Most phans have by now seen the impressive covers for Frew's 80th Anniversary Special, and many Australians have been down to their newsagent or local comic book store and picked up a copy. But for those who haven't yet been able to get their hands on one, or who are still weighing up the $20 cost, here's what it looks like once you unwrap the protective plastic covering!
The Contents page is the first real impression you get that this is no ordinary Frew comic. For only the second time ever, we have colour!
This is the moment that it starts to sink in what it is you are holding in your hands - a real collection of the great diversity of stories available around the world.
The colour thumbnail cover images that accompany the story details highlight just how broad The Phantom's reach is. For Aussie phans, this means just a little shock as we see "our" hero in a red suit!
The vision of Glenn Ford and Rene White to produce this global reflection of The Phantom is about to be realised. Phans everywhere will be indebted to these men, as well as Dudley Hogarth of course, who has done a power of work in achieving the dream.
In a special moment of public collaboration between the two biggest Phantom publishers worldwide, we are treated to a four-page introduction Around the World in 80 Years by Egmont editor Andreas Eriksson. As an aside, Andreas must be currently assessing the 80th Anniversary bar that Frew has set and preparing to leap over it with Egmont. We the phans can only benefit.
From here we get into the stories.
To begin: Nuclear Terror, published in by Egmont in Sweden earlier this year but lovingly recoloured to suit Australian audiences.
Then we have a prose story - a rarity in any comic book and perhaps difficult for those phans who just like looking at the pictures. Demons in the Deep Woods was published online earlier this year from Brazil. This story also marks the beginning of the black and white section of the issue.
Next we have The Threat of the Great Dictator, first published in Brazil in 1968. This is a fun story that harkens back to some of the plotlines used by Lee Falk in the 1960s and 70s. The scan below shows one of the more interesting pages in the story, with what looks a photographic image used as one of the frames. This story is also interesting in that the original advertising has been left - as you can see on this page we have an ad for Flash Gordon, but Batman and Mandrake are also featured through the story.
Australia's contribution to this global compilation is The Kings Cross Connection. First published by Frew in 1992 (and again in 1999), this is the only story in the special that most Frew readers will have seen before.
Next is The Talking Tree from Italy, first published in 1966. A simple tale in art, narrative and language, it is a real contrast to the preceding story.
Many phans have been very excited at the prospect of the next story: Zigomar Vs The Phantom, a Yugoslavian creation from 1939. Clearly published as a serial in its original incarnation, it can be a little difficult to pick up the plot initially but then becomes something of a journey adventure for a pair of masked heroes and their faithful sidekicks.
Breaking the Circle is from Turkey. First published in 1981, this is another story that draws on Falk tropes to tell an entertaining tale of slavery, piracy and rescues at sea. Of interest to some readers will be what appears to be a crude attempt to censor the original artwork. We are assured that this is how the artwork arrived at Frew and that Australian wowserism is not to blame!
This concludes the black and white portion and we are back into colour pages.
In terms of Germany's 1975 contribution Treasure of the Green Hell, this means red and white. This is true to the colouring used in the original publication.
Norway delivers us the last stories in the special, with Deadly Cargo (1989) and its sequel The Environmental Avenger (2011). Knut Westad's art for Deadly Cargo makes this perhaps the most beautiful of the stories in this entire book. As explained by Eriksson in the introduction, each panel is painted not drawn, and the effect is truly stunning. This is certainly going to be a story that is read over and over and over again.
And as if those stories were not enough, sprinkled throughout the comic are a couple of competitions and splash pages.
But of course, that's not all!
Of great interest to collectors will be the promotional card for The Phantom trading card set, Gallery Series 2, due out at Christmas 2016. This is the long awaited follow up to Gallery Series 1 that was sold throughout Australia over 20 years ago!
And last, but by no means least, is the 80th Anniversary Extra liftout. A 20-page publication, Decade by Decade is a thorough examination of The Phantom history as it exists for the newspaper strip.
Barry Stubbersfield has taken a lifetime of note-taking and record keeping and boiled it down to an incredibly informative and detailed exposition. As the title suggests, this is broken down into decades of stories, and identifies key moments and mythology in Phantom lore.
This volume identifies all the firsts: the first Old Jungle Saying, first appearances of characters, the revelation of Phantom Country, the various women who appeared in The Phantom's life (before Diana of course) and the litany of roughnecks faced and overcome...
This is sure to become a go-to for any phan keen to settle a bet on any aspect of official Phantom history.
And that, finally, is that.
212 pages of Phantom adventures from around the world, 20 pages of official King Features Syndicate history... This is truly one of the most impressive issues ever released by Frew, and is sure to be every bit as collectible as the first Annual Special published back in 1991 for the 1000th issue, #972.
Worth $20? Try waiting 5 years and see how much you'll need to pay then!
For more detailed analysis and discussion of Frew's 80th Anniversary Special, be sure to listen to Episode 48 of X-Band - The Phantom Podcast, where Jermayn, Stephen and Dan review the comic and the stories contained within.