He’s resigning, he states in the link above, over a dispute that began in November when King Features Syndicate wanted him to sign a contract. Before then — since 1999 — he’d been just turning in stories to get the comic strip ahead of deadline by up to two years, and would get paid as he turned in copy a couple times a year. I admit this seems like a surprisingly casual way of running things, but then I remember I’ve never had a contract at my current workplace and I’m not quite sure either my boss or I know exactly what we think we expect from the other, which surely will never lead to any unpleasant surprises ever.
Anyway, the contract DePaul was offered attempted to classify all his work for the strip as work-for-hire, which has implications for how to license things: as work-for-hire he wouldn’t get any money in case, say, a Phantom movie used one of the characters he created. He reports making counter-offers that sound to me like quite modest requests to get paid for derivative uses of his work, and getting nowhere, and then, that’s that.
In his post DePaul writes in greater detail about the dispute, and reviews some of the characters he’d created and that won’t be seen in a Phantom move or other property, under current circumstances. (I’m unclear whether they can continue to be used in the comic strip.) Several of them seem indispensable, particularly the terrorist leader Chatu and the seafaring hero Captain Savarna (worth her own strip, or movie, really). It’s hard to imagine the Phantom universe without them.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose a point, inspiring a feeling that we’ve been exactly here before and wondering if the system hasn’t got stuck somehow and maybe we need someone to go out and give it a push? People just have their doubts, that’s all.
And now the Sunday continuity for Tony DePaul and Terry Beatty’s The Phantom. If you’re looking for the weekday strips that’s a separate line, most recently covered here. If you’re reading this much later than May 2017, look at the top essays at this link instead. It’ll have both the Sunday and the weekday continuities in it, and unless I change the order in which I go around the story comics, the Sunday one will more likely be at the top. So there’s that.
The Phantom (Sundays), 13 February – 13 May 2017.
When I last reported on The Ghost Who Makes Up Proverbs About Himself, Sunday pelage, he was in a Chicago mobster’s bedroom, encircled by Chinese-hired ninjas. You know, as protectors of coastal African nations will. The Phantom was drawn there when a plane crash brought to his attention Mikey D’Moda, who at age maybe fourteen is the over-promoted scion of the D’Moda crime family. After listening to the kid for about ten minutes The Phantom figured we can’t let people like this run around and flew to his great-grandfather, the only other blood relative who’s part of the story and whose first name I can’t find. Sorry.
The Elder D’Moda, bedridden since his death by old age twenty years ago, sees in The Phantom a strong man, a potential new consigliere. The Phantom won’t have any of it, and offers the deal by which Elder D’Moda makes restitution and the Younger D’Moda never speaks to anyone, ever again. Given a good hard look what his family business has come to, Elder D’Moda off and dies, and Mikey leaves for a farm upstate.
So this story, begun the 26th of June 2016, officially wrapped up — by the “Next: NEW ADVENTURE!” box — the 2nd of April. The new story, started the 9th of April, is titled The Phantom Is Everywhere, suggesting the surprising return of Klondike Kat’s nemesis Savoir Faire in a comic strip other than Dick Tracy. The suggestion is wholly unrelated to the actual content of the story and I apologize for wasting your time with it. Phantom Wiki reports this is the 185th Sunday story.
The story opens in a Wambesi village terrorized by a trio of “agressors” who in Lee Falk’s words “preach a hateful ideology” and loot the place now and then. But Jungle Patrol is there, hiding among the villagers and waiting for their moment. One of the Jungle Patrol blows a whistle, and the bandits are caught when they go to the free throw line. Jungle Patrol’s speculation afterwards is that it may be tied to The Python, the terrorist leader whom The Phantom broke out of Boomsby Prison to hold himself, privately, in a secret grass hut guarded by villagers.
And that’s about where things stand today. The disadvantage of these Sunday strips is there aren’t so many Sundays in the week, so there’s not as much to write up. But if you the reader are curious about the stuff I’ve elided, or want permanent links to strips not featured here, please comment. I’ll try to be useful.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose six points after everyone gathered around to hear my annual rant about how the Mother’s Day Card industry somehow has cards for every possible relationship except the person who has a good relationship with their mother-in-law and wants to send a card as a person and not as the person who happens to be married to the mother-in-law’s child. It brings everyone a strange amount of joy to see me upset at the injustice of it all.
