Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Phantom - The Charlton Years Volume Five!

The Phantom - The Complete Series: The Charlton Years Volume Five brings the reprint series from Hermes to a close as it documents the end of the venerable Phantom comic many years ago. The character had begun his new comic adventures at Gold Key in 1962and continued them at King Comics in 1966 before being picked up by Charlton for a hefty run. In 1976 it ended, but not with a whimper by any means. 

Don Newton was one of his generations finest comic artists, alongside others such as Joe Staton, John Byrne, Dave Cockrum, and Mike Vosburg. He lived in Arizona, far from the NYC-based comic book industry so he made his bones with outstanding fan artwork. On many occasions he drew the Phantom. Now he'd get his chance to draw him in a professional capacity. But first...

Charlton's conversion of their Phantom to something more akin to what classic fans of the character expect continues with issue sixty-three. "The Web of Fear" was written by Joe Gill and drawn by Frank Bolle. It has the Ghost Who Walks battling a villain dubbed "The Spider" who targets the Phantom and Diana Palmer as well as the treasure hidden in the Skull Cave. The Phantom invades the Spider's lair to rescue Diana and later lures the Spider and his thugs into his trap. 

Joe Gill wrote "Goldbeard the Pirate", but Don Sherwood drew it. Sherwood has a peculiar spare style and one of the biggest signatures I've ever seen in comics. George Wildman is revamping the Phantom as part of a larger move to revive Charlton's languishing superhero genre. To that end the company has been created Yang and E-Man. Charlton's ghost-host line-up is getting a kick as well. Charlton is on the cusp of another of its periodic flowerings. Back to the Phantom, we find the pirate Goldbeard using Diana to attract the Phantom who he wants to fee to the fishes. That of course doesn't work, but it comes close, and the rest of the comic is a back and forth between these two foes. 

With the sixty-seventh issue of The Phantom the game changes entirely as the late great Don Newton takes on the title that will make his reputation. "Triumph of Evil" written by Joe Gill offers Newton a chance to revise the Phantom's famous origin. Nazis come to the Deep Woods and are confronted by the Phantom's father. It proves to be his final mission. The secret of the Phantom is almost exposed, but our Phantom arrives in the nick of time to assume the legendary role. We get this story in a flashback as the Phantom tells it to Diana Palmer, explaining I suppose the need for an heir. This comic marked a new path for the Phantom, beginning with the attractive painted cover. 

Nick Cuti steps in to write "The Beasts of Madame Khan". We meet Hera Kahn as she attempts to bring her animal act to a circus. She is rebuffed but when the owner is killed by a strange fox-faced woman his brother agrees. The circus supplies cover for Khan to enter the jungle and look for the Mask of  Dusambassi, a legendary item once venerated by a tribe which dressed in animal skins and practiced lycanthropy. Khan appears to be able to transform herself and she has in her thrall three beast-men (a lion-man, a leopard-man, and a panther-man). The Phantom has to battle all of these foes to recover the mask and return some measure of peace to the jungle. 

Underneath a typically handsome Don Newton cover we get the story "The Shining City" which pits the Phantom against the cruel Athena, a woman of accomplished martial arts skills and unlimited money. She wishes to cross Bengalla to reach an unknown destination which turns out to be a lost city known as "New Athens" and is filled with people who have lost contact with the outside world, until Athena found them and appears now as a prophesized ruler. She'd like the Phantom to rule by her side but he has other ideas.  The story was written by Joe Gill but drawn by Recreo Studio. "The Immortal Ghost of Bengali" is a one-page text item which has the Phantom confronting an old cult of Leopard Men. 

Bill Pearson joins Newton in a Phantom comic which pays homage to a duo of classic Humphrey Bogart movies. In "Mystery of the Mali Ibex", an ancient golden treasure is sought by a man named Rick who teams with a stunning blonde he calls Slim to travel up-river in a small boat with the one woman who might know its location. He is shot, the woman is killed and the blonde heads back to civilization, specifically Casablanca. There the man, named Rick confronts the blonde about the Ibex, but then a fat bar owner and his slinky henchman intervene. The Phantom, the father of our Phantom, gets involved. There are secrets and betrayals galore in this story which evokes both The African Queen and Casablanca. Newton's atmospheric artwork is ideal for this period tale. 

Issue seventy-one gives us "The Phantom Battles the Monster of Zanadar" written by a guy named John Clark. There are echoes of H. Ridger Haggard in this tale which has a cameo by a character named Quartermine. The Phantom undertakes a rescue mission up a remote mountain and finds a hidden tribe which worships a deadly giant spider. There are some great thrills in this one, and some nifty spins on the classic action. 

