Posted by Rafael Marín – 12th Jan 2019 – http://crisei.blogalia.com/historias/77725
It has been said that The Phantom, traditionally known among us as The Masked Man since translations from Italian editions, is the first comic book superhero. It has, of course, all the elements that we have later associated with the characters of “long underwear” (Stan Lee dixit): mask without pupils, hood and uniform adjusted to the muscular body, more or less double personality, and the assumption of some super powers and an immortality that the reader knows are false but, in the fiction of the story, work as if the character were indeed superhuman … even if it is not.
The Phantom was created in 1936 by Lee Falk, and it is said that the first two weeks of the strip, like the first strips of his other creation Mandrake the Magician, were drawn by Falk himself before handing the brushes to more skilled artists or more patients: Phil Davis in the case of Mandrake and Ray Moore in the Ghost. The press agency King Features Syndicate changed the original title “The Gray Ghost”, replacing the ghostly noun with a similar one of more corporeal meaning and dispensing with the color qualifier that later, in the Sunday pages of the American newspapers, would betray the dark gray that would keep the daily strips, staining with it the uniform of our Masked Man of an unlikely mauve color (and that in Italy,
The mythology of the strip was done little by little, but since its beginnings a desire for innovation and experimentation is noticed. True, adventure comics barely existed as such for seven years (if we count them as the beginning of them the publication of Tarzan of the Apes and Buck Rogers in 1929), but Lee Falk approaches the strip to the pulps of adventures and, As a result of his theatrical formation, he conceives a dramatic gradation full of surprise irruptions and moments of great wink tension in the form of a continued cliffhanger, both when the Ghost harasses its enemies and when, despite believing that it is immortal, they insist on Kill him in a thousand possible ways.
The vision of the world of the thirties is what makes the first adventures of the Ghost so adorably exotic: liberated women aviators who are also pirates, gangs of thieves of all ethnicity and ralea, cannibal tribes, remote enclaves and crews of thugs that Even from the pages they smell like sweat and rust. The series, curiously, dramatically delays the appearance of its protagonist until the fourth strip (Milton Caniff did not invent anything new when he did the same with Steve Canyon, whatever Umberto Eco said) and focuses on Diana Palmer, so different already then to the other girlfriends of the hero of the comics: scout, pilot, amateur boxer, Olympic swimmer, wealthy girl able to fend for herself and, alas, gangster target, opium traffickers, slave merchants and fortune hunters. The presence of the Ghost is, in the first moments, exactly that of a righteous shadow that appears, strikes, makes caustic comments and disappears. Examining the first pages today, so many decades later, makes the resounding readers be able to see the trick: the Ghost has no double personality, protects Diana and confronts the wicked, and the story, by focusing on the girl and his problems (what is defined today as “point of view”), has virtually no time to devote to the Masked Man. But, as I said, an attentive reading and the experience of the many masked that would come later makes us understand that one of Diana’s suitors, the rich and somewhat syrupy Jimmy Wells is the hidden double personality, in the style of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Fox and what would later be Superman,
And then Jimmy Wells makes a somewhat ambiguous comment and leaves the strip, the vericuetos of the adventure take the Ghost away from America and make it reach the remote country of Bangalla (this is originally called, a nomenclature that would change with the passage of decades, as its geographical location would change, neither in India nor in Africa, but quite the opposite, and that we will respect in this edition, since “Bengal” does exist and it is not the ghost’s jungle), where the screenwriter continues Getting carried away, he has the great inspiration to tell the story of the Bandar pygmies, the Skull Oath and the transformation of his masked hero into a generational Ghost. Jimmy was almost forever forgotten, and the Masked Man, thereafter,
Lee Falk always knew how to give the appropriate tone to his character, perhaps alien to the imperialist nuances that readers of other corners of the world would see in a white target (descendant of English nobles for more signs!) In a jungle full of dangers and savages Of avian intentions. But the adventure clouds any hits that, from today, we could make to that sign of its times. With the nervous drawings of Ray Moore The Phantom becomes the series of adventures by antonomasia of the newspapers of the classic period, which is the same as saying the comic strip of the whole world. The mythical and poetic of the masked man under a family oath bring him one and a thousand times closer to the death of which he will not survive as a person, but as a legend:
Ray Moore came back from World War II. Until recently it has not been known that a shrapnel wound in the face, inoperable, caused him enormous pains that prevented him from developing his work and led him to a spiral of analgesics and alcohol. He was replaced by the effective, discreet and charming Wilson McCoy, an artist who, in the style of Jack Kirby, knew how to get gold from his aesthetic limitations: what was lost in glamor and mystery was won in economics of the narrative sense and, with the passage of the years, knowing Lee Falk the limitations of his co-worker, the series became a gentle melodrama where the adventure was gradually going to the background and prevailed the soft humor, the absurd situation, the natives of very large lips and even greater ambitions, the giants of good heart or crystal jaws,
Wilson McCoy died in July 1961, but his character would survive him and, thanks to the work of the new artist, Seymour “Sy” Barry, brother of Dan Barry, the successful cartoonist who had already recovered Flash Gordon for modern times, would find New paths of glory. A quarter of a century had passed since the first appearance of the Masked Man in the newspapers, and the conception of the medium and, above all, the world political map had taken a turn. The sixties would cement the resurgence of supermen in comic books, so it is not surprising that the new cartoonist, since practically since the second adventure (the first signing) directs the strip in a more realistic style than his predecessors, in tune with what was being done in the full-color monthly publications that would cover the rest of the decade.
More important, however, is the awareness of the authors that things had changed in the world, and that the beginning of the decade was going to be the time of Africa. The colonialist paternalism of the Ghost, always soft and in the background, but existing anyway, embraces modernity. Gone are the Arab satraps, the uncultured savages, the Sheredazian fantasy with some touch of Busby Berkeley. Diana Palmer is no longer the idle middle-class girl she became (along with her mother and uncle Dave, both precursors of both Aunt May Parker and Captain Stacy of The Amazing Spider-Man; Stan Lee always knew how to do his homework ), to enlist nothing less than as a nurse and serve on a UN medical team, in clear allusion to the Peace Corps that would be promoted by John F. Kennedy. Already with the first story (later titled “The Mucar Slave Market”) a kind of symbolic folder is given to the past, the modern world is accepted from the first bullet point and the inherent contradiction of the series is accepted, which covers equally the past unprehensible and a colonial adventure that was giving its last puffs. The Jungle Patrol itself, recently appearing in the strip, will soon replace Colonel Weeks with a new colored colonel, Morobu, and independence and democracy would come to Bangalla (now Bengali) in the form of a black president almost always dressed in gala, Dr. Lamanda Luaga, who would be ahead of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama himself for many years. the modern world is accepted from the first bullet point and the inherent contradiction of the series is accepted, which also encompasses the unprehensible past and a colonial adventure that was taking its last breaths. The Jungle Patrol itself, recently appearing in the strip, will soon replace Colonel Weeks with a new colored colonel, Morobu, and independence and democracy would come to Bangalla (now Bengali) in the form of a black president almost always dressed in gala, Dr. Lamanda Luaga, who would be ahead of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama himself for many years. the modern world is accepted from the first bullet point and the inherent contradiction of the series is accepted, which also encompasses the unprehensible past and a colonial adventure that was taking its last breaths. The Jungle Patrol itself, recently appearing in the strip, will soon replace Colonel Weeks with a new colored colonel, Morobu, and independence and democracy would come to Bangalla (now Bengali) in the form of a black president almost always dressed in gala, Dr. Lamanda Luaga, who would be ahead of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama himself for many years.
The mythology of the character, despite its longevity, would prove from 1961 not to be exhausted, and Lee Falk, following this new “back to the basics” or this new “ultimatization” of his character, adding elements such as second symbol of the Phantom (the quadruple “P” that indicates protection and that it carries in a ring in the left hand, closer to the heart, while the mark of the skull of the right hand expresses the opposite), the archives of the cave of his ancestors, the golden beach of Keela Wee, the table of the Ghost in the United States, and over time the inclusion of the adolescent Rex who would function as the son who had not yet had, the wedding with Diana Palmer so long delayed (already the which, in a rare crossover, would be attended by Mandrake and Lothar), the birth of their twins and, unheard of,even show the true face of the character, without his mask.
Ring the tam-tam of the deep jungle. The walking elf, the walking spirit returns.