And now I’m in The Phantom zone. This week I’ll do my best to explain the weekday continuity in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s comic strip. Next week I’ll catch things up on the Sunday continuity. If you’re reading this much later than May 2017, you should be able to find a more recent review on this linked page. It’ll have both the Sunday and the weekday continuities in it; I’m sorry, I don’t know a good way to sort those out. Thanks for bearing with me.
Have to admit this is one of those stories where I just could not get into our protagonist’s mindset. I would get The Phantom wanting to protect his image, and using his iconography on something trivial can serve to trivialize him. But I’m just not seeing how someone who’s cultivated several dozen and often very specific Old Jungle Sayings about what The Phantom does or what you do when you meet The Phantom is doing saying this is the step too far. The case could have been made, but I didn’t see it.
That wrapped up the 11th of March. From the 13th of March started a new story, The Curse Of Old Man Mozz, which Phantom Wiki says is the 247th Phantom Daily story. Lee Falk promises that in it, faithful mystic and old-guy Old Man Mozz will foretell the death of the 21st Phantom, our current purple-clad superhero.
The action opens with The Phantom raiding a Thug Factory, punching and taking names. Then he punches the names and throws them down a well. He spends a couple weeks at this, since the Thug Factory is churning out product like crazy. He grabs guy after guy eager to beg for a deal and who learn their deal is they’re being left for the police. Or, well, the Jungle Patrol, who’re totally legitimate and respectable forces for law and due process rather than a self-sustaining militia.
Along the way Devil, the Phantom’s pet wolf, took a pretty nasty tumble along with one of the Thug Factory’s newest products. Ghost Who Punches finds medicine guy Guran is strangely uninterested in his medical guy work. Phantom figures to work out what his deal is, although it’s his wife, Diana Palmer-Walker, who successfully follows him. Guran’s destination: The hut of Old Man Mozz, where he’s sprawled out on the floor surrounded by mysterious vaporous mists and muscle loss. Mozz is not ill, Guran promises Palmer-Walker. He’s just having visions.
We haven’t heard officially what he’s envisioning, but Lee Falk may have dropped a clue when he said Old Man Mozz would foretell the death of the 21st Phantom. Misdirection? Possibly, although The Phantom has noticed how end-of-life-y things feel lately. What we’ve been given doesn’t promise the current Kit Walker’s going to die before it’s over. But I’m curious how it’s going to affect the continuity of the series. The Phantom 2040 cartoon, back in the 90s, tells stories of the 24th Phantom, after all, and while it accounts for the short career of the 23rd Phantom, there is the 22nd, who last year was sent to get himself shot in Tibet, ready to become part of the comic. Just observing.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose nine points today in response to a Reuters report that frozen orange juice concentrate was selling at 150.80 on the commodities market, which seems like a good deal for orange juice concentrate? Also it’s something there’s a thriving international commodities market in? All right, we never see that in grand strategy games where you do trades of goods with other countries but what the heck. Frozen orange juice concentrate. Business is weird.
So The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, is a bit of an overachiever. It’s understandable. He’s the 21st in the line. Consider how many family businesses fall apart when the fourth generation would have taken over if anyone could be found to run things. He must’ve been raised barely able to imagine anything else in life. So while Mark Trail might take Sundays off and Alley Oop might just reiterate his adventures and Spider-Man might get a bit of work done, The Phantom gives us a whole separate story. It’s the only story strip doing that. So it gets a second round of story-recapping from me. Last week I covered the dailies and stuff hasn’t changed much since then.
The Phantom (Sundays).
The Phantom is sworn to defend the people of Bangalla. But it’s a complicated, global world. It always has been. The first Phantom was an English sailor caught in the spice trades. The Phantoms who’ve been on-panel since the comic strip began haven’t been less worldly. This serves some good purposes. For one, it defuses the strip’s built-in concept of the White Savior To These Helpless Black People. That’s also defused by the development and ongoing presentation of Bangalla as a functional liberal democracy. But it helps if The Phantom uses his time and suspiciously great wealth to fight crime wherever it leads, anywhere in the world. And it means the strip can leave the jungle behind without straining its premise.
