The Phantom is one of my favourite pulp heroes ever. I grew up reading the Indian comics, and even the short-lived live-action television series. Not to mention the good days when Flash Gordon, Mandrake and Phantom joined together to take down some really nefarious villains with plans to take over the world. Those were some great times. Last year I got a chance to read The Last Phantom 12-issue series from Dynamite but that didn’t really prove satisfying, least, not until I read the recent Kings Watch mini-series.
And then there’s the new ongoing The Phantom by Peter David and Sal Velluto which does a fairly good job of portraying The Ghost Who Walks. The first issue, released this week is a bit stiff with the dialogue in a few places, perhaps echoing some of the old pulp roots of the character, and the art is similar in some respects as well, but on the whole, The Phantom #1 proved to be a very satisfying read. I’ve always loved the Phantom as a character and now finally there is an ongoing with him that I can love and read every month.
In the first few pages of this new ongoing, Peter David sums up the past and the legacy of the Phantom and then launches into the story proper, pitting the Ghost Who Walks against murderous treasure hunters. Set in the traditional setting of the Bangalla jungles in Africa, this is a very true-to-character story for the Phantom, and Peter David shows a great economy of characterization. He is able to nail down the different characters to their basics and then use those basics to build up these same characters to fit the narrative.
The Phantom originated as a pulp hero and Peter’s writing displays that to great effect. Nefarious villains populate this story and there’s even a strong man who seems to have stepped straight through the pages of the old pulp stories into a new avatar, of sorts. The story itself is pretty straightforward, and that’s fine since it also echoes the longevity of the character in pop culture. The Phantom has been around for decades and for new readers, this is a pretty good place to start.
To be honest, I’d recommend the multi-hero Kings Watch over this one but the people at Hermes Press are nonetheless doing a good job here as well. Peter David is a creator of long-standing in the industry and he seems to be a great fit here as well, particularly since he’s worked with the character previously, if I’m not mistaken.
One of the best elements of this issue was the relationship between Phantom and his wife Diana. The latter works for the United Nations at the Bangalla Office while her husband vigilantes in the night and day to keep Bangalla safe from all those who would seek to exploit it, and they make for a great team. Their married life is one without complications, a relationship built on mutual respect and trust. It is honestly a pretty great representation of married life in comics, and I liked that Peter David kept things simple here and didn’t seek out to make it all too complicated to understand or anything.
And of course, we have Phantom himself who is every inch the to-be-feared hero of Bangalla, the man in the shadows who can never really die. We also get to see his wolf Devil, who is one of my favourite sidekicks in pulp comics. There’ve been many an adventure with these two, and it is great to see how both of them work in tandem with Diana, who holds her own against anything the villains can throw at her.
Sal Velluto is the artist here, with Eugenio Mattozzi on colours and letters by Kenneth Bruzenak. The art in here is fairly decent. There are several times when it feels a bit too stiff and even has some odd body postures, but by and large, the artists all do a good job of portraying the characters herein. The brief glimpse of the Skull Cave in particular, plus the whole intro-flashbacks, were all really, really well-done.
A good, decent start to what should hopefully be a similarly good and decent series.