantom's wife and children. It turns out to be a fever dream Phantom is having, but later revealed to be a premonition of the future, leading him to prevent the terrorist attack that caused the plane crash, and disposing of the virus into a volcano.
Eye Scream: One historical Phantom had his eyes poked out with hot irons while in captivity of a high ranking Singh pirate. He would later have them returned to him through magical means.
The Faceless: The Phantom's unmasked face is never shown. There is a legend that "He who sees the face of The Phantom... dies a slow and horrible death", and although his close friends and family are shown to be immune, apparently readers aren't.
And there's always an african mook around to warn the villain not to remove the mask and scare the other mooks into leaving the room. The villain himself will usually profess not to be impressed by these African superstitions — but there's never been more than a handful who haven't lost their nerve at the last moment and decided to leave the mask on, and they all died a horrible death not long after. This goes so far that The Phantom has actually been arrested by the police, tried in a court of law and put in a psychiatric institution once... And at no point during the process did anyone remove his mask. It looks like the legend in question only applies when the mask is forcibly removed.
Forgotten First Meeting: The hero and his love interest meet for the first time in the first story arc, until Lee Falk wrote the story of "The Childhood of the Phantom" and included a scene where they met briefly years before when they were both children.
Geographic Flexibility: The Phantom's home is somewhere in the jungles of Darkest Africa, near the fictional nation of Bangalla. Although various details over the years have narrowed the possibilities down, the precise location and layout of the region deliberately remain vague. (And this is without going into the fact that until the 1960s, Bangalla was called Bengali and was in India, and in the very earliest Phantom stories his home and the pygmy tribe were situated on an Indonesian island.)
Highly-Visible Ninja: The Phantom's stealthy jungle-ninja suit is purple. (Lee Falk intended it to be gray, and the early black-and-white dailies occasionally have dialogue saying so. When the color Sunday strip started up, it became purple, either due to a meddling executive who felt that the hero of a color strip should be more colorful or to a printing error.note It could have been worse. DC Comics used to be plagued with a color registration problem that caused certain shades of gray to be printed as hot pink. Falk eventually gave in and wrote in a handwave that it was purple because the Phantom's look was intended to evoke a particular idol worshipped by the jungle tribes.) Meanwhile, various international publications have depicted him in a range of colors, from a dark blue in Sweden to a short-lived Italian comic that showed his costume as a mixture of bright red, green, and orange.
Hollywood Natives: Pretty much every native tribe the Phantom ever encountered, to a greater or lesser extent, although the depictions have tended to become more nuanced as the series goes on.
How Unscientific!: The Phantom occasionally (as in, maybe once every few decades) had encounters with visiting aliens.
I Am Spartacus: In "Hooded Justice" (one of the Scandinavian arcs), the fifth Phantom is transported back in time to 12th century Nottingham where he takes on the role of Robin Hood. The Sheriff captures Maraian and declares she will be executed if Robin Hood does not present himself. The Phantom steps forward and declares he is Robin Hood. Then each of the Merry Men planted throughout the crowd claims that he is Robin Hood. The Sheriff's men attempt to arrest everyone and the confusion allows the Phantom to rescue Marian.
If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: At least once, in the 1947 story arc "Romance", Diana's entanglement with a Romantic False Lead went so far that she ended up doing a Runaway Bride to get out of it; the Phantom had stood aside, since it seemed to be what she wanted, but he did give the groom-to-be the "You're marrying the finest girl in the world, and if you do anything to hurt her..." speech.
I Owe You My Life: People saving the Phantom occasionally get the good mark printed on them (or sometimes in the form of necklaces or other jewelry) in return. Later Phantoms tend to return favours to people who have the mark — or their descendants — in kind.
I Want Grandkids: Not that it's mentioned often, the current Phantom is married with two kids, but every Phantom is expected to father an heir to continue their legacy. The biggest difference that Phantom has from most examples of this is that the pressure is coming from beyond the grave not just his father, but his grandfather, and great-grandfather, and so on.
Jungle Drums: Frequently appear as a method of sending long-distance messages in the African jungle.
Legacy Character: Although the main continuity has focused on the same person from beginning to present day, many episodes are about the lives and adventures of previous Phantoms, and the legacy is strong.
Loves My Alter Ego: Averted; the Phantom tells Diana who he really is in the very first story.
Make Games Not War: Several stories feature the Jungle Olympics, an annual sporting event founded by a past Phantom as a proxy for the wars the jungle tribes used to fight. It's a running joke that the tribes have found many of the sports insufficiently challenging, and have added spikes, red-hot coals, and dangerous animals to make them more interesting.
Mighty Whitey: There's such a strong taste of this it can honestly be rather uncomfortable. Especially when it sinks in that, despite the fact the Phantoms have been living in Africa for centuries, they still have white skin. In fact, no historical Phantom has ever been said to marry an African woman (although the 19th came close, and several of the historical Phantoms' wives were South European or Asian). His continued caucasian appearance seems to coast by due to Grandfather Clause.
