Friday, May 7, 2010

A Sneak Peek at Dynamite's Phantom.- Follow-up

I now feel moved to speak. However, my comments are too long and Blogger is having a brain fart. So here's my comments in a separate post.

Lysdexicus: The first thing I thought of when I saw this was "Predator". I am pretty sure that is just body paint, however and not blood.

Bengali Indrajal Comics: Yeah, I don't care much for the looks of it, either.

Pidde: Ha! "Lee Falk spinning in this grave" Classic.

Anonymous(whoever you are when you're at home): " People should not jumping and throwing stones before watching what is really in store. So far this image seems to want to touch heavily on the Supernatural aspect of the character, which is fair game, its one of the three main aspects of the Phantom as a heroic character."

Fair enough.

What has to be understood about the reactions Phans have to this sort of thing is this: Australia, New Zealand, India and Scandinavia take an almost proprietary interest in the Phantom. While the US has thousands of superhero comics, in the aforementioned places, the Phantom is THE hero. In Australia and New Zealand, most readers only consider Phantom stories written by Lee Falk as "official" and the rest is only okay if you can't get the real stuff. Sweden, Norway and Finland are a little looser about that, as they began writing their own direct-to-comics material a long time ago, but even there there is little deviation from Falk's formula (although the popular influence of espionage comics is pretty obvious- but I digress).

So, yeah, you go messin' around with how the Phantom looks or how the mantle is passed or where he lives and you get a pretty strong outcry from readers. "Alex Ross never deviated heavily when designing iconic characters like these"- well, no disrespect to Alex Ross, why would anyone bother to redesign The Phantom's costume? At all? It is what it is. It's a superhero costume. In fact, it's the prototype for the superhero costume! I cannot for the life of me understand people who approach superhero comics from the viewpoint that they would be better if they were more "realistic". To me, that's just asinine. It's like the people who made the Punisher movie with Dolph Lundgren. Stan Lee went down to see the filming and asked why the Punisher was wearing a biker outfit and didn't even have a skull on his shirt. He was told it was "Too cartoony". Who the F*** do these people think their audience IS?

Add to all of that the fact that Dynamite has already expressed a desire to change the locale to New York city. Hmm. Okay, I tell you what. I'm writing a new Superman series. I think it will be great, because Superman is a great character that's been around for years and millions of people love him worldwide. And I'm going to make him even better. I'm going to get rid of that cape. And I'm going to hire Simon Bisley to design a new costume. Maybe something in leather? Oh! And there are only so many stories you can do set in Metropolis, so I'm going to relocate the series setting to Dubai. Now, why wouldn't everyone want to read that?

Pidde, Sharp and Anonymous: as to the track record of American publishers-

I think the best run ever was still the Gold Key/King/Charlton run. And it lasted for 74 issues over 15 years. Maybe not 60 years, but pretty impressive for a comic book running congruent to a daily comic strip everybody was getting in the paper when people still read the paper! And why did it work? Because it was still recognizable as The Phantom. any changes to the character were homogeneous and happened naturally over time. You can't just force a new version of a character down the world's collective throat and expect it to say "thank you".

No disrespect to Moonstone, their Phantom wasn't a bad comic. It just wasn't all that "phantom-y". It was a joke in Sweden and Norway, from whom I heard time and time again that readers thought Moonstone's changes and new directions were both arrogant and puzzling. Didn't these people know there were still people publishing The Phantom?

Still Scandinavians and Aussies bought Moonstone's Phantom, just like they bought DC's Phantom and Marvel's Phantom. But only because they felt they had to to complete their collections.


"Think of this as the perhaps the "Dark Knight Returns" for the Phantom, with hopefully no pre teen sidekick and a murdering spree, since that would take it way far, and would be a character and writting FLAW, that got really little to do with his look."

