Monday, March 03, 2014

The Last Phantom: My First Phantom comic

I've been a fan of The Phantom for who knows how long. I'm not even sure why. He was pretty boring in Defenders of the Earth. The Billy Zane film was campy fun, but not amazing by any stretch. I think it might be solely down Phantom 2040, the 90s show in the animated style of Aeon Flux. It was pretty epic. For all the love I have for The Ghost Who Walks, that's pretty much my entire exposure to the character. I've not even touched a comic, which for me is practically a sin. So it's about time I fixed that with The Last Phantom.

For those that don't know, The Last Phantom was a reboot by Dynamite Entertainment in a more modern setting (worryingly we're getting kinda close to someone doing that and it actually being 2040, and no crazy near future tech). The story of the Phantom always revolves around the Kit Walker, the latest Phantom, who takes over the mantle after the death of his father. But in The Last Phantom, that isn't what happens at all.

Rather than him taking the mantle after the death of his father we're presented with a Kit Walker, whose father died long ago, but Kit has abandoned the way of Phantom and sought out more charitable ways to combat the problems facing his native Bengalla. That of setting up an aid agency. All while he's settled down with a woman, who's a Doctor that works in a nearby village, and he already has a son. Of course shit blows up and the guns come out, but how we get there is rather interesting. As I said before, The Phantom usually starts with the previous generation dying and the son looking to take down the people who took down his dad (helps keep that whole “Man Who Cannot Die” thing alive). Here the bad guys kill the next generation, and the man who turned his back on the legacy has to embrace it for his revenge. This is on top of a political revolution, and a more personal betrayal by the people who help him run his foundation. It feels like a much more personal story of the Phantom than usual. For some reason it feels a lot harsher having his wife and child killed, rather than his father.

On top of all this change there is the no killing rule. As a guy who runs around with two pistols on his belt, it always struck me as odd that The Phantom didn't kill. Even Batman did in his early years. The pulp era that The Phantom hails from killing is a much more accepted punishment for the evil, but Lee Falk insisted that the Phantom didn't do this. He simply used his guns to shoot enemies weapons out of their hands. The Last Phantom ignores all that, with the idea here being not to kill without warrant. Of course, being at the start Kit is drowning in grief and vengeance he gets pretty trigger happy to start with, but that forms a nice redemption arc as he comes to accept the role of The Phantom more, and killing becomes a last resort.

However, after all this updating, somehow the costume doesn't get redesigned. Which is amazing because in my mind it's in desperate need of one. A bright purple bodysuit doesn't really make a great deal of sense for a jungle predator, or a ghost who walks. It makes sense that back in the day Lee Falk designed it as a grey suit, but limited printing back then resulted in the infamous purple we know today.
Thankfully the team does give it a bit of a rethink. The first issue or two the famous suit isn't even worn by Kit, instead he's bare chested and drenched in purple berry juice, something we're led to believe gave the original Phantom the colour. Which makes a nice bit of sense. Unfortunately, the art is a little murky here, and as it comes straight after Kit found his dead wife and child it looks more like he's covered himself in their blood. Which gives an unintended scary and unhinged feel to his mission of vengeance. Eventually he does put on a purple jumpsuit, but this is a military-grade stealth suit we're used to from videogames. Something that bends light to make The Phantom invisible. It's a wonderful move, if obvious, and adds more to the Ghost Who Walks feel. It's also something that I believe was started by 2040, so of course I approve. This also means the weird underpants have gone, as all superheroes are losing their outer undies, even Superman. Yet we still get the old costume in flashbacks, which I'm not sure how I feel about.

The Last Phantom was an enjoyable read. It wasn't the usual retread of the classic origin, but a new, and welcome, take on how modern day Kit Walker took up the skull of the Phantom. The art looks nice enough, though the story telling does suffer a little. That issue with the berry juice/blood early on is a problem that resurfaces time and again throughout the whole saga. Still, I enjoyed it enough to seek out the second part, and I can't wait for the trade of King's Watch, which is basically modern day Defenders of the Earth.

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