This was especially prevalent in the early decades of the strip, with the African tribes being portrayed with the usual finesse common to comic books of the 50's and 60's, but has thankfully lessened a lot since then, with The Phantom, the Bandars and the other tribes being portrayed as allies and friends rather than semi-servants like in the comics early years.
An excellent example of the central concept, though slightly less than typical for not having a proper Secret Identity.
The one "superpower" he does have (as revealed by a blood test when he is held captive) is that his blood contains antibodies for every disease known to man, thus enabling him to live a long and healthy natural life.
Not-So-Harmless Villain: Current recurring villain Chatu/"The Python" was recently experimenting on bats in order to start an Ebola epidemic. The only person he managed to infect was himself, and he needed the Phantom to rescue him from painful death. A few months after this embarassing failure, Chatu orchestrates a terrorist attack (from his prison cell) and had his men abduct Diana, leaving the Phantom thinking she'd died in the attack.
Offhand Backhand: The Phantom delivers one to a hoodlum sneaking up behind him in "Whirlpool Channel".
Or Was It a Dream?: Several historical adventures set before the Phantoms existed take place like this, among them the events that led to Excalibur and an arrow that once belonged to Robin Hood coming into their possession.
Pirate: Seeing that they're arch enemies of pirates, The Phantom might qualify as a ninja.
One "Elseworld" story published in Fantomen actually has The Phantom as a ninja - in it, the first Phantom wasn't stranded in Darkest Africa, but on the coast of Japan.
Refusal of the Call: The third Phantom originally rejected the legacy and ended up becoming an actor under Shakespeare, but eventually found himself taking on the cowl anyway after his wife was murdered.
Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Subverted in the first story arc, which drops several blatant hints that Jimmy Wells, rich layabout and childhood friend of Diana Palmer, is really the Phantom — only to have him disappear from the plot completely and the Phantom to reveal a very different origin. It's generally assumed that Lee Falk originally meant to play it straight, then changed his mind when a more creative idea occurred to him.
Runaway Bride: Diana, at the end of the 1947 story arc "Romance", does a runner from a posh society wedding after realizing that she's making a mistake and that the Phantom is the one for her after all.
Ruthless Modern Pirates: Being as he is the scourge of piracy, the modern-day Phantom has encountered modern-day pirates from time to time.
Sand In My Eyes: In "The Fourth Son", the title character (the fourth son of an earlier Phantom) starts sobbing when his elder brothers leave to attend school. When his mother reminds him that his father thinks boys shouldn't cry, he claims between sobs that he's not crying, he just has a bug in his eye.
Scarecrow Solution: The Phantom's usual tactic. He relies far more on cunning and guile than his fists.
Secret Keeper: The Bandars have traditionally been "in on" the true nature of the Phantom ever since they saved the original, and he helped them free themselves from another tribe that had enslaved them. Also in the Scandinavian comics, Dr Axel, a local doctor who has treated the modern Phantom and his family on a few occasions.
Steven Ulysses Perhero: According to a later retcon, "Walker" is the actual surname of the first Phantom, and thus of every Phantom since. This hasn't stopped Ed telling us that it's derived from "The Ghost Who Walks".
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Not directly, anyhow. The Phantom doesn't kill, but he doesn't lose much sleep over criminals who end up dead and doesn't go out of his way to save everyone he crosses paths with. There are at least two recorded instances of the Phantom fatally shooting someone, and unlike many other superheroes this has apparently never been retconned.
In several stories this is the only thing he wears aside from his hood/mask, boots, and gunbelt.
Viewers Are Geniuses: Not all the time, but a lot of the stories told about past Phantoms are more enjoyable if you know your world history. The Swedish comic book would often have a condensed version of the relevant historic events in it.
Worthless Yellow Rocks: Until each Kit leaves the cave they either don't know anything about or understand the concept of money. The twenty-first Phantom carried around a bag of stones his father gave him not knowing why until he heard his uncle complain about tuition costs months latter. The same story had a very young Kit playing with the gold like they were building blocks.
Zorro Mark: The imprint left by either of his rings. With the good ring it's given consensually and nonviolently as a mark of respect. With the skull ring... It's none of those three. The skull mark is actually a scar created by the force of the Phantom's punch, and the bladed edge of the skull motif, while the good mark is imprinted with a secret permanent ink hidden inside the ring.
The Mythbusters examined the skull ring use and found that it would be impossible to leave indentations in people's skin with mechanical force without also shattering the victim's bones in that location and (in the case of the head) killing them. The comic Handwaved this by explaining that the Phantom dips his rings in a less-concentrated version of the Bandar arrow poison long before the Mythbusters examined it, though.
Adaptations and spin-offs with their own trope pages include: