By Jim Shepherd
The Game of Alvar was the 13th daily newspaper story to run in the United States covering the period of the 29th of July 1940 to the 14th of December 1940, a run of 20 weeks.
Older readers will possibly remember that it first went to print in Australia in the now defunct Australian Woman’s Mirror in June 1941. Frew entered the publishing industry in 1948 and first issued the story as its seventh issue in March 1949.
Probably because the title, The Game of Alvar lacked sales appeal, the story was re-titled The Phantom Versus The Gun Runners, not at all a bad choice, because the Phantom becomes embroiled with a gang of munitions’ smugglers headed by the cowardly, mysterious and evil Alvar.
The first Frew issue was heavily edited in an attempt to fit the entire story into a single comic book. A whole 120 frames were deleted from the start of the story and in later reprints, more panels were removed, some to make room for advertising, others because the printing masters were badly damaged.
There have been claims and counter-claims about the Phantom killing (or not killing) people in the early Lee Falk days. The truth is, of course, that the Phantom has dispatched a few villain’s (refer to The Phantom Goes to War) and in The Game of Alvar, the Phantom definitely chalks up a victim. While nothing is said to prove that the Police Chief has been shot and killed by the Phantom, it seems evident enough that The Ghost Who Walks wasn’t in the mood for simply winging an adversary. Not the way the Police Chief falls off the balcony with his hands near his heart!
The more avid Phantom observers cannot fail to note that the Police Chief, taking ‘careful aim’ from almost point blank range, and missing, must have failed all his shooting tests at the Academy!
From almost the beginning of the story, The Game of Alvar moves at breathtaking pace. It takes only 16 frames for the Phantom to knock out his first villain and by story’s end he has ko’d quite a few more, become involved in a gun battle or two, shot the Police Chief, and is shot himself, later to undergo an open air emergency operation.
Hot stuff from the hottest champion against evil in the history of the comic book art form!
Lee Falk was in fine form with this story and so too was master Phantom artist Ray Moore. His action scenes are full of movement and his portrayal of Alvar as one of the most cowardly villains to dare oppose the Phantom, is pure genius.
We will never know how many action movies have ‘borrowed’ from the work of Falk and Moore, but the more you study the plot and pace of The Game of Alvar and especially the cowardly nature of Alvar himself, it is hard not to believe you haven’t seen some of the plot and a few of the characters in a few well-known movies of the past past.
Enjoy The Game of Alvar in Frew number 939. Remember that roughly the first ten pages of this unedited (almost oddly, it was never censored) classic have never been published by Frew.