I cannot calculate the damage done by that one Frank Miller mini-series in the time I have right now. But, I will say this-

If you want an American audience to like The Phantom, introduce them to The Phantom. Not a "this-year's-model, flavor-of-the-month version of the Phantom drummed up by whatever creative team brought in the biggest sales last quarter. If people like the Phantom, it's because he's the Phantom, not because he's a Phantom you went out of your way to re-engineer for maximum sales return.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


  1. Mr Ghost who Blogs, i have read your essay, and i wanted to touch on some good points,

    First, don`t get me wrong, i am not saying that the Phantom needs to be forever or always changed in order to be interesting, and i hardly believe this will be "the" final look. But then again, a change wont automatically mean it won`t be interesting either.

    I think this look, which i always personally liked, besides the classic look, is fine for a beginning on a new comic title. You may not appreciate a "Year One" kind of story, but "Dynamite" seems to have that approach for the classic heroes. And as long it`s done well, it can`t really hurt on the long haul.

    I am not selling down the outcry or reactions either, specially from Countries who have a long (and dare i say..) intimate publishing history with the character. Merely that in my view, as long the execution pays along, having the supernatural/mystical element explored more, which seems to be what "Dynamite" is aiming, it will only make the character look more dynamic and diverse in plot points. It is an aspect that got less explored over the years, since Falk started focusing on the Modern Africa and it`s political antics. And i loved it, but i also, have to admit, like this aspect explored as well. It`s what gives the Phantom his biggest weapon against evil, after all.

    You also mention that fans would react badly to a Superman`s costume change. Well, they have happen, in fact it is always a bit tweeked, since artists will always spin a bit on the S design, the cape, boots and belt. Frankly, i would not want this look to persist over the years, over the other (both being used is fine with me, though), because yeah, it`s the classic superhero costume of all, "The Model". But using a different approach to a singular story or arc is kind of standard in *this* market.

    And moving on to Market`s..yes, the Charlton run was a success in terms on how long it lasted. But even "Phantomet" sometimes changes the look for a particular story. You SHOULD always show THE costume as the primal example for new readers to know about it, but like i said, this does not deviate too much. It`s body paint, but the line patterns are the same. As long they do not do a disservice to the classic look like the SyFy mini (the one of two points i disliked so far), it does not bode badly.

    And to say it again, i am not saying they should ditch the classic look, on any permanent fashion, okay? Only that in terms of exercise and a start i am fine with this.

    Looks can be tweeked, but i think the most important thing of all, more than any look, and what really persists over the years, is the CHARACTER. Batman can change looks every comic, but it`s Bruce Wayne that people like to read. I feel exactly the same with the Phantom. I love the classic look, and have to admit, also the body paint look, but more than either, it`s KIT WALKER that makes me care.

    I will finish my replay, in the second post.

  2. Second and final part of the post,

    I like to talk a bit about Moonstone here, i just can`t agree. They took the time to find they`r legs, true, but when they did, i think it was a good to great run, keeping the classic elements, but also making changes for the modern setting that were not bad at all. Moonstone`s take had the snarky humor, the kick ass action, and the supernatural elements all into play, which are all major elemens to the character. I only hope that the reason why it was considered a "joke" on those Countries, was because they felt the quality was lacking and not because "Moonstone" dared to make historical Phantom stories as well, or changes.

    "Phantomet" made changes too. And i have to admit i find the "arrogant" comment (as they put it) a bit..well arrogant on it`s own way. Every writer is going to make changes. The clock does not stop ticking and neither did Falk himself.

    Lastly, the New York city. Hey, it was there in Falk`s first story. As long they keep coming back to the Jungle, i really, can`t care to react badly against it. The Jungle may be a primal setting, but the Phantom is a hero of the World. He goes where Evil is. For me is that simple.

    I think the conclusion from my par is merely that i view the Phantom with a dose of balance between what can be changed, and what should be kept. Just as i don`t feel they should change everything, i also don`t feel that nothing should be changed. The Phantom IS a character where you should even do that over the years, i reckon. Such is the wonderful concept that Falk created.

