I know I answered this last time, but: no, The Phantom is the Man Who Cannot Die. It’s right there in the premise. Ghost Who Walks and all that.
That said, we are seeing what sure looks like a death of the current, 21st, Phantom, at the hands of Gravelines Prison guards. And Old Man Mozz, wilderness prophet, warned that going to Gravelines Prison would kill him, and also keep Kit Junior from being the 22nd Phantom. And even end the journey of the Walkers in Bangalla. So: is that what we’re seeing here?
Odd as this is for a plot recap essay, I’m going to give a spoiler warning. Stuff regarding the next year of The Phantom will come up. I come by this knowledge through a special edition of X-Band: The Phantom Podcast. Its about 17 minutes long, and in it Tony DePaul, Mike Manley, and Jeff Weigel discuss the current story and how the 21st Phantom dies.
So this should catch you up on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, through late September 2021. If you’re interested in the Sunday continuity, or you’re reading this after about December 2021, you may find a more useful recap at this link.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
28 June – 18 September 2021.
The Phantom was ready to go to Gravelines Prison, in fascist Rhodia, to free Captain Savarna Devi. Savarna’s an oceangoing vigilante who could host her own action-adventure comic strip if action-adventure comic strips were sustainable yet. She’s helped The Phantom often. Most notably, she helped him free Diana from Gravelines in 2009-11’s 18-month-long Death Of Diana Palmer Walker. Old Man Mozz warns of a dire vision, that if he frees Savarna, The Phantom will ruin everything he holds dear. The Phantom pauses to hear what will happen.
And this strip — the 30th of June — is critical. Notice the broken panel borders. The story from this point continues to The Phantom busting into Gravelines Prison and breaking Captain Savarna out. But it is the story Mozz is telling, explaining to The Phantom what happens if he goes in as he plans. Yes, I missed the significance of this when it happened. In my defense the 30th of June was a busy day for me. Also, at least one of the X-Band Podcast hosts missed it too, and they’re hardcore Phantom fans. They’re people, with, like, collections of souvenirs and ranked lists of opinions and everything.
In Mozz’s vision, The Phantom disregards his warning that if he frees Savarna Kit Junior will never return to the Deep Woods. The Phantom regrets that he has to do this right after breaking out Captain Ernesto Salinas. Security will be more, if not more competent, right after that jailbreak. But many of the usual tricks still work. He stops a truck by putting signal flares in the road, and sneaking in the back doors. He sneaks through the prison by catching one guard at a time, knocking them out and tying them up.
I did see one commenter say this reads like a first-person shooter video game. I grant the resemblance. Whether you find this plausible, I suppose, depends on whether you think Gravelines Maximum Security Prison guards should be bad at their jobs. The comic does try to anticipate snarkers. The Phantom reflects how yes, they’ve increased the number of guards, but by dragging people who didn’t want to be prison guards into this job. (Seen the 17th of August, and reinforced the 28th of August.) That they’ll be people who will find good reasons in the rulebook about why they didn’t rush toward the gunfire.
And that I accept. First, the Phantom isn’t going to sit and listen to a story where he can’t even break open Gravelines. Second, what authoritarians rely on us forgetting is that authoritarians are incompetent. Making a competent organization requires getting subordinates to say what things are wrong, and what’s needed to fix them, and how it’s taking longer to fix than they expected. Authoritarianism demands reports that everything is swell. It can only create illusions of capability, which shatter in crisis. Third, the guards are people who grew up in a world where The Phantom is real and sometimes strikes Gravelines Prison. They have good reason to want to avoid him. So I buy most of the guards working to rule when The Phantom beelines for Captain Savarna’s cell.
The Phantom pauses for an oddly indirect question before freeing Savarna. When she pledges she’s had enough revenge he lets her out, and they begin the escape. They swipe a jeep and pretty near drive right out, helped by the number of guards who don’t want to be shot at over this. But there are the hardcore guards, the true believers in their mission, and they’re the ones who block the road. They shoot a lot at The Phantom and at Captain Savarna, who manage to drive through. The Phantom pulls off the road where he left his horse, Hero, tied up. He tells Savarna how to let Hero carry her back to Bangalla. As for The Phantom himself …
Well, this takes us out of the proper date range for this recap. But Savarna got a good look at The Phantom and gasped “Oh my god!!” And he’s bleeding. This is explained in the characters’ dialogue and action, but unfortunately is muddled in the coloring. Rather than use Guran’s wound-healing super-powder, he asks Savarna to let him rest a while.
Again, we are not seeing the death of the 21st Phantom. We’re seeing a death, something to happen if The Phantom disregarded Mozz’s advice. And, my understanding is, we’re to see more of what happens after this death, and what ruin it brings to the Walkers’ project. Tony DePaul said he thought the story might be the longest yet, at least comparable to the 18-month Death Of Diana Palmer Walker story. I trust it won’t all be warnings of how The Phantom’s marching towards death. I also expect there’ll be some clever way to rescue Captain Savarna from death row. But that’s the thing about expectations; so much of storytelling is subverting them.
Fairies and sea monsters! Some of my favorite material. It’s Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant, if all goes well. Not to spoil things, though, but I haven’t had a thing go well since the 11th of August. Please send words of comfort and also large checks made out to Cash.