By Jim Shepherd
The Golden Circle remains one of the most popular Lee Falk / Ray Moore creation since the Phantom first appeared way back in February 1936.
It is not hard to understand the appeal. Storyteller supremo Falk has woven a magical tale involving intense mystery, yet another hard-bitten gang of female villains, hair-breadth escapes and almost naturally, misunderstandings in the romance between the Phantom and Diana.
The Golden Circle first ran as a daily newspaper strip in American papers from September 4, 1939 to January 20, 1940. It appeared in Australia initially in the old Australian Woman’s Mirror and made its debut in a Frew comic book number 13 on September 7, 1949. Frew actually spread the story over three issues (numbers 13, 14, 15) and confused the issue somewhat by calling the first episode The Phantoms Dilemma, the second episode The Golden Circle and the third episode The Poison Gas Chamber. As was the norm in those days, some fairly severe editing took place and the first 48 frames of the story were never printed by Frew.
In issue number 934, the missing 48 frames have been replaced.
Amazing really how many older people remember The Golden Circle. In a recent survey, Frew asked questions of hundreds of people over the age of 50 in an effort to see which Falk-Moore classics are best remembered. The story title The Golden Circle was remembered by the vast majority and as a point of interest, many could actually sketch the design of the Golden Circle!
As another matter of interest, other than The Golden Circle, these were the best-remembered points from vintage Phantom stories:
- The time the Phantom is buried in the ant hill – famous scene from The Slave Traders
- The name ‘The Sky Band’ – famous stories The Sky Band and Return of the Sky Band
- ‘The Seahorse’ – Frew’s title for that story was The Phantom versus the Spy Ring and in a second episode On Bleak Island
- Reference to the Phantom’s visit to London – Little Toma recently re-published in Frew number 931A
The Golden Circle has been re-printed by Frew (but always without the first 48 frames and as time went by minus other sections of the story). The last appearance was in number 740 in March 1982.
The Golden Circle packs plenty of action, but unlike so many other stories of its era, was not considered bloodthirsty enough to warrant censorship. The members of The Golden Circle gang are ruthless, tough little ladies, but not tough enough to even tempt the Phantom to resort to dishing out any physical punishment. Striking women is mostly definitely not in the Phantom’s code of ethics. Because of that, Falk had to resort to some masterly tactical moves to enable the Phantom to keep his reputation intact, while protecting his own life!
You’ll notice one storyline technique which recurs in Phantom adventures, women falling desperately in love with the Phantom. This ploy has many times enabled Lee Falk to extricate our hero from sticky situations!
Lee Falk has always claimed that Ray Moore was a genius at drawing glamorous women. In The Golden Circle he had plenty of practice!
Lee Falk is at his brilliant best in this classic and I believe this is one of the finest examples of Ray Moore’s penwork. Moore obviously loved the story and it is evident in the manner in which he executes backgrounds (when some simple shading would have sufficed), his attention to detail in the clothing worn by members of The Golden Circle gang and some bold experiments in depth of field and lighting.
Remember this was executed in 1939-40. If you have a chance, study the work of the acknowledged comic strip artists of the time (especially the Americans) and compare their efforts with Moore.
I’m now quite convinced The Golden Circle broke new ground and provided hundreds of Moore’s peers with a bank of ideas and new techniques, some of which are still used today!
This is a real classic (and one which you should put away carefully) by two masters of their craft. As much as any other Phantom story this is a tribute to Lee Falk and Ray Moore, men who broke new ground in the development of the comic strip art form.