Sunday, November 13, 2016

"If you were a man, I'd be at your throat, regardless of that gun." The Phantom vs. the Sky Maidens review

It seems as though the Phantom has never quite received his dues; sure, he's been appearing in comic strips since 1936; he's been in-and-out of comic books during those years, had a number of prose novels, a couple of animated programs, a live action film serial and movie starring Billy Zane! The Phantom has so permeated our culture that some warriors in Papua New Guinea use the Phantom's face to decorate their shields.

And yet, much of the Phantom's fans live below the equator - Australia, South Africa, South America - and we in North America don't quite care for him. That's a pity as he's a historically important figure in popular culture, being perhaps the first example of a super hero. He doesn't quite obtain that honor despite being a character from comics who wears a mask and full body skintight costume, a double identity including a secret identity, and even belongs to a line of succeeding costumed heroes (something which was not initially a big part of comics but certainly is today). He's usually omitted from the title of first super hero because he appeared first in comic strips (comic books are considered the native domain of super heroes) and he didn't have super powers (even though he's as much a super hero as Batman). Basically, Superman casts a deeper shadow than the Phantom.

I've never been too well-versed in the Phantom's world (though I had many great times in my childhood playing with my Defenders of the Earth Phantom figure). Perhaps I'm least knowledgeable about his very comic strip origins - I've never a newspaper which carried the Phantom. To that end, I recently obtained a copy of The Phantom vs. the Sky Maidens, a collection of Phantom newspaper strips from a very popular 1936-37 Phantom storyline by author Lee Falk and artist Ray Moore (said story is also called "The Sky Band" by some).

In this early tale, a rogue squadron of aircrafts are robbing airmail planes (similar to the "Air Pirates" story from Mickey Mouse's comic strip, but not as inventive). The authorities still don't know what to make of the Phantom and believe him be to the leader of the Sky Band. To clear his name, the Ghost Who Walks must thwart the Sky Band single-handed (okay, his pet Devil helps). To the Phantom's surprise, the Sky Band are made up of women and led by the beautiful Baroness. In the midst of this, the growing attraction between the Phantom and Diana Palmer is furthered (later in the strip series they are wed).

If you've seen the Billy Zane Phantom movie then you'll no doubt realize as I did that the film's band of lady air pirates led by Catherine Zeta-Jones were adapted from this storyarc. It's a great fast-paced adventure - not as clever or lushly rendered as Crane's Captain Easy or Caniff's Terry, but Moore's panels are filled with deep shadows and a sense of weird menace.

Let's resume talking about the Phantom tomorrow!

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