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The Phantom (மாயாவி) is a comic strip created by Lee Falk (also creator of Mandrake the Magician), recounting the adventures of a costumed crime-fighter called the Phantom. The series began with a daily newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, which was joined by a colour Sunday strip in May of 1939; both are still running as of 2006 with great success. Lee Falk died in 1999, and the newspaper comics are now written by Tony DePaul and drawn by Paul Ryan (daily strip) and Graham Nolan (Sunday strip). Previous artists on the newspaper strip include Ray Moore, Wilson McCoy, Bill Lignante, Sy Barry, George Olesen, Keith Williams and Fred Fredericks. The Phantom is also successfully published in comic books throughout the world, by several different publishers.

The Phantom is credited as being the first "costumed superhero", i.e. the first crimefighter to wear the skintight costume attributed to comic book superheroes, and being the first hero to have white eyes behind his mask, a phenomenon very common with superheroes. Previous fictional crime fighters, such as Zorro and Doc Savage, were not designed especially for newspaper comic strips or comic books.

The character

The Phantom wears a black mask and a purple skintight costume. Creator Lee Falk had originally envisioned a grey costume and even considered naming his creation "The Gray Ghost" before settling on "The Phantom". It was not until the Phantom Sunday strip debuted in 1939 that the costume was shown to be purple, something that apparently was a printing mistake and Lee Falk himself did not approve beforehand. Lee Falk wanted the costume to be gray, but the colorist while colouring the strip decided that Phantom would look better in purple. Although this was never corrected, Falk continued to refer to the costume as gray in the text of the strip on several occasions after this, but finally accepted the purple costume. In a retcon it was shown that the first Phantom chose the costume based on the appearance of a jungle idol, and colored the cloth with purple jungle berries.

Publishers that printed color comics with the Phantom before 1939 chose costume color based on their own preference, and even later various publishers throughout the world picked different costume colors; eg – blue in Scandinavia (this was because the purple colour wasn't possible to print initially), red in Italy, Turkey and (formerly) Brazil, and brown in New Zealand. In one of the European nations the Phantom was never printed in a purple costume since it was the colour used for mourning.

The Phantom carries two .45 pistols. His base is in the Deep Woods of Bangalla (renamed Denkali in the Indian edition), a fictional country initially set in Asia somewhere near India but later moved to Africa, where he is the secret commander of the Jungle Patrol. He is particularly the enemy of pirates.

The Phantom lives in the fabled Skull Cave, where all previous Phantoms are buried.

Another character who aided the Phantom is the Chief of the Pigmy tribe, Guran. In recent years he has often been a mentor and advisor to the Phantom.

Unlike many costume heroes, the Phantom has no superhuman powers.

Map of countries printing The Phantom. Green countries have regular Phantom publications, while blue countries print the dailies/sundays in newspapers.
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Map of countries printing The Phantom. Green countries have regular Phantom publications, while blue countries print the dailies/sundays in newspapers.

In the African jungle, the Phantom is called "The Ghost who Walks" and "The Man who Cannot Die" because he seems to have been around for generations. This is because the Phantom is descended from twenty previous generations of crime-fighters who all share the same persona. When a new Phantom takes up the mantle, he has to swear the Oath of the Skull: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons, shall follow me" Frequently the strip highlights the adventures of previous Phantoms, set in the past, and some European publications have featured the Phantom's children as future crimefighters. Two signatures of the character are two rings he wears. One has a pattern that he leaves on visitors to his region he approves of, which marks the person as under his protection. The other has a skull shape and is worn on his favored punching hand, which leaves a skull like scar on the enemies he punches.

The Phantom has two helpers, a mountain wolf, Devil, and a horse, Hero. He also has a trained falcon named Fraka. From 1962 on, The Phantom raised an orphan named Rex (now Prince of Baronkhan). In 1978, he married his long time sweetheart, Diana Palmer, who works at the United Nations. Guran, his best friend since boyhood, was best man. A year later, twins were born to the Palmer-Walkers, Kit and Heloise.

The Phantom's family have always played a significant role in the series. His romance with Diana Palmer was an ongoing part of the story from the beginning, and many later stories revolved around the Phantom becoming involved in adventures as a result of his young charges, first Rex, then Kit and Heloise.

