Batman, before The Shadow, before The Green Hornet, before The Lone
Ranger, the comics' first masked mystery-man hero had long since been
striking fear into the dark hearts of the wicked.
Indeed, by the time the world-famous adventures of The Phantom were
first recorded in print more than six decades ago, the grim champion
of justice had already been around for nearly 400 years.
Such is the riveting, myth-freighted legend of The Phantom -- "The
Ghost Who Walks," "The Man Who Cannot Die," "The
Guardian of the Eastern Dark." In the beginning he had been a half-drowned
sailor, flung ashore on the terrible, blood-drenched Bengalla coast
after pirates burned his ship and slaughtered his mates. The gentle
Bandar pygmies, taking him to be a sea god of ancient prophecy, nursed
him back to fitness and became his everlasting friends -- as the castaway
faced his destiny, donned costume and mask and was reborn as the first
of the Phantoms, scourge of predators everywhere.
"I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed,
cruelty and injustice!" he cried as he formally took "The
Oath of the Skull" by firelight. "And my sons and their sons
shall follow me!"
And in time there was a son. In time that son begat another, and thereafter
that son begat again. After a while, there arose a dynasty of Phantoms,
one after another, born into the legend then reared and rigorously drilled
in the disciplines and the duties.
Through the generations these eerily identical jungle lords have prowled
an evil world in the cloaks of many identities, and none today but the
Bandar and a handful of other secret souls know that all are not one
and the same.
modern Phantom is the 21st of the line. Since Feb. 17, 1936, he has
been the law in his dangerous part of the world, a one-man police force,
a silent avenger who appears and vanishes like lightning. His home is
the fearsome "Skull Cave," deep in the heart of his jungle.
His only intimates have been the faithful Bandar, his great white horse
Hero, his savage gray wolf Devil, and his lovely American sweetheart
Diana Palmer. Even the men of the Jungle Patrol, the paramilitary peacekeeping
squad an ancestor had organized some years ago, have never seen the
face of their mysterious commander in chief.
From thieves and smugglers to cut-throat harbor rats to crazed dictators
seeking to enslave free men, all have met the Phantom over 60 thrilling
years, and all have tasted his wrath. Always changing with the whirlwind
times around him, he has increasingly come to function as something
of a United Nations troubleshooter-at-large, a shadowy trench-coated
figure slipping in and out of modern Third World political intrigue.
never far from the Phantom's stage are the great emperors and brigands
of yore, in the shining tales of his 20 heroic forebears, recounted
in the epic Phantom Chronicles. In more than 60 years of daily newspaper
stories and 58 years of Sunday-only yarns, "Phantom" creator
Lee Falk has meticulously fleshed out the most minute details of a fabulous
dynastic pageant, illuminating the lives of the Phantoms of old whose
blood courses through the veins of the modern Ghost Who Walks. Many
of them have swashbuckled their way through the famous newspaper comic
strip in grand flashback sequences -- one early Phantom is known to
have married Christopher Columbus' granddaughter; another is known to
have married Shakespeare's niece; still another took a Mongol princess
as his bride.
The fifth Phantom crossed swords with the pirate Blackbeard in the early
1600s. The 13th Phantom traveled to the young United States and fought
alongside Jean Lafitte in the War of 1812. The 16th appears to have
put in some time as a Wild West cowboy.
And succession is assured.
current Phantom and Diana Palmer were wed in 1977, and today their scrappy
young son, Kit, is in training to someday take the sacred "Oath
of the Skull" and become the 22nd Phantom. (Phantom 2040, the futuristic
television series that in 1994 spun off from Lee Falk's classic comic-strip
legend, posits a 24th Phantom, apparently Kit's grandson.)