    Thanks for reading this long ass reply, by the way, much appreciated.

  3. I don't mind the Phantom traveling. It's part of what he's always done. Relocating is another story. I mentioned in an earlier post that there seem to be NO shortage of NYC-based vigilantes out there in comics, so the whole idea seemed lame and pointless.

    It is true that Falk began his story in New York. But he changed his locale mid-stream because he had a "better" idea.

    I don't want things to stagnate. I understand that characters naturally evolve and change over time... it's just what happens. Personally, I don't understand why every European artist since the 50's has made the Phantom look JUST like Sy Barry's Phantom. I just think this change is jarring, sensationalistic and a little forced. But, take that for what it's worth, as I only have scant information to go on.

    Will I read it? probably. Will I like it? we'll see.

  4. Dynamite's version may be a good comic - in the same way as Vertigo's version of Jonah Hex. Lansdale & Truman created pretty cool horror westerns - but it sure wasn't Jonah Hex they made!

    Oh, and there already is a "Phantom Year One" story arc in Scandinavia!

    P.S. My very long review of the Phantom serial from 1943 from my blog was reprinted in the new issue of a culture/entertainment mag, it's a full tabloid page. Today I noticed it's ended up on the wall in the city library here in Malmö!

  5. " . . If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

    With all due love and respect, my friend, it is broke. A Phantom title has not sold well in twenty years in the States, and many companies have steadfastly remained loyal to the Falk vision (particularily our beloved Gold Key and Charlton versions).

    What other comic book hero has not evolved from their Golden Age incarnation? Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, etc, have all undergone radical costume and mythos changes. Why not the Phantom?

    I am excited there is going to be a Phantom title produced in America again and wish Dynamite well. If we don't give it a chance, we doom Phantom to the grave of memory.

  6. Mykal: Man. I must have really stated my case poorly earlier. My main point is not that I don't want the Phantom to change, at all, ever. My point was more along the lines of "Let's not throw the baby out with the bath".

    It is natural, indeed, inevitable for any fictional character in continual publication for decades to slowly evolve and/or see the occasional reinterpretation. I am not against this. In fact, I would be fine with some publisher here in the states re-starting The Phantom from the beginning. Say, in the manor of John Byrne's "Man of Steel", or better yet, "Showcase #4".

    But I have heard many of the elements of Dynamite's "re-boot" and I don't care for them. And frankly, having read their Lone Ranger comics, I can't say I have much confidence in their judgement.

    It's really just personal taste for me.

    I honestly hope it doesn't suck.

    And the costume is so simple it really doesn't need any help, IMHO.

    Change is okay. But you should always be careful not to change the character so much that you might as well have made up your own character. At that point, all you've done is license a name from King Features. Presumably, you license a recognizable character with a long history in the hopes of attracting a built-in audience. Isn't it kind of counter-productive to then alienate that audience by giving them a different product?

    If you put up a sign that says you're selling Red Delicious apples and then, when I buy from you, you hand me Granny Smith apples... well, they're both good and they're both apples, but it's not what you advertised.

    It's just how I see it, my friend.

  7. Well argued, brother, but consider: When you say - "Presumably, you license a recognizable character with a long history in the hopes of attracting a built-in audience. Isn't it kind of counter-productive to then alienate that audience by giving them a different product?" I think you may have missed the mark a bit. I think you have also struck upon the problem Dynamite faces. In short, there is no "built in" audience for Phantom in the States anymore, thus very little audience to alienate. If comic book sales figures are any indication (and they are) - the audience is zip. Thus, Dynamite's challenge, and the real reason they have licensed the character, is to attract new readers (a hopefully huge number) while bringing on board if possible loyal phans like us (a very, very small number). Obviously, their main thrust is going to be that first potential audience. Frankly, they could loose the second, and it wouldn’t kill them. Thinking about your apple analogy, I see Dynamite doing the exact opposite of what you suggest; i.e., it seems they are making it very clear that, while they respect the tradition of Falk and the history of the character, they are going to be taking things in a much different direction.

