The Phantom: The Complete Series: The Charlton Years Volume Two
Collecting The Phantom #39-47 (Aug 70-Dec 71)
Writers: Joe Gill (#40-41, 45) and unknown
Artist: Pat Boyette
Hermes Press, $49.99, color, 224 pages
The Gold Key Phantom comics made me a fan for life of The Ghost Who Walks, and I usually find something to like in any Phantom collection. This one, I have to say, was a real disappointment.
For one thing, there's the art. The previous volume was by Jim Aparo, and even as amateurish as Aparo was in those stories -- he was just beginning his career, and wasn't as good as he was going to get -- he's still a hard act to follow. Which is why it's all the more odd that Charlton would pick the highly eccentric Pat Boyette.
I am no detractor of Boyette; on certain strips he seemed a good fit. I enjoyed his Peacemaker, and his short run on Blackhawk was one of the best that long-running series had. But as the Introduction by Dan Mangus points out, his style was a real departure from the typical, lush Alex Raymond/Hal Foster approach to adventure-strip heroes. And Boyette himself is quoted as saying that he probably wouldn't have picked himself for the job, as Phantom fans might find his art "too idiosyncratic."
I suppose if I had to guess why Boyette was picked, it was because his style derived from the Noel Sickles-Milt Caniff school, as did, to a degree, Aparo's. But the two had styles at wide variance from each other, and you really had to squint to see one as the natural successor to the other.
Which I guess they did. Me too, but it was more wincing in pain than squinting. Boyette was just a bad fit for this series.
The stories, too, were a comedown. The book lists Joe Gill as the author of three issues, with the others unknown. But the Grand Comicbook Database guesses that Gill wrote them all, and I agree. Because whoever it was that wrote the uncredited issues shared with Gill a complete unfamiliarity with The Phantom and what makes him cool.
For one thing, I can remember at least three stories in this collection off the top of my head that had The Phantom dealing with crooks who robbed the Skull Cave. Good lord! The place is not only supposed to be hidden, it's not even supposed to be general knowledge that it exists! Plus, it's guarded by the poison pygmy people, so getting in and out, whether burdened by treasure or not, should be fatal (and wasn't). And, finally, who wants to see The Phantom spend all his time guarding his stuff? Ridiculous!
Other elements indicated Gill was unfamiliar with the character's mystique; not only did everybody he met (including in Europe) know his business, they all casually addressed him as "Phantom." Go back and re-read the Bill Harris and Dick Wood stories in the Gold Key and King runs, and you'll notice The Phantom never introduces himself, and never gives a name even when pressed. He always IDs himself as "a friend" or "a tourist" or something. And he leaves people guessing, because most people have never heard of The Phantom, and those who have don't believe he exists. But in these stories, not only is he not a jungle legend mentioned only in whispers, not only is he known to exist, but everybody knows his name!
I could complain for a while, but I'll just close with a few other things that bugged me. Such as, the jungle tribes had little fear of him. His own Bandar think he stole from them in one of the three (!) stories where someone was familiar enough with The Phantom to impersonate him. There are two back-to-back stories where The Phantom deals with leftover Nazis (in 1970!). Oh, and the writer keeps calling The Phantom's horse "Flash" when everyone knows his name is Hero. This is further infuriating because in one panel The Phantom does call his horse Hero, only to revert to Flash again a few pages later. Awful.
There's only one more book left in this series, and I hope it's better than this one. It would almost have to be.