"There are times when the Phantom leaves his jungle home and travels as an ordinary man." When he does, he wears a fedora, a trench coat, and sunglasses, and is known as "Mr. Walker". References to "Mr. Walker" are traditionally accompanied by a footnote saying "For 'The Ghost Who Walks'", although some versions of the Phantom's history suggest that Walker was actually the surname of the man who became the first Phantom. Like The Lone Ranger, the Phantom does not allow his unmasked or undisguised face to be seen except by close friends or members of his family.

Origin

The Phantom, drawn by Jerry DeCaire
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The Phantom, drawn by Jerry DeCaire

The story of the Phantom started with a young sailor named Christopher Standish. Christopher was born in 1516 in Portsmouth. His father, also named Christopher Standish, had been a seaman since he was a young boy, and was the cabin boy on Christopher Columbus's ship Santa Maria when he discovered America.

Christopher Jr. became a shipboy on his father's ship in 1526, of which Christopher senior was Captain.

In 1536, when Christopher was 20 years old, he was a part of what was supposed to be the last voyage of his father. On February 17, the ship was attacked by pirates of the Singh Brotherhood in a bay in the (fictional) African country of Bengalla. The last thing Christopher saw before he fell unconscious and fell to the sea, was his father being murdered by the leader of the pirates. Both ships exploded, making Christopher the sole survivor of the attack.

Christopher was washed ashore on a Bengalla beach, seemingly half dead. He was found by pygmies of the Bandar tribe, who nursed him and took care of him.

A time later, Christopher had a walk on the same beach that he had been washed ashore on, and found a dead body there, who he recognized as the pirate who killed his father. He allowed the vultures flying around the body finish their work, took up the skull of the killer, raised it above his head, and swore a sacred oath:

"I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms! My sons and their sons, shall follow me."

After learning the language of the Bandar tribe, Christopher found out that they were slaves of the Wasaka tribe, a tribe consisting of what the Bandars called "giants". The Bandars who had found him was only a small group of people who had managed to escape from the village of the Wasaka. Immediately, Christopher walked into the village of the Wasaka, and asked them to set the Bandars free. Instead of achieving this goal, he was taken prisoner, and laid before the Demon God of the Wasaka: Uzuki, who was supposed to decide his destiny. Christopher was tied up and laid on an altar made of stone, where vultures surrounded him, the Wasaka allowing them to eat him. Christopher was quickly saved by a group of Bandars before the vultures or the Wasaka could do him any real harm. They managed to escape from the village of the Wasaka unharmed.

Christopher learned about an ancient Bandar legend about a man coming from the ocean to save them from their slavery. He made a costume inspired by the look of the Demon God of the Wasaka, and went to the Wasaka village again, this time with a small army of Bandars (armed with their newly discovered, extremely poisoned arrows, capable of killing a man in a few seconds). The Wasaka, shocked at seing what many of them thought was their Demon God come alive, was fought down, and the Bandars were finally set free, after centuries in slavery. This resulted in a dedicated friendship between Christopher and the Bandars, which would be brought on to the generations to come after them.

The Bandars showed Christopher to a cave, which resembled the look of a human skull. Christopher later carved it out to make it look even more like a skull. What was later on known as the Skull Cave became his home.

Wearing the costume based on the Demon God, Christopher became the first of what would later be known as The Phantom. When he died, his son took over for him, and when the 2nd Phantom died, his son took over. And so it would go on through the centuries, causing people to believe that the Phantom was immortal, giving him nicknames as "The Ghost Who Walks" and "The Man Who Cannot Die".

The Family of The Phantom

Captain Christopher Standish
Gabrielle de Montmorency
The 1st Phantom
Donna Marabella
René de Montmorency
The 2nd Phantom
Ann(e)
Rosamunda Shakespeare
The 3rd Phantom
Pura
The 4th Phantom
The 5th Phantom
The 6th Phantom
Queen Natala of Navarre
Heloise of Hanta
The 7th Phantom
The 8th Phantom
Ingrid of Holstein
Flame Stanbury
The 9th Phantom
The 10th Phantom
Marianne
The 11th Phantom
Renata di Mascarelli
Unknown son
Marion Trelawney
The 12th Phantom
The 13th Phantom
Jeanette Lafitte or Vhatta Khan
Marie Claire
The 14th Phantom
The 15th Phantom
Juliet Adams
The 16th Phantom
Asta Jensen and/or Annie Morgan
Dr. Julie Colbert
Paul Colbert
Lady Kate Sommerset
The 17th Phantom
Mary Stillwell
Anna
Lord Christopher Sommerset
The 18th Phantom
Lara Collins
Kit Sommerset
Jane Cary
The 19th Phantom
Maude Thorne McPatrick
The 20th Phantom
The 21st Phantom
Diana Palmer
Kit Walker
Heloise Walker

This family tree is based on information from Falk's comic strips and from the Scandinavian production.

