Halloween in the Skull Cave

Just a short one, this time out. Between school stuff, Halloween stuff, and story deadline stuff, something had to give, and so you are only getting a half-size column this week. But this really awesome comic came out Wednesday that made me ridiculously happy, and I have a hunch some of you may not be aware of it because it's not from one of the big publishers.

I am referring to the new Phantom book from Hermes Press. Story by Peter David, art by Sal Velluto.

I've loved the Ghost Who Walks ever since I first encountered him.... in paperback, oddly enough, back in the mid-70s when I was consuming pulp adventure fiction like a house afire.

Our local paper didn't carry the actual comic strip so all my Phantom experience came at second-hand. First the novels, and then the comic books from Charlton. Unfortunately, I got to the comics just as the series was canceled.... but it was around long enough for me to fall swooningly in love with the art of Don Newton.

The late Don Newton is without question my favorite Phantom artist... but the stories he illustrated at Charlton were pretty standard stuff from writer Joe Gill. My favorite Phantom comic-book story-- the writing, I mean-- was the four-issue mini-series that Peter David did with Joe Orlando for DC back in the 1980s.

That was a great story that told a parallel narrative about a battle one of the Phantom's ancestors had with a vicious pirate captain and the battle today's Phantom was having with that pirate's descendant, who was running a criminal empire. Although I enjoyed the ongoing from Mark Verheiden and Luke McDonnell that had followed that mini-series, I'd always wished that Peter David had been allowed to keep going with the Phantom... but with an artist that had a slightly more romantic/realistic touch, rather than that cartoony, sketchy look Joe Orlando had brought to it.

Well, it took almost thirty years, but it's here. Peter David is back writing the Phantom and Sal Velluto is killing it on the art. Finally, a worthy successor to Mr. Newton.

The first issue was out this week and it just delighted me. All the stuff I'd want in a Phantom story was there-- Diana Palmer, Guran, the Skull Cave, Hero and Devil-- but done with a smart modern spin. I especially love the way Diana is portrayed.

It's really cool and you all should check it out. I haven't seen much coverage of it anywhere and I hate the idea that Phantom fans might be missing out. Because it's the kind of old-school adventure story I wish the majors would do more often.

Also, as long as I'm plugging Hermes Press, I should add that their archival hardcover reprints of the older Phantom comic books are pretty awesome too.

They're a little expensive but some online sniffing around will likely turn up a discounted edition, and considering it's the first time these stories have ever been printed decently (Charlton, especially, was infamous for using the crappiest paper and the worst presses in the industry) it's worth the expense, especially to see the artwork from guys like Jim Aparo reproduced the way it should be... and Hermes doesn't Photoshop the coloring to death, either.

Me, I'm anxiously awaiting the volume where my beloved Don Newton issues will appear-- I still haven't been able to get hold of all of them, so quite a few of those stories will be new to me. But in the meantime, these will do.

See you next week.

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