There have been many Phantoms before the current one – a lineage of fathers passing the torch to their sons, an oath to defend the jungles of Bangalla from piracy, cruelty, and injustice. The story of the modern Phantom, the 21st, continues in The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks, published by Moonstone Books, starting with a #0 issue this week.
We spoke with the writer of the series, Mike Bullock, on Moonstone’s plans for the character and the new series.
First, for those who came in late…
The Phantom was created by Lee Falk, who also created the character Mandrake the Magician. Originally starting as a daily newspaper strip in 1936, The Phantom still runs in newspapers internationally today under the watchful eyes of writer Tony DePaul and artist Paul Ryan.
Though the character remains an international phenomenon, along the lines of Batman or Superman, in the US, a Phantom comic has been published by just about every comic company, with varying degrees of success.
In the 1940s, Ace Comics reprinted the strips in comic book format, a common practice in those days, before Harvey Comics took over in the 1950s. The property was passed around for the next 27 years, published by Gold Key Comics, King Comics and Charlton Comics. The late, great Jim Aparo actually worked on The Phantom during this time period. The property went quiet (as a comic book) until the late 80’s when DC Comics printed a mini series written by Peter David, following it up with a short-lived ongoing series written by Mark Verheiden. This was about the time DC began to publish The Shadow and Flash Gordon as well, attempting to modernize them for a “Mature Readers” audience.
Marvel picked up the reigns multiple times also, publishing tie-ins to the many Phantom cartoon series, like Defenders of the Earth and Phantom 2040. They also tried modernizing the character in the three-issue Marvel miniseries, The Phantom: The Ghost Who Walks in the mid-90’s, telling the story of the future 22nd Phantom.
Since 2002, Moonstone Books has published The Phantom in the United States. The stories have been generally accepted by The Phantom community, returning the American comics to the true essence of the character. Starting as a series of graphic novels and then evolving into an ongoing series, the most recent writer to take on the tales of “The Ghost Who Walks” is Mike Bullock, writer of such critically and commercially successful works as the Lions, Tigers, and Bears series from Image Comics, The Gimoles, and Sonic X.
IOM: What prompted this reboot of The Phantom?
Mike Bullock: The previous series suffered a bit from a lack of a cohesive direction. Ben Raab had one when he started the title, but after two other writers worked on it, then it came to me, that direction had been lost. This wasn’t anyone’s fault, but it happened. Joe Gentile and I recognized this and after several lengthy discussions, decided a reboot was in order. The new series will be a bit more serious in tone and place more emphasis on the modern world the Phantom exists in, complete with terrorists, Somalian pirates, kidnappers and even organ smugglers…
IOM: Given The Phantom‘s international appeal, I still find it strange that so many Americans really don’t know him. Can you give us a little bit of information on the character?
MB: The Phantom is the first comic super hero. He appeared in the newspapers in February of 1936 and has run continuously ever since. He predates Batman and Superman. Unlike most of his peers, however, The Phantom has never gone through one of the “anti-hero” phases that seem so popular in modern comics. He’s still a man on the right side of the law. Or many men, to be more accurate.
The current Phantom is the 21st in an unbroken line of fathers and sons who have worn the mask since the days of Christopher Columbus. After taking The Oath of the Skull, (swearing to fight against piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice), the first Phantom swore his sons and their sons would follow in his footsteps until the end of days.
By passing it on to his son, the First further emphasized the legend that the Phantom is immortal, which is punctuated more than once by the son returning to take out his father’s killer. The legend built up around this “Man Who Cannot Die” or “Ghost Who Walks”, as he’s known by some, creates a mystique that allows him to psyche out his opponents long before he ever plants a skull mark on their chin with a patented right cross.
Once they’re marked with one, the skull never comes off and becomes a permanent reminder that they tangled with a ghost and lost.
IOM: I know you’ve been working on The Phantom for a couple of years now (since 2005), and have had a pretty great run on the character so far. What attracted you to The Phantom as a character, given that the majority of your comic work prior to Phantom was relatively all-ages work?