Kit Walker

The 21st Phantom's birth name is Kit Walker (it was the tradition of the Phantom's for the eldest boy, who would be Phantom, to be named Kit. It should be noted however that Phantoms-to-be have been named Kip and Christopher as well as Kit). Kit spent his first years in the jungle in Bengalla, but went to USA for studying when he was 12 years old, living with his aunt and uncle, Lucy and Jaspher, in the little town of Clarksville. Here, he also met his wife-to-be, Diana Palmer. Kit was an extremely talented sportsman, and was predicted to become the world champion of many different genres (he even knocked out the boxing champion of the world in a match when the champion visited Clarksville). Despite being able to choose practically any career he wanted, Kit faithfully returned to Bengalla to take over the role of the Phantom when he received word that his father was dying.

Newspaper strips

The first Phantom Sunday strip from May 28, 1939. Art by Ray Moore.
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The first Phantom Sunday strip from May 28, 1939. Art by Ray Moore.

The Phantom started out as a daily strip on February 17, 1936, with the acclaimed story "The Singh Brotherhood". It was written by Lee Falk and initially also pencilled and/or laid out by him. The first major Phantom artist was Ray Moore. At the time, Lee Falk was already the creator of the successful Mandrake the Magician newspaper strip. Ray Moore was previously assistant to Mandrake artist Phil Davis. A Sunday strip version of the Phantom was added on May 28, 1939.

During the war, Falk joined the Office of War Information where he became chief of his radio foreign language division. It is rumored that during this time the Phantom strip was at least partially written by Alfred Bester, but this is still somewhat disputed by those who say Bester wrote Mandrake instead.

Ray Moore also was also active in the war and during that time left the strip to his assistant Wilson McCoy. Moore returned after the war and worked on the strip on and off until 1949, when he left it completely in the hands of McCoy.

During McCoy's tenure the strip was at its peak, appearing in thousands of newspapers worldwide. His stories are still printed over the whole world in comic books and hardcover collections.

McCoy died suddenly in 1961. Carmine Infantino and Bill Lignante (who would later draw Phantom stories directly for comic magazines) filled in before a successor was found in Sy Barry. During Barry's early years, he and Falk modernized the strip, and laid the foundation for what is considered the modern look of the Phantom. Barry would continue working on the strip for over 30 years before retiring in 1994.

Barry's longtime assistant George Olesen remained on the strip as penciller. New inker for the daily strip was Keith Williams. The Sunday strip was for some time inked by Eric Doescher before Mandrake the Magician artist Fred Fredericks became the regular inker in 1995.

Phantom daily strip from 2005. Art by Paul Ryan.
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Phantom daily strip from 2005. Art by Paul Ryan.

Lee Falk continued to script the Phantom (and Mandrake) until his death on March 13, 1999. His last Daily and Sunday strip stories, "Terror at the Opera" and "The Kidnappers", were finished by his wife, Elizabeth Falk. After Falk's passing, King Features Syndicate began to cooperate with European comic publisher Egmont; publisher of the Swedish Fantomen magazine which has contained original comic book stories since 1963. Fantomen writers Tony De Paul and Claes Reimerthi alternated as writers of the newspaper strip after Falk died . Today De Paul is the regular writer. Some of the stories have been adapted from comic magazine stories originally published in Fantomen.

In 2000, Olesen and Fredericks retired from the Sunday strip which was then taken over by respected comic book artist Graham Nolan, whose goal was to give the series a slightly more filmatic look. A few years later, Olesen and Williams left the daily strip, after Olesen decided to retire. A new artist was found in Paul Ryan, who by then already was a Phantom veteran after having worked on the Fantomen comic stories for a couple of years. Ryan's first daily strip appeared in early 2005. Both Nolan and Ryan have grown to become very popular with the fans of the strip.

Reprints

The Phantom by Romano Felmang.
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The Phantom by Romano Felmang.

The entire run of the Phantom newspaper strip, up to and beyond the death of creator Lee Falk, has been reprinted in Australia by Frew. In the United States, the following Phantom stories have been reprinted, by Nostalgia Press (NP), Pacific Comics Club (PCC), or Comics Revue (CR), all written by Lee Falk.

