What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is the Phantom fighting Napoleon? December 2019 – March 2020


Hi at last, people who want to know what’s happening in the Sunday continuity of Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom. The Phantom is sharing a story of one of his ancestors is what’s going on. If you’re looking for the weekday continuity, or if you’re reading this after (I expect) June 2020, you’re likely to find a more relevant essay here. If you’d like a little mathematics in your comic strip talk, please try out my other blog. Thank you.

The Phantom (Sundays).

29 December 2019 – 22 March 2020

We left The Phantom teasing his daughter Heloise with tales of past Phantoms. He suggested he could tell Heloise what really happened to Ambrose Bierce, or to the body of Thomas Paine. Or Khe Pandjang, who’d lead an army against Dutch imperialism in Indonesia in the 18th century. (I hadn’t heard of him before this, but it’s a good reference. Linking The Phantom to him helps diffuse the colonialism baked into the comic strip’s premise.) Or the sole (then-)surviving witness to the Mary Celeste.

What The Phantom finally suggests, and Heloise accepts, is hearing the story of George Bass. Bass was a real-world British naval surgeon and explorer. That strait between Australia and Tasmania is named after him. In reality, he was last seen in February 1803. He was expected to sail the brig Venus from Sydney to Tahiti and then, perhaps, Spanish colonies in Chile. No one knows what happened to him and his crew. What The Phantom (Sundays) supposes is … not no one knows?

In The Phantom’s retelling there were a 26th and 27th person on the Venus. The 13th Phantom was one of those people lost to history. The other was called Carter, and we’re promised that his treachery put Bass in the Vault of Missing Men. And instead of sailing for Tahiti, Bass intended the ship to go “missing”. And then to join actively the Napoleonic Wars, attacking French and Spanish ships under a false flag.

[ The Venus, in the south Pacific, in 1803 ] Bass: 'Napoleon's aim is clear, Walker: he means to invade England! To do so, he needs to destroy our navy and so rule the Channel.' 13th Phantom: 'His Spanish allies tried it in 1588. I understand it went rather badly for them.' Bass: 'Walker, I am determined to see the Venus, under false flag, serve in sending both French and Spanish seapower to the bottom!' [ Modern day ] 21st Phantom, to Heloise: 'Bold Captain Bass and his shadowy sponsors in England did as they intended ... and our ancestor was there to bear witness. The 13th Phantom saw George Bass alter the course of history ... at a place called Trafalgar!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 23rd of February, 2020. It’s already dubious enough that a Phantom — whose original sworn oath is against piracy — would be literally on board with a rogue ship flying false colors to attack his country’s enemies. But besides that, this particular flashback has to be set sometime in early 1803, during the Peace of Amiens. A reasonable person might gamble that this peace was not going to last, but at the moment Bass was making these plans, they were to attack people his country was not at war with. (This, granted, is supposing that someone in Australia would have heard of the peace, which would have been only about 11 months old at this scene.) But one consistent thing, especially about DePaul’s Phantoms, are that they will screw up, and allowing themselves to be patriotically convinced that it’s not piracy if it’s for the English cause is credible. If the Walkers see themselves as English, which, there’s good reasons to go either way. I acknowledge this is a spin-off of my older question, are the Phantoms Anglican?

This is a quite interesting plan since I don’t see how this isn’t piracy. There’s a reference to Bass having “sponsors” in England, so perhaps this got the legal cover of being a privateer. But then that would be on Bass’s Wikipedia page, unless of course Tony DePaul has an explanation to come for that.

Bass, in fiction, renames his ship the El Sol. He names his lifeboat the Tom Thumb III, in honor of the small boats the historic Bass used to explore Australian rivers. He says that he and Walker will launch the Tom Thumb III to save England from Napoleon. Meanwhile they sail to some Mediterranean port, “a nest of cutthroats, spies”. While walking down Ambush Alley in the port, Bass and Walker notice they’re being followed. It’s Carter, who hasn’t got any reason to be off the ship and less reason to follow them. They suspect Carter of working for someone, they know not who. Bass declares he can’t just leave Carter there. He means, unless he murders the bilge rat. But he’s too honest for that. The first time I read this, I thought Bass was saying he’d have to take Carter along and forgive his leaving the ship. On re-reading, I’m not sure Bass didn’t mean to just leave Carter in port. In either case the reasoning seems designed to force Carter to throw in with anyone working against Bass. But no one has ever accused the Napoleonic-era Royal Navy of having any idea how to create or sustain loyalty.

Bass: 'CARTER? Why are you following us?' 13th Phantom: 'This bilge rat is a sneak and a liar. I made him for such at our first meeting. Trust nothing he says!' Carter, on his knees, pleading in the alley: 'No excuse, Captain! I-I've done a crime and BEG your mercy! I had NO LEAVE to go ashore! I feared you SAW me in that watering hole, sir! A narrow escape! Then ... then I must keep you in sight at all times! Lest my fear come true!' Phantom: 'He's lying.' Bass: 'He's been with me for years, Walker. Ever since I left England.' Phantom: 'With you, perhaps, but on whose behalf?' Bass: 'He's seen much. Knows a piece of it all. I can't just leave him here, Walker. ... Unless I murder him. Or *you* do! Alas, we're honest men, not killers! And this poor fellow? A mere fool! ... All's well, my good friend! We sail on the tide!'
Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom for the 15th of March, 2020. By the way, Wikipedia says that sunglasses, as in glasses with color-tinted lenses, can be traced back to 1752, so it’s actually historically all right for The Phantom, 1803 edition, to have dark glasses. But I’m willing to grant sunglasses even for earlier-still Phantoms as being a stage convenience, standing in for however they obscured their faces.

So, this week, we saw the VenusEl Sol sailing under United States, French, and even spanish colors, on various missions. We’re promised that this will turn into Bass having a key role in the Battle of Trafalgar. We’re not there yet.

Next Week!

How are things going with Aunt Tildy? And that pro wrestler? I look in on Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D., unless events get in the way. But, come on. This is March 2020. How could an event get in the way of anything? Good luck to you all.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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