In February of 1936, Lee Falk’s The Phantom debuted in a daily newspaper strip and has remained in publication in some form or another ever since. In the Jungles of Bangalla, Africa, the purple-clad crime fighter is known as The Ghost Who Walks. Believed by the locals to be immortal, The Phantom is in fact the latest in a long line of crime fighters who assume the mantle of the Ghost Who Walks. The Phantom has been written by dozens of creators in as many mediums over the past 70 years, but his most recent comics incarnation debuted in 2003 under the banner of Moonstone Books. Eleven issues into the run, writer Mike Bullock took over scripting “The Phantom,” and now Monstone and Bullock are re-launching the title with comics legend David Michelinie as creative consultant. CBR News caught up with Bullock and Michelinie to talk about the upcoming series.
Bullock said that he and Moonstone Editor-Iin-Chief Joe Gentile talked about re-launching the book when the former first took over “The Phantom.” “For various reasons, we decided that wasn't the way to go,” Bullock said. But after completing “Checkmate,” the final arc of Moonstone’s first “The Phantom” series, Bullock felt the time was right to take the series in a new direction. “I approached Joe with an idea to revisit our previous discussions on the subject and, as it turned out, he was already thinking the same thing.”
Bullock says that the new “The Phantom” series exists in the same continuity as the old one, but that the re-launch takes place some years after the events in “Checkmate.” “While it won't completely ignore the events of the previous series, it's not tied down to them either,” Bullock assured new readers. “The Zero issue is a comic book format retelling of the origin Ben Raab and Pat Quinn did in the prose heavy ‘Phantom: Legacy.’ It's a nice primer for new readers, while giving existing ones something fresh as well. The issue also contains some added goodies every ‘Phan’ will love.”
With more than 70 years of source material to draw on, Bullock has quite a lot of inspiration for his take on the iconic character. “The biggest influence on the new series is the early days of the newspaper strips, when The Phantom was more mysterious, more ‘scare the crap out of the bad guys,’ that sort of thing,” Bullock said. “With a character like The Phantom, who's had every sort of light shined on him over the seventy plus years, Lee Falk had to make sure he adapted the character and stories to evolve with the times. Luckily for us, in this day and age, all those variations are viable, if done correctly.”
That said, Bullock told CBR News that each incarnation of the character has embraced the spirit of the time in which it was set, and his “Phantom” is no exception. In our troubled world, Bullock’s Phantom will have a decidedly darker edge than the one Lee Falk first envisioned so many years ago. “I hinted at a lot of those things in the last series, which was met with applause from readers and critics alike, so it was a real no-brainer to push ahead in that direction with the new series,” Bullock said. “There will be less of the ‘family friendly’ aspects of the property in this series. We're stripping away a lot of the mythos that was built around The Phantom's family life, social life, etc., to get back to the raw character Lee Falk first brought to life in the days when pulp fiction was all the rage and speculative works engaged the imagination with just enough reality to bring it to life, but not enough to make it anything other than a fantastical ride.”
Silvestre Szilagyi will be penciling and inking the new series. “Sil made his debut on ‘Phantom’ #16 and has done nothing but get better and better with each panel,” Bullock said. “Bob Pedroza will also be returning to color the interiors each and every month. It's a been a real treat to watch Bob and Sil grow together into, what I feel, is the best ‘Phantom’ comic book art team the Ghost has ever seen.
“After that, new letterer Josh Aitken will be unscrambling my dialogue into legible images for readers. And Joe Corroney will be offering the covers, along with a nice cast of stars to produce a cover shot here and there including Sy Barry, Rick Leonardi, Terry Austin, Herbe Trimpe and more.”
Gentile wanted to bring a seasoned comics veteran in for the re-launch, and Michelinie fit the bill. “Joe wanted to bring someone into the ‘Phantom’ office who could fill a similar role to what Ron Marz did when working with me on ‘Lions, Tigers and Bears,’” Bullock said. “Joe asked David if he'd be interested, David said yes, and here we are now, ironing the wrinkles out of a fledgling working relationship.”
Though his official title is creative consultant, David Michelinie prefers to think of himself as a “suggester.” “I go over the stories more as a reader than a critic, and if I think something might be a little unclear, or could be done in a more effective manner, I'll point that out and make suggestions for alternatives,” Michelinie said. “I'm basically just another experienced opinion thrown into the mix, and it's up to the writer and editor whether to act on my suggestions or not.”
Michelinie has co-plotted stories before, but this is the first time he’s worked with another writer on a story all their own, and he’s embraced the new experience. “It's challenging, but a learning experience from which I hope we'll all benefit.”
Bullock described Michelinie’s role as something between an editor and a sounding board. “Basically, I plot the stories, pass the plot over to Dave, he comes back with his thoughts and we do it again in the scripting stage,” Bullock said. “It's been a lot of fun so far, and I'm sure once we're completely plugged in, readers will really be in for a treat.”
“The Phantom” #0 hits stands this January from Moonstone Books.