The Sky Band, Ray Moore, 9 Nov 1936, CR
The Diamond Hunters, Ray Moore, 12 Apr 1937, PCC
Little Tommy, Ray Moore, 20 Sept 1937, PCC
The Prisoner of the Himalayas, Ray Moore, 7 Feb 1938, NP
Adventure in Algiers, Ray Moore, 20 Jun 1938, CR
The Shark's Nest, Ray Moore, 25 Jul 1938, PCC
Fishers of Pearls, Ray Moore, 7 Nov 1938, CR
The Slave Traders, Ray Moore, 30 Jan 1939, CR
The Mysterious Girl, Ray Moore, 8 May 1939, CR
The Golden Circle, Ray Moore, 4 Sep 1939, PCC
The Seahorse, Ray Moore, 22 Jan 1940, PCC
The Game of Alvar, Ray Moore, 29 Jul 1940, PCC
Diana Aviatrix, Ray Moore, 16 Dec 1940, PCC
The Phantom's Treasure, Ray Moore, 14 Jul 1941, PCC
The Phantom Goes to War, Ray Moore and Wilson McCoy, 2 Feb 1942, PCC
The Slave Markets of Mucar, Sy Barry, 21 Aug. 1961, CR

Comic books

Cover to The Phantom # 4 (published in 2004 by Moonstone Books). Art by Doug Klauba.
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Cover to The Phantom # 4 (published in 2004 by Moonstone Books). Art by Doug Klauba.

In the U.S., the Phantom has been published by a variety of publishers over the years. Through the 1940s, strips were reprinted in Ace Comics published by David McKay Publications. In the 1950s, Harvey Comics published the Phantom. In 1962, Gold Key Comics took over, then King Comics in 1966, then Charlton Comics in 1969. This lasted until 1977, with a total number of 73 issues being published. Some of the main Phantom artists during these years were Bill Lignante, Don Newton, Jim Aparo and Pat Boyette.

DC Comics published a Phantom comic book from 1988 to 1990. The initial mini-series was written by Peter David and drawn by Joe Orlando and Dennis Janke. The regular series that followed lasted 13 issues and was written by Mark Verheiden and drawn by Luke McDonnell. The series had The Phantom being involved with real world problems, like racism, toxic dumping, hunger, and modern day piracy. Despite critical acclaim, the series was cancelled in late 1990, due to declining sales and licensing issues.

In 1987, Marvel Comics did a series based on the Defenders of the Earth TV series (see "Animation", below). Only four issues were published. Another mini-series released by Marvel in 1994-1995 explored a more futuristic, high-tech version of the Phantom in 3 issues (apparently the 22nd Phantom). Later in 1995 Marvel also released a 4-part mini-series based on the Phantom 2040 TV series, pencilled by none other than legendary Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man. One issue even featured a pin-up drawing by Ditko and another legend, John Romita, Sr.

In 2002, Moonstone Books in the United States began publishing original graphic novels based on The Phantom, and a comic book series followed in December 2003, to critical acclaim. Among their stories is a new version on The Phantom's origin story by Ben Raab and Pat Quinn, called "Legacy", and a series of books introducing an all new format to comic books, called wide-vision books (as the name hints, they aim to look like a combination of prose stories and a widescreen film). In late 2005, Moonstone hired "Lions, Tigers and Bears" writer Mike Bullock and Gabriel Rearte as the new creative team on the book, with Joe Prado and Doug Klauba being responsible for the covers. As this is written in April 2006, Moonstone is in the process of making two collections of prose stories with The Phantom. Possibly because of huge interest from comic book publications and websites, The Phantom is to date Moonstone's most successful title, and it is considered to be the reason why the small independent publisher's popularity and fame have increased the last years. Although Moonstone's regular writer is now Mike Bullock, several others have participated, like Chuck Dixon, Ron Marz, Rafael Nieves, Joe Gentile, Tom DeFalco, and Ron Goulart.

In addition to the two newspaper strips, original stories are published by Egmont Publications in Scandinavia (where the Phantom is very popular). Egmont publishes a fortnightly Phantom comic book in Norway (as Fantomet), Sweden (as Fantomen), and Finland (as Mustanaamio {"Black Mask"}1). Egmont has been publishing their own Phantom stories for over forty years. They continue to sell well in a market mostly populated by humor comic books.

