The masked Phantom on the back of his horse Hero, with his tamed wolf Devil following closely on the tow. The skin-tight costume showing off his chiselled body and the mask covering, what seemed to me, a very handsome face. He lives in the forest in a fictional African country Bangalla and fights the poachers and the criminals. The crime lords don’t know whether he is for real or supernatural, he’s fast, he’s stealthy, he never shows his face, he dwells in Skull Cave. His punch leaves a deep impression of the skull on his enemies face. His many names – “The Ghost Who Walks”, “Guardian of the Eastern Dark” and “The Man Who Cannot Die,” runs a chill down their spine.
I grew up reading the comic strips of Phantom in the Bangla daily Anandabazar Patrika. As soon as I would get back from school, I would first grab the paper and read the comic strip – to see how Phantom punished the bad and protected the good. In Bangla Phantom was Aranyadeb, protector of the jungles. He was also known as Betal. Anandabazar would carry one strip every day and we would eagerly wait for the day after to know what happened next. There would be two comic strips running parallelly – Aranyadeb and Jhadookar Mandrake or Mandrake the Magician.
Aranyadeb or Phantom and his many adventures had me hooked. He was not just a fighter of the evil he was a great lover as well, effortlessly romancing his beautiful wife, the wavy-haired Diana Palmer. Though he never showed his face, or maybe because he never showed his face, I was completely in love with him. He’s my first crush, my dream lover! I envied the beautiful Diana who would melt in his arms. When in college I wanted to get curls like her, but alas my straight hair wouldn’t hold the curls.
Phantom is the only superhero without any superpowers. No bat sense or spider-sense, or high tech gadgets, his intelligence and strength are enough to defeat even the deadliest enemy. Perhaps that makes him the real Superhero!
But, unfortunately, over the years, Phantom’s popularity has waned. Though the comic is still available, he’s not as popular as Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man or even Hulk. He doesn’t belong to the Marvel Comics franchisee you see.
The Phantom, an American adventure comic strip, was first published by Lee Falk in February 1936. The series began as a daily newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, followed by a colour Sunday strip on May 28, 1939; both are still running I believe. In 1966, King Features stated that The Phantom was being published in 583 newspapers worldwide. At its peak, the strip was read by over 100 million people daily. Falk worked on The Phantom until his death in 1999; since then the comic strip has been written by Tony DePaul.
Well, but who reads newspapers now. Kids today are not excited about comic strips as our generation used to be. As a result, Phantom lost out to his glitzier Marvel and DC counterparts. A few screen renditions of Phantom were not as successful, probably they couldn’t capture the charisma of his humanity, the very essence of his strength.
No matter where you are Phantom you will forever be my real Superhero, a fighter and a lover who’s second to none!