MB: I really loved the character when I was a kid, but my attention span wasn’t great enough to get my fill in the small chunks available at the time via the newspaper strip. So, when Moonstone launched the current series, I got very excited and started following it. Not only is the Phantom an icon, but he’s one of the only true heroes left in comics. He doesn’t worry about what anyone thinks of him, he isn’t emotionally scarred by some dark past, he never blurs the line between right and wrong. He’s a hero through and through, someone kids can look up to, other men can admire and criminals can fear. Add to that the ability to tell so many stories tied into history from the past five hundred years and it’s a dream gig for me.
If I want to tell a swashbuckling tale of adventure on the high seas, I’ll write a story of the 13th Phantom. If I want to tell a story from the revolutionary war, I can do that. If I want to address some atrocity in today’s newspaper, I can do that as well. All the while knowing I’m adding to a body of work longer than any that exists in the comics world.
IOM: Tell us a little bit about The Ghost Who Walks. Will the “adjectiveless” Phantom still continue, or is that run complete?
MB: The previous series ended with #26. I think it was a good run, if a bit rudderless at times. Ben Raab, Rafeal Nieves and Chuck Dixon did some great things with it, and I recently heard the Checkmate arc I wrote last year (#21-25) was voted Best Phantom Story of 2008 by the core Phan community, which to me speaks volumes of the success of that series.
The new series will hit harder, have more action, explore more modern ills and put The Ghost Who Walks in situations with a far darker overtone than what came before. In the newspaper stories, early on Lee Falk gave the character a darker “scare the crap outta the bad guys” vibe that’s been missing for some time. We aim to put that back, while incorporating elements from the 21st century as well.
The Phantom will get a bit of an update, nothing radical, but he’ll be brought fully into the new millennium, which was also something absent from the previous series. Even though he did operate in 2008, he lacked the accessories a modern hero would have at his disposal to reach his goals. The Phantom is driven by the Oath, and if that means getting a sat phone and broadband, then so be it…
IOM: I love the idea of the more modern Phantom, with modern technology. Will the setting of the stories generally be the same, or will we see him venture out of Bangalla more often?
MB: Well, the Deep Woods, Skull Cave and all that will be the same places that existed in the last series. However, The Phantom will spend more time out of the jungle, as he is a truly international hero. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from Bangalla…
IOM: What’s the format of the new series? That is to say, is it more of an ongoing storyline, shorter multi-issue storylines, done in one issues? Tell us a little bit about the first storyline that starts in issue #1.
MB: So far, I’ve plotted out a three part story arc, a one shot, a two part story arc, and another one shot, with plans for another three-parter after that. Silvestre Szilagyi and Bob Pedroza are busy bringing the first arc to life and preparing to hop on the second one in the coming weeks.
The first story arc, END WAR, involves a group of rather nasty fellows who believe the only way to bring about a new world order is to end the old one, by force. They take the old saying “The Enemy of my Enemy…” and twist it a bit to suit their needs, which ultimately will plunge the world into a new stone age, if they’re successful, leaving them to pick up the pieces and start anew.
IOM: With the appearance of Mandrake the Magician (another great Lee Falk character) in The Phantom Annual last year, any plans for more Mandrake stuff? Especially with the movie in the works?
MB: We do have plans for a Mandrake ongoing series that springboards out of the “Jewel of Denial” short that ran as a back up in Captain Action #1. I’ve plotted the first story arc and we’re waiting on a few other elements to fall into place before we launch that series.
IOM: How was it writing for The Phantom Chronicles prose anthology? Near as I can tell, that’s the first prose Phantom work since the 70’s Lee Falk novels (which I actually have the first of in softcover!).
MB: I’ve now written three Phantom prose stories and one Zorro prose story and what’s really funny is that the first one, White Knight, which you mention, was by far the easiest. I sat down one day with an idea and two hours later had a completed story. Sometimes the muse is kind…
IOM: Are there any more plans for The Phantom in 2009? Anything to coincide with upcoming movie plans?
MB: The next big Phantom deal is Phantom: Generations, a 21 part maxi series with each issue chronicling an adventure of one of the twenty one Phantoms. Ben Raab wrote the first one, with Tom Defalco on #2, Mel Odom on #3 and many other great writers and artists contributing the other eighteen. I’m doing the 8th Phantom as he tracks a murderer to Port Royal Jamaica and arrives mere hours before it’s swallowed up by the sea.