Cover to Swedish Fantomen # 8 (2003) (# 1303 since the start 1950). Art by Hans Lindahl. Published by Egmont.
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Cover to Swedish Fantomen # 8 (2003) (# 1303 since the start 1950). Art by Hans Lindahl. Published by Egmont.

The first story created originally for the Swedish Fantomen magazine was published as early as 1963, and today the total number of Fantomen stories is close to 900. It is worth noting that the average length of a Fantomen story is 30+ pages (compared to 20-24 pages for most U.S. comics). Among the most prolific artists and writers that have created stories for Fantomen are: Donne Avenell, Heiner Bade, David Bishop, Georges Bess, Joan Boix, Tony DePaul, Ulf Granberg, Rolf Gohs, Scott Goodall, Eirik Ildahl, Kari Leppänen, Hans Lindahl, Janne Lundström, Bob McLeod (comics artist)|Bob McLeod, Jean-Yves Mitton, Claes Reimerthi, Paul Ryan, Alex Saviuk and Norman Worker. The artists and writers working on these stories have been nick-named Team Fantomen. In later years, the Team have started to experiment more with the character and his surroundings, in more emotional and challenging stories than what was common before. Egmont have also been trying to dvelve deeper into the character's psyche lately, often giving him personal problems as well as his crime fighting.

Another country where the Phantom is popular is Australia, where Frew Publications has published a fortnightly comic book, The Phantom, since 1948. Frew's book mostly contains reprints, from the newspaper strips and from Fantomen (in English translation), but has occasionally also included an original story. The editor-in-chief is Jim Sheperd. Frew's The Phantom is the longest running comic book series with the character in the world.

Australian Woman's Mirror was the first magazine to publish The Phantom, starting 1936. In 1938, their first comic book, here shown, was published. This was the second Phantom publication in the world (the first being L'Uomo Mascherato in Italy).
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Australian Woman's Mirror was the first magazine to publish The Phantom, starting 1936. In 1938, their first comic book, here shown, was published. This was the second Phantom publication in the world (the first being L'Uomo Mascherato in Italy).

The Phantom also has a long publishing history in India. The Phantom first appeared in India in the 1940s via a magazine called The Illustrated Weekly of India which carried Phantom Sundays. Indrajal Comics took up publication of Phantom comics in English and other Indian languages in 1964. They ceased publication in 1990. This same year Diamond Comics started publishing Phantom comics in digest form, again in many dialects including English. This continued until 2000, when Diamond Comics stopped publishing Phantom comics; Egmont Imagination India (formerly Indian Express Egmont Publications) took up publication the same year. They published monthly comics (in English only) until 2002. Today they only bring out reprints of their earlier stories with new covers and formats. The only regular publisher of the Phantom left in India is Rani Comics which started publication in 1990. However, these comics are available only in the Tamil language. It may be noted that Indrajal Comics, Diamond Comics and Rani Comics, all published reprints of Lee Falk's daily or Sunday strips. Only Egmont Imagination India printed the Scandinavian work.

Italian publisher Fratelli Spada in Italy also produced a large number of original Phantom stories for their L'Uomo Mascherato series of comic books in the 1960s and 70s. Among the artists that worked for Fratelli Spada were Guido Buzzelli, Mario Caria, Umberto Sammarini (Usam), Germano Ferri, Senio Pratesi, Mario Caria and Felmang. Ferri, Usam, Felmang and Caria have all later worked for the Swedish Fantomen magazine.

Brazilian publisher RGE and German publisher Bastei also produced original Phantom stories for their comic books.

Other media

Novels

Main article: Phantom novels

The first novel about the Phantom was published in 1944 by Whitman Publishing Company, and was called "Son of the Phantom". It was written by Dale Robertson. The book was based on Lee Falk's comic strip story "Childhood of the Phantom", although Falk had no involvement with the novel.

Avon Publications in the U.S. put out 15 books based on Lee Falk's stories. These ran from 1972 to 1975, and were written by Lee Falk or a ghost writer. The covers were done by George Wilson. Many of the books were translated into foreign languages.

  1. The Story of the Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks 1972, Lee Falk
  2. The Slave Market of Mucar 1972, Basil Copper
  3. The Scorpia Menace 1972, Basil Copper
  4. The Veiled Lady 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  5. The Golden Circle 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  6. The Mysterious Ambassador 1973, Lee Falk
  7. The Mystery of the Sea Horse 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  8. The Hydra Monster 1973, Frank S. Shawn
  9. Killer's Town 1973, Lee Falk
  10. The Goggle-Eyed Pirates 1974, Frank S. Shawn
  11. The Swamp Rats 1974, Frank S. Shawn
  12. The Vampires & the Witch 1974, Lee Falk
  13. The Island of Dogs 1975, Warren Shanahan
  14. The Assassins 1975, Carson Bingham
  15. The Curse of the Two-Headed Bull 1975, Lee Falk

In 2006, some of the novels were released as audio books in Norway and Sweden, as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the character.

