By Jim Shepherd
The feature story in Frew #1259, The Story of Hero, originally appeared in King Comics published in the United States in November 1967.
It was written and illustrated by the remarkably versatile comics veteran Bill Lignante, who was the artist and often writer, for the Gold Key comics series 1962-1966, King Comics 1966-1967 and for the King Comics run in 1966 which included four Phantom stories in its Mandrake the Magician schedule.
The appearance date for The Story of Hero is of special interest, because Bill based many of his Gold Key Phantom stories on original Lee Falk newspaper strips.
The story of how the Phantom came to acquire Hero was first told by Lee in the 1944-45 daily story, The Maharajah’s Daughter which was illustrated by Wilson McCoy. Frew last published this adventure in #1203, which appeared in 1998.
It is well worth referring to that edition, because it included an editorial which expanded on an earlier short piece in Frew #1046 explaining the background to the Phantom/Hero connection and in particular, the re-naming of the famous white stallion. Hero originally belonged to the Maharajah of Nimpore and was officially named ‘Royal Hero’.
When grateful Maharajah makes a gift of ‘Royal Hero’ to the Phantom for rescuing his kidnapped daughter (the Maharajah was also kidnapped early in the story), the Phantom by accident or design, re-names the great horse, simply ‘Hero’.
The 1944-45 official story is actually a little more complicated than that, but if you have #1203 in your collection, the editorial on page 96 explains all!
Bill Lignante’s adaptation of Lee’s original story is interesting for many reasons.
For starters, the identities and names of the major characters have been changed. Instead of the Maharajah of Nimpore and his daughter Lakani, Bill presents King Surobi of Kabora and his daughter Melonie!
Hero does not make an appearance until the end of the adventure and is introduced simply as ‘majestic white horse’. When King Surobi makes a present of his ‘prized possession’ to the Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks instantly names him ‘Hero’ in admiration of the loyalty and fighting qualities of the great stallion.
Le me explain that in the era when the Gold Key and King Comics series appeared, it was normal for scripts based on Lee Falk’s original newspaper adventures to be generally altered to provide an opportunity for artists to better utilize the wide open spaces of the comic book page!
Frew has never previously published Lignante’s The Story of Hero and to the best of my knowledge, this appearance (Frew #1259) is the first time the story has ever been re-printed outside the United States.
I will naturally stand corrected, but Frew has researched our file of international Phantom comic books without turning up a previous printing in Europe, the United Kingdom, South America countries, Singapore, Scandinavia and the Pacific region.
Special thanks are extended to Chris Smith who organized the art reproductions we so proudly present in Frew #1259.