After that, Ruben Procopio and myself are dropping Phantom: The Hammer in serial format, with eight, eight-page installments that will run in the back of various Moonstone Books. I don’t want to say too much more about that one, but it’s been a blast to work on so far.
IOM: When can we look forward to seeing Generations?
MB: The first issue, done by Ben Raab & Pat Quinn should hit stores within a month of The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks #1. Ed Rhoades and I are editing the series and so far, there have been some really bang up tales worked up by the stellar cast of writers.
IOM: Do you have a list of all 21 Phantoms that you use for reference? I know The Phantom: Generations will explore these characters, but any plans for maybe a Who’s Who/Secret Files in the Phantom world of all the Phantoms?
MB: As mentioned above, we are creating a Phantom Handbook, that will have entries for all twenty-one Phantoms. Preview pages from this can be found in The Phantom: Ghost Who Walks #0. If all goes well, the handbook will be out some time later this year.
IOM: You know I have to ask what you thought of the Billy Zane movie (I personally loved it and still watch it from time to time).
MB: I highly enjoyed Billy Zane’s performance, but overall was let down by the story in the end. I loved that they incorporated two of the earliest Phantom tales into the script (The Singh Brotherhood and The Sky Band), but the other elements they added didn’t hold up to what Mr. Falk did in the aforementioned tales.
However, I’m very excited about what I’ve heard of the new movie The Phantom Legacy coming from Tim Boyle in the not so distant future.
IOM: Looking at some of your other projects, through Runemaster Studios and Image Comics, you’ve put out some really great books, like Lions, Tigers, and Bears and Secrets of the Seasons. Are there plans for any upcoming books? I notice from the website another volume of Lions and another work called Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel.
MB: Thanks, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the works. Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel is coming this summer from Silverline/Image featuring a story about a young boy who discovers his beach towel can actually take him to adventures in his favorite stories. The artwork by Michael Metcalf is simply amazing! After Timothy and LTBv3, I’m working on two new ones called Game Over and My Machine. Both are still in the developmental stages right now, so I can’t tell you much about them.
In addition to that, I’m turning the Lions, Tigers and Bears franchise into a series of young adult novels that I hope to have in bookstores in 2010. I’m also laying the groundwork for another series of YA novels based on a science fiction property I’ve been developing for far too long…
IOM: Going back to The Phantom before we wrap up, what would you tell someone who’s never read The Phantom before and notices The Ghost Who Walks on a shelf for a dollar and ninety nine cents?
MB: It’s a perfect chance to check out what millions of others around the world have been enjoying for almost 75 years. The Zero issue contains an origin to get new readers up to speed so they can hit the ground running in #1, and it also has a preview of the upcoming Phantom Handbook, with entries for the current Phantom, a few of his closest friends, and one not-so-friendly man who will play a big role in the first arc of the series.
When everyone is raising comic book prices, how can you go wrong with all that for half the price?
IOM: Any upcoming appearances you’d like to mention? Are you going to be at NYCC?
MB: My next con appearance will be at Emerald City Comic Con in April. In my humble opinion, it’s simply the best show of the year. If you can make it out, I’d highly recommend it. After that, I’ll be signing at Samurai Comics on the west side of Phoenix for Free Comic Book Day and have tentative plans to make it to Chicago for Wizard World this summer.
IOM: I completely agree about The Phantom – I’m hoping with the new series and upcoming movie, maybe he can get back into the spotlight again. It really is amazing how huge he is overseas.
MB: From what I understand of it, that movie should do for The Phantom what The Dark Knight did for Batman. Tim seems to have a wonderful grasp of the character and a burning desire to tell the right story, the right way. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
Thanks for the interview!
Mike is a great guy and his enthusiasm for the Phantom is not only evident, it’s infectious. Even if you’re never checked out The Phantom before, definitely pick up The Ghost Who Walks #0 this week from Moonstone Books for a preview of the upcoming series. You can get the issues from Moonstone Books official site, or from your local comic shop!