Moonstone Books, the current publisher of US Phantom comics, are also intending to release two collections of short stories with the Phantom; so-called prose anthologies, written by a large set of writers, including: David Bishop, Martin Powell, Mike Bullock, Ron Marz, David Michelinie, Grant Suave, John Ostrander, Len Wein, Steven Grant, Ron Goulart, and Tony Bedard.

"Ghost Who Walks Will Never Die": The Phantom's First 400 Years.

Before Batman, before The Shadow, before The Green Hornet, before The Lone Ranger, the comics' first masked mystery-man hero had long since been striking fear into the dark hearts of the wicked.

Indeed, by the time the world-famous adventures of The Phantom were first recorded in print more than six decades ago, the grim champion of justice had already been around for nearly 400 years.

Such is the riveting, myth-freighted legend of The Phantom -- "The Ghost Who Walks," "The Man Who Cannot Die," "The Guardian of the Eastern Dark." In the beginning he had been a half-drowned sailor, flung ashore on the terrible, blood-drenched Bengalla coast after pirates burned his ship and slaughtered his mates. The gentle Bandar pygmies, taking him to be a sea god of ancient prophecy, nursed him back to fitness and became his everlasting friends -- as the castaway faced his destiny, donned costume and mask and was reborn as the first of the Phantoms, scourge of predators everywhere.

"I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice!" he cried as he formally took "The Oath of the Skull" by firelight. "And my sons and their sons shall follow me!"

And in time there was a son. In time that son begat another, and thereafter that son begat again. After a while, there arose a dynasty of Phantoms, one after another, born into the legend then reared and rigorously drilled in the disciplines and the duties.

Through the generations these eerily identical jungle lords have prowled an evil world in the cloaks of many identities, and none today but the Bandar and a handful of other secret souls know that all are not one and the same.

The modern Phantom is the 21st of the line. Since Feb. 17, 1936, he has been the law in his dangerous part of the world, a one-man police force, a silent avenger who appears and vanishes like lightning. His home is the fearsome "Skull Cave," deep in the heart of his jungle. His only intimates have been the faithful Bandar, his great white horse Hero, his savage gray wolf Devil, and his lovely American sweetheart Diana Palmer. Even the men of the Jungle Patrol, the paramilitary peacekeeping squad an ancestor had organized some years ago, have never seen the face of their mysterious commander in chief.

From thieves and smugglers to cut-throat harbor rats to crazed dictators seeking to enslave free men, all have met the Phantom over 60 thrilling years, and all have tasted his wrath. Always changing with the whirlwind times around him, he has increasingly come to function as something of a United Nations troubleshooter-at-large, a shadowy trench-coated figure slipping in and out of modern Third World political intrigue.

But never far from the Phantom's stage are the great emperors and brigands of yore, in the shining tales of his 20 heroic forebears, recounted in the epic Phantom Chronicles. In more than 60 years of daily newspaper stories and 58 years of Sunday-only yarns, "Phantom" creator Lee Falk has meticulously fleshed out the most minute details of a fabulous dynastic pageant, illuminating the lives of the Phantoms of old whose blood courses through the veins of the modern Ghost Who Walks. Many of them have swashbuckled their way through the famous newspaper comic strip in grand flashback sequences -- one early Phantom is known to have married Christopher Columbus' granddaughter; another is known to have married Shakespeare's niece; still another took a Mongol princess as his bride.

The fifth Phantom crossed swords with the pirate Blackbeard in the early 1600s. The 13th Phantom traveled to the young United States and fought alongside Jean Lafitte in the War of 1812. The 16th appears to have put in some time as a Wild West cowboy.

And succession is assured.

The current Phantom and Diana Palmer were wed in 1977, and today their scrappy young son, Kit, is in training to someday take the sacred "Oath of the Skull" and become the 22nd Phantom. (Phantom 2040, the futuristic television series that in 1994 spun off from Lee Falk's classic comic-strip legend, posits a 24th Phantom, apparently Kit's grandson.)

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