For those who came in late… why the Phantom continues to appeal

I am on leave this week from work, a combination of routine medical appointments for my elderly mother in between days of annual leave to rest and undertake life admin.

For example, late last week I arranged for repairs to my iPhone (I cracked the screen recently). On Monday, I mowed the lawn and dug up the veggie patch and planted lots of kale, lettuce, broadbean and beetroot seeds.

And decluttering my home, carport, and garage is more than a few years overdue (I last summoned the hard rubbish removalists three years ago when an old couch needed to disappear and I do constantly accumulate stuff).

Hence I have booked in a hard rubbish collection for tomorrow, to get rid of all sorts of unwanted sticks of furniture which have accumulated at my home over the years (several people have either stored or gifted or abandoned furniture with me, most of which is of limited utility to me).

When walking down the street this morning, I ran into a neighbour who has recently restarted collecting scrap metal. He was more than happy to take the spare fridge from the garage and a lot of no longer useful bits of metal cluttering my car port.

That is a win-win situation. Tomorrow’s hard rubbish collection charges by the square metre, and I think that I will save a bit through that stroke of luck.

Which then caused me to think about getting rid of a pile of comic books and magazines which I happen to have hoarded in recent years, particularly Phantom comics.

For those who came in late…

I do not consider myself a collector of comic books, but I do still enjoy them, as I have since the age of seven. I usually read them and give them away, which is what I did today. The newly reopened book exchange at the Highpoint bus stop is all the richer for a nice big pile of Phantom comics which none of my friends seemed interested in taking off my hands.

The Phantom definitely is my favourite comic book, and by far my favourite super hero (FYI, otherwise I do not read any superhero comic books). Created by Lee Falk (who also created Mandrake the Magician) in the late 1930s, the Phantom is that rare superhero who both does not belong to either the Marvel or DC universe, and who does not have any superpowers (unless moral certainty and supreme determination are superpowers).

The back story to the Phantom is enthralling, at least to someone with my conservative and unapologetically pro-Western Civilisation inclinations.

As many of the comic book stories start, ‘for those who came in late’, the sole survivor of a ship attacked by pirates 400 years ago is washed ashore on a remote coast. He is nursed back to health by friendly pygmies, and then swears an oath on the skull of his father’s murderer to devote his life to fighting piracy and crime, and his sons and their sons will follow him. Over the centuries, he becomes myth, The Ghost Who Walks, Man Who Cannot Die, Guardian of the Eastern Dark, nemesis to evil doers everywhere, believed to be immortal.

Frew Publications has been printing Phantom stories in Australia since the late 1940s. Originally a partnership of four men to print various different comics, The Phantom survives as their sole current publication, and involves reprinting Scandavian stories (mostly set back in the time of previous Phantoms), recent Daily and Sunday newspaper strips, new stories which are still being produced from time to time, and an abundance of old strips from the archives.

What makes the Phantom so special is his moral certainty, and his willingness to constantly risk his life in the pursuit of justice and the protection of the weak. He rarely doubts his mission, and he is constantly able to put aside his fears and face danger. Evil doers everywhere have reason to fear him, even though he does not kill (except in the early WW2 era story The Phantom Goes to War, where he leads his pygmies and the other local natives in defence of their home land against the Japanese army), and he always triumphs, against all the odds.

There is great humanity and humour in the Phantom, even though we rarely see any particular outside interests he might have outside of fighting piracy and crime, apart from his family life. One rare exception to this is a story set in Vegas, where the Phantom is chasing some crooks through a casino. One panel sees him running into a room with a sign ‘Elvis Impersonation Contest’ and the next shows him exiting and discarding the ‘first prize’ trophy. We do not get to see him impersonate Elvis, but we are left with the impression that he must be very good at it.

The most famous superhero without any superpowers is Batman. In one of those recent DC franchise films, Aquaman asks Batman what exactly is his superpower, to which Batman retorts ‘I’m rich.’ Banal and materialistic, but halfway convincing in the DC Universe.

The universe in which the Phantom is set is almost identical to our own. There are no super powers, super heroes, nor super villains. The only monsters are other people, who choose to do evil, either on a minor or on a mega scale. The Phantom’s power is that he chooses to do good, and that he does not hesitate to face human monsters of any size. I suppose we wish that there really were more people like that, and that is why so many of us still buy Phantom comics.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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