Don Newton's incredible run is interrupted by a story from Joe Gill and artist Don Sherwood. This one had been commissioned and was waiting for its opportunity by editor George Wildman. "Man in the Shadows" pits the Phantom against a wily foe named Dr. Nyte. Nyte kidnaps Diana in order to lure the Phantom into his trap where his henchmen all wear masks to make them look like their boss. The Phantom is forced to climb deadly cliffs to get to Nyte's remote lair which looks like a gothic mansion of sorts. Nyte has also trained a deadly wolf named "Satan" to imitate the loyal Devil. There is also a text story titled "The Witchman's Revenge" which has the Phantom battling a powerful slave in place of the titular Witchman. For some reason, or merely by accident, this story is presented out of order in the reprint collection, but it's all there. 

Don Newton returns in issue seventy-three on "The Torch" written by Bill Pearson (under a pseudonym). The creators are reaching into the Jame Bond universe for inspiration this time as the Phantom rises from the sea in that classic Sean Connery manner. (Minus the goofy bird thank goodness.) The Torch is an assassin and arsonist sent by Dr. Never (who we never see) to kill an old villainous chap named Raven who commands a gang of zombie-men controlled by headbands. We even get a little flavor of those classic Universal monster flicks as well. This one definitely was set up for a sequel but it was not to be. "The Invaders of Bengali!" is a one-page text yarn which has the Phantom do a crackerjack job of scaring away some poachers. 

Arguably the finest comic book run of Phantom stories comes to a conclusion with "The Phantom of 1776" which was both written and drawn by Don Newton. Dated January of 1977, this actually hit the racks in the fall of 1976 during the two-hundred-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (The two-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary is just around the corner if we can hold onto our democracy just a little bit longer.) When slavers enter the Deep Woods and steal away the chief's son and others, the Phantom takes on the mission to bring him back. That means sailing to America and battling pirates along the way. The Phantom is able to find the chief's son but none of the others who were taken. The Phantom has to take part in a battle between the British and the Colonialists before he can complete his mission. He uses his influence with Ben Franklin (who he saved in another adventure) to get back to Bengalla. But not before he witnesses the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As dandy as that is, the failure to rescue all the natives does leave a bad taste in the mouth after reading this classic adventure. 

And that's a wrap on Charlton's The Phantom. The little publisher produced some really outstanding issues in the run which began at Gold Key, continued briefly with King Comics and finally came to a finale with these issues by Don Newton. Newton's career was made by these comics, as he left Charlton a recognized pro and went over to DC to draw Aquaman, Batman and to my eye his other great mastepiece Shazam. If you just want the Newton adventures, Hermes has published them alone sporting that great cover image from the last issue. 

The Phantom would later show up in all sorts of places in comics. Reprints of the comic strips would show up now and again. DC took on the character and produced some handsome work by the likes of Joe Orlando and Luke McDonnell in the 80's. Marvel got their hands on the Ghost Who Walk for a few fantastic issues in the 90's. Moonstone revived the hero for the new century and was doing a bang-up job until Dynamite came along and lifted the license. Hermes itself has created some new material in recent years. I have more of the Hermes Avon novels to read and review and I might even get around to some of these other comics. The Phantom is well and truly immortal. 

Rip Off


  1. I agree that his runs on PHANTOM and SHAZAM were Newton's best work; somehow he didn't seem to jibe with Batman and I can't say why not. You may be amused that I noticed a panel in "The Shining City" that looked to have patterned after a very similar VAMPIRELLA panel. But since it was just the one so far as I know, it might have been an unconscious borrowing.

    1. I'm curious which panel you mean. Was it the double-page spread?

  2. No, it's just a panel in which the Phantom, at left, confronts Athena at right, standing with her fist clenched. The only reason I noticed the similarity to a Jose Gonzalez VAMPIRELLA panel-- one I *think* got published first, since most of JG's Vampy work appeared from 1971 to 1974-- was because WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMICS excerpted the Gonzalez panel for their piece on VAMPIRELLA.

    1. That would explain why it stood out, perhaps even for the artist.

  3. Just because I feel like beating a dead horse until it rises up to say "Nay" (or "Neigh"), I see that WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMICS shows the same publication-date as "The Shining City," 1976. So the Gonzalez panel I'm remembering would have been one of the many illustrations collated for the book in the preceding years.