When someone says to you “who’s this Phantom guy, anyway?” how do you reply? While the answer to that question may be “he is a force for good, whose mantle has been passed from generation unto generation” it is the images, scenes and events your mind sees from the comics and strips that really define who and what the character is.
A comics character can only ever be as great as the creators working on him. Despite the “character potential” that a lot of creators like to spout about nowadays, a character is only ever as good as what ends up on the page. For a character who has had as long a publishing history as the Phantom there are sure to be many moments that stand out to phans as being the highs of his published career.
Those highlights are often due to creators – artists and writers – who wanted to try something new, to take a character or the “voice” of a book in a different direction to what had been seen previously. These are not always huge, jolting changes; they can be subtle nudges. Often when these things happen and they are successful people say “why did no one think of that before?” And that’s why they become fondly remembered story arcs or creator runs: because no one had done anything quite like it.
When I first heard Moonstone was going to be publishing the Phantom in 2002 I must admit I was sceptical. After all, they are an American company, and all Americans think the Phantom is a Batman rip-off, right? However, what was coming out of Frew/Egmont at the time was just not doing it for me and my interest in the character was beginning to wane. Loath to stop reading the adventures of my favourite hero I decided to check out this new publisher. While I missed out on the original graphic novels (lack of funds, see) I was able to be there at the start for the original on-going series. Only a few pages in I could tell I was going to love that first series. Moonstone’s first arc, Stones of Blood, written by Ben Raab (who had also written stories for Egmont) with art by Pat Quinn captured the world of the character beautifully. Raab’s script was tight and fast and Quinn’s art had a beautiful pulp feel while also looking modern. To this disillusioned Phantom phan that first issue was what I’d been wanting in my Phantom comics for a long while.
Most impressively Raab was able do what only Mark Verheinden (writer of the DC maxi-series) had done 12 years earlier: launch the Phantom successfully into a modern world. While it can be argued that the Phantom has always been a modern character, acting in the same time period that the stories were written in, it would b safe to say that the stories – for the most part – didn’t feel modern. The Phantom seemed stuck in an earlier time, at best the early 90s. Raab however changed this and arguably did so more successfully than Verheinden before him.
Raab and the writers that were to follow (and there were many) were able to bring the Ghost Who Walks into the modern day without changing any of his classic heritage. All the hallmarks that phans loved were still there but so were some modern additions such as high-tech gliding suites for the Sky Band. Although it would be misleading to say that all phans were happy with Moonstone’s output the majority believed it worked, it fitted and above all it felt right. This was a Phantom for a modern age.
This trend continued when Mike Bullock took over as writer in 2006. Bullock pushed the Phantom further into the modern world than even Raab had. His stories featured the Phantom battling modern terrorists, organ smugglers, child slave labour and told, as Mike likes to put it, “stories ripped from today’s headlines.” When the series re-booted as The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks in 2009, Bullock up-dated things a little more giving the Phantom a techno-savvy ‘side kick’; a Kevlar costume – something a modern crime fighter would be simply stupid to step into the field without – and an even bigger emphasis on tackling problems the affect the real world Africa. Even with these additions the hero’s classic 1936 origins were not lost and the character in Bullock’s stories was obviously the same purple clad mystery man who appeared in Lee Falk’s The Singh Brotherhood way back when. Moonstone had not changed the Phantom, they’d simply accustomed him to the world of 2002 and beyond.
Moonstone’s dedication and willingness to experiment with the character did not stop there. By the time all of Moonstone’s books have been released (some series are yet to conclude and there are several trade paperbacks yet to hit store shelves) they will have published 66 individual comic issues across nine series, eight original graphic novels, two prose collections and thirteen trade collections, and that’s not even counting the variant editions and second and third printings. It’s safe to say not only has Moonstone had the biggest output of Phantom publications by any American Phantom publisher, but one of the biggest outputs of Phantom publications in the world!
Many of those aforementioned series were built upon clever ideas of how to use the Phantom, his world, and his heritage in new, exciting ways. Generations looked back at past Phantoms but rather than tell a straight comic story the issues took the form of journal entries written by those very Phantoms. Similar to this was the graphic novel Phantom: Legacy, a retelling of the first Phantom’s origin, again in journal format. Legacy divided phans but none could argue the books’ ambition.
KGB Noir saw a somewhat grittier adventure for our hero, cast in stark black and white. Upon seeing how well the Phantom suited the noir setting phans were left wondering why it had taken so long to bring us such a story. Further series saw the Phantom teaming up with other heroes such as Captain Action and the 16th Phantom’s sister, Julie, got her own one-shot. The graphic novels presented us with a view of the Phantom from a villain’s perspective and the prose collections featured many new stories of Phantoms past and present.
With the release of issue #12 Moonstone’s The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks the series will have wrapped up. Some of the miniseries, such as KGB Noir, still have a few issues to come out but for all intents and purposes GWW #12 marks the end of Moonstone’s Phantom run. It’ll be a sad day for many phans as Moonstone has spoiled us over the past eight years with a flood of amazing stories. Sure, not every issue hit its mark but many did. In the mind of this writer there has not been a Phantom publisher or creative team that has been more innovative in the use of the character and his world than Moonstone.
When the dust settles and that final issue has been read, catalogued, bagged and boxed, Moonstone’s books will be back issues, no longer new, current adventures. This raises the question of how Moonstone will be remembered? For this phan Moonstone will be the publisher that saved his Phantom phandom. Frew was not producing anything of interest and my love of the purple clad hero was at risk of fading into obscurity among all those other amazing comics out there. While I did – and still do – read many of those other titles, Moonstone’s books kept my interest in the Phantom alive. Indeed, I credit Moonstone for completely reinvigorating my interest in the character, out of which grew this very website.
So, when I slide that last issue into its’ mylar bag I’ll remember Moonstone as a publisher who actually meant what they said by seeing a lot of potential the Phantom. They experimented and tried new things and gave us some of the best and most original Phantom publications we’ve seen since Lee Falk.