By Jim Shepherd
Pity the poor Phantom researcher! Tracking down official Lee Falk story titles has always been a nightmare because Lee often neglected to give stories a name. Frew Publications has many times compounded the problem by inventing story titles!
The Keeper of the Peace, the vintage Lee Falk adventure presented in issue number 1293 is a classic example!
The story appeared in daily newspapers throughout the world commencing the 17th of July 1972 and Frew first published the adventure in edition number 496 in 1973.
Most (but certainly not all) Australian newspapers of the time ran the story in daily single strip form and on the second day of its run the official story title, The Keeper of the Peace appeared in the opening frame.
Not so in the first Frew printing and the following two reprints! The cover of edition number 496 included a box announcing the issue contained a new story, but no story title appeared on the cover, which featured a posed illustration of the Phantom wielding his trademark handguns.
For some reason, the then publishers deleted the first four panels of the story (and thus, the official story title in the fourth panel)and added a standard, for the time, introductory page giving a potted history of the Phantom character.
As the daily strips were extremely difficult to scale to the Frew comic page, nearly all were cropped, many which escaped this fate were enlarged and lengthened and many were eliminated.
In the first reprint (Frew number 674 published in 1979), only the front cover was new, featuring this time, the Phantom and an obviously terrified white man. The cover did not carry a story title and the contents were the same as appeared in the first printing.
The second reprint appeared in Frew number 889 which appeared in 1987 and the contents page were identical to the heavily edited and modified versions which appeared in numbers 496 and 674.
The front cover, however, did carry a clue to the story. Two lines of type on the famous old yellow strip at the top of the cover proclaimed the story to be… The Peace Of The Golden Ox. The cover illustration was of the Phantom pointing a handgun at a character probably meant to be The Divine King of the Headhunters… Child of the Sun and the Moon.
The attempt at a likeness was vague in the extreme. The character on the front cover is shown wearing an elaborate headdress complete with a very large jewel (perhaps a red ruby) or ornament in an elaborate setting in the center of the headdress. The King of the Headhunters did not wear such a head piece!
This is understandable, because front covers of the time were rendered by the Sydney artist Tom Hughes, who had a peculiar dislike of linking covers to the story! Amazing, but true!
The Frew story title, remembering that by that time, the original first four panels had disappeared, was vey close to the mark and made a lot of sense. Very early in the story, the Phantom makes a point of using the Golden Ox carving as a means of securing peace between warring tribes… “Let this Golden Ox… faithful servant of man… be a symbol of peace…”.
However, it was not the official Lee Falk story title and it is only now, after securing new repros of the entire story, that we know Lee entitled this adventure, The Keeper of the Peace. This was one story title which slipped by all our researchers, including myself, when Frew complied our 50 Year Index in 1998.
Since the Index appeared, we have tracked down a few more official titles which were omitted from the lists.
All in all, not a bad effort considering the early Frew editors changed almost 100 official Lee Falk title names between 1948 and 1988!
In more recent times, Frew has worked hard to bring back the official titles of all Lee Falk adventures and in those instances when Lee did not indicate a story title, we have indicated a story title, we have invariably made mention of that.
Story titles used by Frew for Phantom adventures obtained from our Egmont colleagues in Scandinavia have often been deliberately modified for more local appeal.
We’re getting there! At least the vast majority of our front covers these days relate to the story and this is making life much easier for data compilers!