Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Not-So Phleet-Phooted Phantom!

With the long-awaited arrival of The Phantom #6 from Hermes Press we at long last get the final installment of a Phantom yarn which has been unfolding now for nearly two years. Hermes is a lot of things, but despite their name, swift ain't one of them. Peter David and Sal Velluto worked together to bring a story with some potent action, some striking callbacks to the earliest days of the original Phantom strip by Lee Falk, and the whole is presented under some striking covers which repeat an interesting motif of distinctive texture for the background with a portrait style for key images. 

The story begins with the always threatening Singh Brotherhood seeking out a mysterious hidden land and to that end they threaten the lives of some humble natives and one in particular who knows the way. Word gets to the Phantom who along with Diana Palmer rushes to help. They discover though that a mysterious Jungle Man is also there to solve the problem.

Ironically the mysterious Jungle Man turns out to be Jimmy Wells, a man Diana knew and (who for a time might have been thought to be the Phantom even by Falk himself before he abandoned the idea). He seems to be a man of an unusually long life who has grown up in the jungle and raised by elephants after the death of his parents, civilized but ferocious all the same, and he is married to a mysterious woman named June who turns out to be the Baroness, the former leader of the notorious Sky Band.

The quartet patch up their differences and head to the mysterious land of Ophir, hidden in a forbidden jungle inside a mountain. The Phantom fends off an attack from fighter planes and is thought to be lost. Diana, June, and Jimmy head on to the mountain but soon fall victim to the powerful queen of the natives there.

Needless to say the reports of the Phantom's demise are overdone and he survives to join up with Diana and the gang in the city, using his guile to force the information of the mountain kingdom from a member of the Singh Brotherhood. 

They are all taken captive though and pitted against one another. The queen's son seems very like Jimmy Wells and assumptions are made as to his parentage. The Singh Brotherhood resurface and joined by the King of the mountain tribe form a fatal threat to the heroes.

A battle ensues and the the heroes are saved, and the threat of the Singh Brotherhood is forestalled yet again. The new allies return to their jungle home atop an elephant, and the Phantom and Diana return to their own jungle to keep watch over their people. All is once again right with the world...for now.

This is a striking story with a wonderful awareness of classic Phantom lore. It reads very quickly, the brisk pace making for an exciting yarn. There are questions left unanswered and to be frank some of the characterizations seem a bit off at times (especially Diana) but overall a solid Phantom story. I just wish they hadn't taken so long to get it out. The artwork by Velluto does seem to suffer a bit as the story nears its end, though I cannot really tell if it's because of changes he made or the techniques of publication.

Advertised though in the back is a ad for the next Hermes new Phantom story, this one by Ron Goulart. Hopefully this one will hit the stands more frequently. 

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