No matter what your interest, if you are part of a fan community something you’ll quickly discover is that all these people, united by a common love, will all have entirely different opinions on that item of interest. It is what makes we humans grand; our differences. In the world of comics different people want different things from the sequential art medium.
Comic book characters, the modern day myths and legends that have inspired several generations, are, in most cases, just like us in their complexity. They are not simply any one thing but many. While a hero may be the personification of good and justice, ready to rush in to save the day at any given moment, they may also be a dedicated family man who wishes no more than to spend the day with his children and let the world look after itself. As with any comics hero this is of course true of the Phantom. Lee Falk did not create a 2D character but one with a faceted personality, as rich as any real person.
Due to this versatility of character nearly every fan, in theory, could and should be able to read the type of Phantom stories they enjoy. How? Well, let me deviate slightly:
As some of you know a number of comic publishers, namely Marvel and DC, have several titles for a single character running parallel to each other. Recently on the forums I saw a post in which a member said “Do we really need several different Spider-Man titles?” My answer to this would be “Yes! And give me several more.” The reason for having several different titles for the one character is so that various facets of the characters personality, as well as different story theme and tones, can be explored.
How would this multi-title approach work for The Phantom? Well, let’s take a look at what Phantom stories are being produced. Currently we have four different ‘versions’ of Phantom stories in publication; the newspaper strip, the original stories from Egmont and Moonstone and the Lee Falk re-prints published by Frew and Egmont. Let’s take a look at what kind of Phantom stories these four variations give us.
Newspaper Strip: The strip is a direct continuation of Lee Falk’s works. It picks up where Lee left off and continues it into the future. As it is a newspaper strip, the form in which the Phantom originally appeared, and not a comic book this could be considered the central or ‘main title’ of the Phantom publications.
Egmont: Egmont began creating original Phantom stories while Lee was still writing himself. They may follow Lee’s continuity up to a point but it could be said that from there on they run parallel to the strip. Egmont’s stories have a large emphasis on adventure. It can be argued that Egmont’s stories are the ‘mature’ stories and take the Phantom in directions the strip maybe wouldn’t. The art also gives this more mature feel with artists such as Hans Lindahl and Felmang. Egmont has now established their own continuity (Lubanga, the destruction/ re-building of the Jungle Patrol, Dogai and Sandal Singh) that continues to take the Ghost Who Walks in new, interesting directions.
Moonstone: As Moonstone’s Phantom continuity received what would be described as a ‘re-boot’ when Mike Bullock took over the series, I’ll only refer to stories appearing from issue #12 and on. Moonstone’s continuity picks up right after the last panel of the last Lee Falk written adventure so are more of a continuation. Thanks to current artist Silvestre Szilagyi this is enforced due to his art looking remarkable similar to Sy Barry’s. But how is Moonstone different from Egmont? The exact time in Egmont’s tales is very often left undefined. We know it’s a modern setting, but how modern? 2007? 2001? 1993? We can not be exactly sure. In Moonstone’s stories, however, we know for a fact that the stories are set in present day 2008. We know this not only because Moonstone’s stories deal with the issues of today but also because the creators have told us that the stories are set here and now. Also, Egmont’s stories were being published at the same time as Falks’ therefore they are obviously removed from them. Moonstone’s tales came after Lee’s so are more of continuation of the strip than Egmonts’. However as the strip is still running (under Tony de Paul) so the two entities remain separate. Thusly, Moonstone could be seen as stories about a modern Phantom. Again taking him in a new direction, but a different, perhaps more political one than Egmont.
Re-prints: These are self explanatory. Re-visiting tales by the creator. So shouldn’t the re-prints be the central Phantom line? Well, no, because they are exactly that; re-prints. They are not current stories, they are old tales, passed but not forgotten whereas the strip is current, what is happening right this moment in the world of the Phantom.
In summary the currently published stories from the four separate Phantom publication lines could form something like this:
The Phantom – the newspaper strip, following directly on from Lee’s tales.
The Legend of the Phantom – Egmont, an emphasis on adventure, more mature and an established continuity outside Falk.
The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks – Moonstone. New, modern stories set in 2008 follows on from Falk’s strip but creating its own continuity separate from the strip.
Phantom Chronicles – Re-prints of Falk’s original tales.
Four Phantom publishing lines catering for different tastes of different fans. The great thing about having the lines separate is that readers only need to buy the line (or lines) that provide the stories of interest to them. If you don’t care for, say, Moonstone’s modern Phantom you need not buy the Ghost Who Walks line. Another good thing is that each line can run sequentially to each other and be separate parts of the total of Phantom canon yet, apart from perhaps the main The Phantom line, you don’t have to read one to follow the other.
This can, of course, be taken further. There are fans who love reading stories about past Phantoms so another line, lets call it The Phantom: Man Who Cannot Die, could be dedicated to adventures of past Phantoms. Others perhaps would like to see what would happen to a Phantom of the future, something along the lines of Phantom 2040 so there is another publication line possibility. Again these two lines could be considered canonical or ignored depending on the views and opinions of the individual. We could also have a ling for lighter stories for younger readers or even a line for darker, more horror based stories such as Egmont’s Beast and the Beauty. What about a line of books just set in the Deep Woods, another for a globe trotting Phantom? Perhaps one more for the solo adventures of Diana Palmer-Walker as she goes on her UN assignments. The possibilities are endless!
Of course we will most likely never see this happen unless a very dedicated publisher who has the money and the resources to make it viable comes along. However, one can dream about how wonderful a dozen Phantom titles could be. As fans we’d know exactly which lines contain the stories we enjoy and which ones to avoid.
Still, we do currently have four brilliant publications to choose from. The strip, continuing the work of the legendary Lee Falk, original tales from Moonstone and Egmont which take our hero on new, vast, exciting adventures and of course the re-prints allowing us to revisit the golden age of the Ghost Who Walks. Thanks to the fine folks behind these publishers we fans have a varied choice of stories and adventures.
And, truly, that can only be a good thing.