    I liken this possible transformation to the shift that occurred when DC invested a ton of time and artistic talent in re-tooling Green Lantern. If you have studied Martin Nodell's wonderful Golden Age Lantern, you'll see that the GL of Kane and Broome was, for all intents and purposes, a new superhero. Like this new take on the Phantom, DC's GL retained the essential, historic mythos, but the look and feel, even the basic history of the character, was all new. And, most importantly, it allowed the character to live on till today. If not for DC’s reboot, GL would be completely forgotten today, along with Doll Girl and . I enjoy Nodell’s original character at all because of the Silver Age rebirth of the character.

    Like the GL of the Golden Age, the Phantom as we love him is no longer a viable franchise in the States. He must be given a radical upgrade to survive, to sell comics in the highly aggressive, volatile, and competitive US market. To try again to bring out a character based in Africa, who lives in a stone cave and fights pirates and other threats to native life, simply isn't going to work. It doesn't sell and never will again.

    I thought the new costume looked pretty cool.

  8. Mykal: All well-reasoned arguments. Except maybe "To try again to bring out a character based in Africa, who lives in a stone cave and fights pirates and other threats to native life, simply isn't going to work. It doesn't sell and never will again."...

    Again, then why bother to do The Phantom at all? If this property is SO potentially hot that Dynamite negotiated so stridently with KFS to get it away from Moonstone, then there must be SOMETHING worthwhile about it at it's core, no?

    I get the GL argument. But, even as VASTLY different as the SA GL is to the GA GL, there's still the ring and the lantern from space and the superpowers are the same. Similar enough that retconning the original to fit into the backstory of the latter was a breeze.

    on a side note, I have to say that I always found "it won't work on anything wooden" to be much more sensible than "it won't work on anything yellow"... how much yellow equals yellow? what about green and orange? they contain yellow...

    way off topic there...

    Anyway, I'll go reply to your other comment where I'm a creative genius now.

  9. We agree %100 percent abut the wooden vs. yellow thing. I can't help it - I always groan a bit when the silver age GL hits the "It's the color yellow!" point in the story. I mean, come on! Why not just put on a yellow body suit (yahoo! I'm a super villain!) and beat the shit out of Hal with a baseball bat?

  10. Presumably the same baseball bat your dad beat the shit out of Alan Scott with?

  11. And to answer your question about why Dynamite is taking a run at the character at all (if the orignal story specifics are no longer inticing to readers); my guess is they will really play up the supernatural-with-possible-death-angel aspect of the Phantom, all qualities that are hotter than hell right now. Stone caves and pirates may be out; but guys the radiate supernatural death (like vampires) are so in. Notice how pale they made the Phantom's face?

  12. ... and I thought Monnstone's Phantom version looked like crap ...

    What is the point of largely changing the behaviour, characteristics, and appearance of a well known and loved character, and trying to pass him off as one and the same? Dynamite would do better to create a totally new character and launch it as novel. Oh wait, outside of the name, that is what they have done! I did not think it was possible, but Dynamite look like they have managed to pull off a miracle and make Moonstone's Phantom look like gold!

  13. At Trimmer (since the rest of the replies following my point are not something i really disagree with, it`s a matter on who is willing to be open mind to some inevitable changes that always occur to classic characters like a Moon cycle, or not, but...

    you can`t tell anything about the characteristics and behavior this Kit Walker will have at this point. All he shows is an angry face that all heroes do, and is nothing new, and something similar to the first Phantom`s body paint that other publishers have used, which while more recent, is not a novelty either.

    As far as for Moonstone, opinions aside it was a great character run. Writing the classic Phantom,targeting modern problems was always Falk`s M.O.

  14. For the record, I really, really enjoyed the Phantom's run at Moonstone, especially once Mike Bullock took over!