OK so, once again I am asking people to get this straight: the Phantom is the man who cannot die. If we see what looks like him dying, it’s because that is not what we’re seeing.
Which is, indirectly, a key point in a lovely essay Tony DePaul published recently. In The Death of the 21st Phantom DePaul explains why this was a story he needed to write, and get into print, now rather than later. One core insight is that the whole run of the comic strip — 86 years now — we have been seeing the same Kit Walker, Phantom. 21st of his line, in the comic strip continuity. And that he has not died tells us of a choice the writers of the comic strip have collectively made: he is not going to die on-screen in the comic strip.
But we can’t know when the comic strip will die. Not that there’s any specific reason that this strip should end. But the newspaper industry is near failure under the relentless assault of vulture capitalists. It’s hard to imagine most comic strips surviving its last collapse. And from these insights DePaul discusses why he wanted to spend so much time on an imaginary story … if it is imaginary. Also with some thoughts about what went into it, including confirmation about the role an earlier story served for this. It’s also a really good summary of where this quite long story has gotten, to the point that I’m not sure I have anything to add but typos. We’ll see.
My goal, though, is to get you up to speed on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, as of mid-October 2022. If you’re reading this after December 2022, or you’re interested in the Sunday strips, or news about the comic strip breaks, you may find a more useful essay here. Or, you know, that X-Band Phantom podcast, they talk about the comic strip a lot, and several times a month.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
1 August – 15 October 2022.
Last time I checked in we were still watching Mozz recount his prophecy of The Phantom’s ruin to The Phantom. This despite Mozz letting The Phantom — and us — know that he would deceive if that’s what was needed to save him from ruin. To that end Mozz had coaxed The Phantom into letting him write his own Chronicle. Mozz’s Chronicle would look like The Phantom’s own Chronicles of his and his ancestors’ adventures, and be kept in the Skull Cave like them.
Chronicle book in hand, Mozz tells of a dire future. The Phantom, seeking his son — who’s become a guerilla leader in northern India — is mistaken for an assassin. Manju, Kit Junior’s trusted partner, now an expert sniper, finds the already-wounded Kit Senior and shoots him through the chest. And shoots his eyeglasses off. A mysterious figure demands he stand, and The Phantom looks up and — we the readers see his face, unconcealed by sunglasses or a mask or even deep shade. It’s stunning.
Tony DePaul confirms that this has never happened in the strip before. Not only does nobody in The Phantom universe see The Phantom’s eyes, but none of us readers outside have seen it either. Even for an imaginary story — and after he’s taken a fatal wound — it feels illicit.
The demand to stand came from the 20th Phantom, appearing — with all the Phantoms before him — before the dying man’s eyes. The spectral voices promise he was the 21st Phantom. He staggers back to his feet, to Manju’s shock and amazement. She will conclude that he’s the one assassin who could have killed Kit Junior. Manju’s not so awed as to not shoot him again. But he’s all right with embracing this end.
Manju and the soldiers with her bury him. She toasts him, even, when she gets back to camp, and shows Kit Junior souvenirs taken from the dead man. They’re the Phantom’s rings, the “Good Mark” ring with the four swords and the “Skull Mark” ring with you-know-what. Kit Junior recognizes this, and has Manju take him to his father’s grave, without saying who it was she killed. He says a regretful farewell and … what else is there to do? Die, similarly, in a year’s time, tells Mozz, his body left unburied in some valley of the Nyamjang Chu river (in Tibet and India).
And this concludes his prophecy. The Phantom, eager to get on to saving Savarna Devi from Gravelines Prison — the mission that started this wrack-and-ruin — promises it’ll be different. For one, he’ll bring Devil, his wolf, with him, something not done in the prophecy. And he knows what will happen if Savarna learns that her former enslaver Jampa is the constable who butts heads with Kit Junior’s mentor Kyabje Dorje.
The Phantom takes the Chronicle that Mozz held, as he read, to keep his promise to set it in Skull Cave for all tim. He intends a trick, to keep his wife or Guran or anyone else reading it, and so inters it in the burial vault reserved for him. And, confident he’s outwitted fate, he rides off to Gravelines.
Diana is aware that Mozz has been writing a Chronicle. But Mozz is sworn to not say a word of his prophecy. His silence when Diana asks about it fires her curiosity. And, wordlessly, enters Skull Cave and takes his Chronicle off the shelves. He had handed The Phantom a different Chronicle, confident this would trick The Phantom. One may think he was lucky that The Phantom didn’t leaf through the book to make sure what we was hiding in the vault. But if there’s any character we can say will know what someone else will or won’t do in a situation, it is Mozz.
Anyway, Diana starts to read Mozz’s Chronicle. Her learning of Mozz’s prophecy of The Phantom’s death was enough to avert it in The Curse of Old Man Mozz. Could history repeat itself? Mozz claims he doesn’t know. And with that, the 1st of October, the story Phantom’s End, 261st daily continuity story, concludes.
The current story, conclusion to this project, The Breakout, began the 3rd of October. The Phantom’s resolved to rescue Savarna, despite Mozz’s warnings. And to avert everything he’s foreseen. At his campsite, he’s revisited by the flaming skeletal ghost of his ancestors, last seen in the Llongo forest in a hallucinatory vision. The Phantom isn’t intimidated by this now-familiar portent of doom, though. So that’s something.
We relax a bit from all this heavy talk about prophecy and supernatural visions with some witch-burning. Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant gets my attention in a week, if all goes as has been foreseen. We’ll see.