The Phantom is a classic comic strip character who has entertained audiences for over 86 years. Created by Lee Falk (creator of Mandrake the Magician) in 1936, the Phantom is a costumed crime fighter from the fictional African country of Bengalla. As a long-time fan of the Phantom, I have always been fascinated by the character’s rich history and cultural impact. The Phantom was one of comics’ first costumed crime fighters, predating characters like Superman and Batman by several years. The Phantom was also the first fictional hero to wear the skintight costume, which has become a hallmark of superheroes and was the first shown wearing one on the cover of a comic book.
Falk’s creation was also one of the first comic strips to be translated into multiple languages and become popular worldwide.
The Phantom’s secret identity is Kit Walker, the 21st in a line of crimefighters that originated in 1536 when the father of British sailor Christopher Walker was murdered during a pirate attack.
The only survivor, Christopher has washed ashore on a Bengalla aka Bengali island and swore to dedicate his life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice in any form. He became the Phantom, also known as “The Ghost Who Walks,” and dedicated his life to fighting evil as a crime fighter and government agent.
The Phantom operates out of the Deep Woods, a vast jungle preserve in Bangalla, and the criminals fear him and the legend surrounds him. He has a base of operations called the Jungle Patrol, a group of scientists, doctors, and researchers who aid him in his fight against evil.
More about The Jungle Patrol: 6th Phantom founded the Jungle Patrol in 1664 to combat pirate activity in Sanloi. The story begins when he challenges the pirate leader Red Beard to a duel and defeats him, along with his henchmen Bart, Salla, and Crusher, using various forms of combat. The victorious Phantom ordered Red Beard and his men to select 25 of their best crew members to form the Jungle Patrol.
He also has a horse named Hero and a wolf companion named Devil. The Maharajah of Nimpore gifted the Phantom Hero as a thank-you for saving his daughter. In contrast, he found Devil as an orphan cub whose mother had been killed by a hunter, along with his siblings. The Phantom, Hero, and Devil consider themselves as a family.
The comic book stories often involve him traveling to different parts of the world to fight crime and injustice, usually accompanied by his love interest, Diana Palmer, and his son, Kit Walker Jr. The strip is noted for its continuity, with stories often spanning generations and the Phantom’s ancestors occasionally appearing in stories.
One of the things that I find most interesting about the Phantom is how the character has evolved over the years. Falk’s original version of the Phantom was a mysterious figure who operated in the shadows, using his incredible strength and fighting skills to take down criminals and protect the innocent. However, as the comic strip progressed, the Phantom’s character developed more fully, becoming a more complex and nuanced hero.
The Phantom’s cultural impact is undeniable. The comic strip has been adapted into numerous movies, television shows, and other forms of media. The most notable adaptation is the 1996 film directed by Simon Wincer starring Billy Zane, which received mixed reviews but had a successful box office run. The Phantom has also been featured in video games, novels, and even animated television series.
In the American animated television series “Defenders of the Earth,” produced in 1986, he appeared as a main character alongside others from comic strips by King Features Syndicate, such as Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and Lothar. The show was set in 2015, and the characters unite to defeat Ming the Merciless. The supporting characters include Rick Gordon (Flash’s son), L.J. (Lothar’s son), Kshin (Mandrake’s adopted son), and Jedda Walker (the Phantom’s daughter). I briefly remember watching this series as a kid at my relative’s place in Thrissur during vacation.
The Phantom’s popularity has also led to numerous fan clubs and conventions where fans can celebrate their love for the character. The Phantom has also inspired countless cosplay costumes and is a frequent guest at comic book conventions worldwide.
In addition to his impact on popular culture, the Phantom has significantly impacted the comic book industry. Falk’s creation was one of the first comic strips to be translated into multiple languages and become popular worldwide.
At it’s prime, The Phantom appeared in more than 500 newspapers, translated into 40 languages with 60 million readers daily.
Even though Falk passed away in 1999, his comic strip still lives on. Today, others have written it and translated into 15 languages. It continues to be featured in approximately 500 newspapers in over 40 countries.
Popularity in India
The Phantom comic strip was extremely popular in India during the 1970s and 1980s. It was first published in India in the Hindi language in the 1950s and was later translated into several other Indian languages, including Bengali, Tamil, and Malayalam. The comics were published in newspapers and magazines, collected, and sold in comic book form.
The Phantom’s popularity in India was partly due to its action-adventure format and the character’s role as a crime fighter, which resonated with Indian readers. The character’s fight against injustice and evil, as well as his sense of justice and morality, were relatable themes for the readers. The comics were also popular because they depict the Phantom’s base, the Bengalla jungle, similar to the Indian jungle. This setting and the jungle-based adventures of the Phantom made it more relatable and appealing to the Indian audience.
In the early 90s, Regal Publishers from Kerala began publishing Phantom comics in Malayalam. After a hiatus, they resumed publishing these comics in Malayalam in 2019. In August 2020, Regal Publishers began publishing Phantom comics in English. From 2021, Shakti Comics has also started publishing Phantom comics, along with Mandrake and Flash Gordon, in English, Hindi, and Bengali. Shakti Comics is the only publisher, besides Indrajal, to release Phantom comics in Hindi and Bengali every month.
The popularity of the Phantom in India also led to the creation of an Indian version of the character, called “Bheriya,” by Indian comic book writer Tarun Kumar Wahi. Bheriya is a jungle-based hero, similar to the Phantom, who fights against injustice and evil.
It seems like Phantom comics are still relevant in India and are fondly remembered by many Indians who grew up reading them.
The man, the ghost, the myth, the legend, Phantom is a classic comic strip character that has stood the test of time. His rich history, cultural impact, and enduring popularity make him one of comics’ most iconic and beloved characters. As a fan, I am constantly in awe of the Phantom’s enduring legacy and how he continues to entertain and inspire audiences worldwide.