The current Sundays storyline began the 26th of June, 2016, with a plane crash, always the start to a good jungle adventure if you’re not on it. The plane carries Mikey D’Moda, teenaged idiot scion of the Chicago Mob who’s being traded to the Chinese crime syndicates in exchange for not having him around until he’s eighteen. That and a shipment of authority-attracting guns are supposed to bring a truce to the underworld, because that plan always works out.
Mikey escapes to a freedom lasting whole minutes before The Phantom catches him. Meanwhile the grownups in the Chicago and China Mobs get arrested and interrogated, there to scatter some plot seeds that haven’t yet blossomed. Incidentally along the way the Jungle Patrol gives one of the prisoners the private phone call to his lawyers he’s entitled to, but “accidentally” records it on a phone. I mention this because it’s something true about The Phantom universe.
The good guys are, basically, good guys. But they fall way short of the superhero ideal. They’re not scrupulous about civil rights or the law or ethical behavior. See, for example, The Phantom’s vast wealth, said to be acquired from among other things pirate treasures. That’s fine for a pulp adventure hero; but, in the real world, stuff doesn’t stop having a legitimate owner just because someone else stole it. The Phantom could probably make a claim on stuff that has no recoverable provenance, but he’s not going to that effort.
The good guys typically get away with their cheating because the writers are on their side. But it does come back to bite them sometimes. One of the lingering human rights abuses has been The Phantom keeping the terrorist Chatu in a private, secret prison. This is understandable. Chatu arranged the kidnapping and faked-murder of The Phantom’s wife from his actual professionally-built prison cell. But, still. Is keeping him in a wood hut in the jungle really better? I believe that’s being left around to generate future stories.
After spending minutes listening to Mikey, The Phantom decided the thing to do was punch the crime out of both Chicago and China. He heads first to Chicago and then, conveniently, China follows along. Or someone does, anyway. In a long sequence The Phantom’s chased around the D’Moda Crime Estate by mysterious shadowy figures who look to be ninjas. Yes, I associate ninjas more with Japan and turtles than I do with China, but c’mon. It’s the Chinese Mob. They can hire out. My supposition is that the Chinese Mob is offended that the truce fell apart when Mikey’s plane crashed. This seems to me unfair. But I suppose if you aren’t sure about the good faith of another party then it’s not worth your time to work out the difference between accidents and betrayal.
So, now, The Phantom is in the dying elder D’Moda’s bedroom, as at least one ninja closes in. The Phantom’s getting to some Peter Parker-y levels of snark against his opponent. It’s a good way of keeping the panels from being too much just guys hitting each other and grunting.
And now the index rose back above the psychologically important 100 barrier. Likely this reflects people’s relief at having that whole index-rises unpleasantness behind them and how we’re just going crazy eating the Valentine’s Day candy while it’s in style.
[ Edited the 6th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, Readers. Thanks for being interested in the goings-on of The Phantom, the comic strip. This post may be outdated by the time you find it. My recap of the most recent Phantom stories should be somewhere in this link, though there might be a recap of the Sunday continuity in the way. Weekday and Sunday strips have independent stories and I cover them separately. Good luck.
Today’s, and next week’s if all goes well, What’s Going On segments are about the same strip. That’s because it solves the problem of Sunday and weekday readerships being different in decisive form. The weekday and the Sunday strips carry on different stories. Neither sequence has to wait for the other. Surely these can be fit into some order so as to preserve the all-important continuity of The Phantom‘s universe. I admit I’ve never tried.
The Phantom (Weekdays).
I snarked about the importance of continuity to The Phantom. It’s reflexive. The comic strip, started in February of 1936 by Lee Falk, has a continuity. An important one, even.
The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks, is the 21st of that line, descendant of a chain of superheroes defending the African nation of Bangalla from, in the 16th century, pirates. In the 21st century, it’s … pirates and terrorists. Sometimes stranger stuff. The comic strip shared a universe with Mandrake the Magician and some of Mandrake’s weirdness would leak over. Some of the Mandrake characters have made appearances in The Phantom since that comic ended.
The rough premise of The Phantom may seem overly familiar. Costumed superhero who lives in a secret cave watches for menaces to his homeland. When he finds them he’ll punch them hard enough to leave a mark for decades. (A specially-constructed ring helps with this.) He hasn’t got any superpowers per se. But he deploys intelligence and great physical shape and training plus stunning private wealth to get as close as practical. If it sounds like every costumed superhero comic ever, then remember it got started a couple years before Batman did. I figure to talk about The Phantom‘s universe more next week.
