By Jim Shepherd
Lee Falk had something of an infatuation with the Eastern Dark!
He liked the sound of the name, the idea he devised about the huge area in the middle of Phantom Country being largely unexplored, and populated by fierce natives who were involved in everything from human sacrifice to drug dealing and illegal oil drilling.
It was a perfect setting for the Phantom and Lee always regretted not expanding the theme to write at least a few more stories.
The Guardian of the Eastern Dark, a 1977 daily story, introduced the idea and Lee was to return to the site in a number of adventures spilling into 1998.
His last mention of the Eastern Dark appeared in the daily story, The Dakk Pirates, written not long before his death.
Lee’s second story was the 1983-84 Sunday, The Eastern Dark, in which the vicious natives themselves were referred to as the Eastern Dark and Mucar was stated to be the capital of the area. This was a little curious, because a 1961-62 daily story was called The Slave Market of Mucar and that Mucar was a slave city in the middle of a desert. The Slave market of Mucar also marked the first Phantom art drawn by Sy Barry.
When Lee mentioned the Eastern Dark in a third story, it was featured in the 1990 Sunday story, The Eastern Dark at Janorra.
On that occasion we learn that the Eastern Dark fanatics are now controlled by one Prince Darca of Darcan.
Lee was still busy refining everything when he wrote the 1995-96 daily Raiders of the Eastern Dark.
In that story, the fanatics were based in the jungle city of Dakk and in the fifth story, Dakk was still the center of activities (the 1998-99 daily story, the Dakk Pirates).
It was in his fifth and final story that Lee finalized everything for future Eastern Dark adventures.
The fanatics were now deeply involved in piracy, along similar lines to the Singh Brotherhood. Lee’s idea was to have the Eastern Dark welded into a powerful and well organized consortium run by a mysterious leader who would remain in the shadows and provide endless plots as the Phantom attempts to locate his (or her!) headquarters and crush all activities.
Not long before his death, Lee was toying with the idea of bringing back the Singh Brotherhood as seafaring pirates and having the Eastern Dark as land-based criminals.
That would have had the Phantom battling two widely separated, but equally dangerous opponents. Which would have been a perfect scenario! In theory at least, Lee could have kept the Phantom busy for years.
Sadly, Lee died before he could resurrect the Singh Pirates, or concoct another adventure starring the Eastern Dark.
The possibilities were endless and it is not hard to imagine Lee scribbling notes and even as he once hinted, having the Singh Pirates and the Eastern Dark joining forces to crush the Phantom!
If you dig back through the Frew achieves and take careful note of the irregular story introductions, you will find continual references to both bunches of nasties.
The Phantom was invariably referred to as Guardian of the Eastern Dark, a phrase which became equally well know as The Ghost Who Walks and The Man Who Cannot Die.
We can only wait for the current story creators to pick up where Lee Falk left off and expand on the Eastern Dark theme, hopefully, with the addition of the Singh Brotherhood!