The comic strip, weekday and Sunday threads, are written by Tony DePaul and have been since 1999. The weekday comics have been drawn by Mike Manley since May of 2016. Manley also draws Judge Parker. The Sunday strips have been drawn by Terry Beatty, the artist and now writer for Rex Morgan, M.D..
So here’s the current Phantom weekday storyline. Its essentials were laid out in a week of strips starting the 7th of November and hosted by “Lee Falk”. That’s one of the charming conventions of the comic: a representation of the strip’s originator gives the dramatis personae and necessary backstory for the adventure ahead. If the story’s run long he might pop in again to recap for new or simply lost readers. Or to advance the story to a new point. It’s common enough for cartoonists to be characters in their own strips, but it’s almost always humor strips. Story strips usually leave narration as done by some anonymous source. “Lee Falk” doesn’t really say anything that couldn’t be done by unattached narrative box. But it adds a neat personal touch to the starts of stories that he does.
So the first element is Orson Burley, big, bearded tycoon in the enormous-wealth industry. He’s heard this legend of The Phantom and figures it’d be a good subject for a postage stamp. I have to say I’m on Burley’s side on this. It seems odd that the Republic of Bangalla wouldn’t have already used a semi-mythic protector-legend as subject for a stamp. Local mythical figures on stamps seems like elementary nation-building. Issuing cultural stamps are the first thing you do after gaining independence from the British. Well, the first thing after renaming the street Government House is on to the native word for “Freedom”. But President Lamanda Luaga is cold to the idea, and warns The Phantom of Burley’s investigation. I understand a secretive superhero trying to keep his secrets. But the legend’s been going for four centuries now; this can’t be the first serious scholarly investigation of the thing. Well, so it goes.
Burley’s insisted on learning as much as possible about The Phantom and going ahead with his postage stamp. This despite the warnings of the President and of his limo driver. And Burley’s startled that anyone could see The Phantom as a legend dangerous to investigate. I confess I’d be, too.
Second piece is Akini Ogutu, “CEO of a multinational giant headquartered in Mawitaan”. While Bangalla’s a basically functional democracy it still has problems, even in its capital city. She got targeted and kidnapped, for ransom, by one of those gangs you hear about that hold executives for ransom. The Phantom’s not-at-all-worrisome private army, the Jungle Patrol, finds the hideout. The Phantom goes in alone and rescues her in a daring, exciting raid that full of the sort of superheroics you’d expect. Also that make you wonder, well, why does he have his Jungle Patrol if they aren’t at least doing support on this sort of thing?
(OK, it’s because The Phantom tries to keep his Phantom life and his Jungle Patrol life separate. The Jungle Patrol doesn’t even actually know their leader is The Phantom. They know him only as The Unknown Commander, who issues orders over the phone, and that’s not a potential danger pit at all, is it? But that does shift the question to why not have his army move against the criminal gang, which would seem safer all around?)
Anyway, it must all have been brilliant because he rescued Ogutu. Burley can’t believe Ogutu’s claim that she was rescued by The Phantom, and figures to go on with his research and stamp production. And this week The Phantom has gone to Burley, presumably to explain why not being on a stamp is such a freaking big deal for him. Maybe the 16th Phantom was betrayed by someone selling a fake Penny Red or something.
I mean, the best I can figure is The Phantom figures he’s most effective if he’s surrounded in clouds of mystery and legend. And getting a commemorative postage stamp is the start of a process that leaves him as exotic and remote as Santa Claus. But part of The Phantom’s schtick is that he’s surrounded by a lot of legends and I don’t get how a postage stamp depiction is going to make that greater or lesser. And it isn’t like he hasn’t got, and encouraged, a lot of “old jungle sayings” about his legacy. Is he worried they’ll paint him from an unflattering angle? It seems like a misplaced reaction and I hope something in the coming weeks clarifies matters.
Next week I’ll try to explain the Sunday storyline.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell nine points today, inspiring people to point out where we were at this time a week ago. This time a week ago we were at 124. Hoo boy but it’s been a long week.