Review: 'The Phantom: The Complete Series: The Charlton Years: Volume One'

The Phantom: The Complete Series: The Charlton Years: Volume One, Hermes Press, $49.99


I have been waiting to read these stories most of my life, and I wasn't disappointed.


I fell in love with the Ghost Who Walks in his Gold Key series, which predated the Charlton series but had the same numbering. (The first Phantom comic-book series ran through three publishers while continuing the numbering: Gold Key for issues #1-17, King from #18-28, Charlton from #29-74). When The Phantom switched to King, I assumed it was canceled -- my area distributor didn't carry King comics. Long after Charlton had picked up the series, it finally began showing up at my Rexall Pharmacy -- around 1973 or so. So I've always wondered about the books in between.


Now Hermes Press is going to show me. They're going to reprint the entire 74-issue run of The Phantom, which I heartily applaud. But they're not going to do it in order, which leaves me scratching my head.


They're going to reprint the runs from each publisher simultaneously. For example, there's already a The Phantom: The Complete Series: The Gold Key Years: Volume One in print, and there's a The Phantom: The Complete Series: The King Years: Volume One coming later this year.


Weird, but it's really not a big deal. There's no linear continuity to speak of, so the stories really can be read in any order. And both the Gold Key and King years will be dispensed with in three volumes and two volumes respectively, so whatever confusion exists will disappear pretty quickly. And, hey, if that means getting more of these books quicker, I'm all for it.


Because, as noted, I've been a fan since the Gold Key years, primarily for the art. The Phantom had, bar none, the most beautiful covers I remember from the Silver Age -- fully painted, often with gritty, hand-to-hand fights silhouetted against exploding boats, fireworks or other colorful backgrounds. Those covers made The Phantom look plausible -- and exciting. The interior art wasn't as spectacular, but I admired it, too. It was mostly by Bill Lignante, and as I said in my review of the first Gold Key volume, Lignante also made The Phantom less generic and more realistic: Body hair, a broken nose, a specific chin, an enigmatic smile. The stories were nothing to write home about, but they were passable -- especially the back-up stories about Phantoms from previous eras.


Some of this can be said of the Charlton years as well. Once again, the stories are merely passable -- actually not quite as good, unless nostalgia is coloring my memory. Interestingly, the first story is one that answers questions raised in a discussion held elsewhere on this site, about a female Phantom that some of us vaguely remembered. Here she is, but I'm sad to relate that it will shock and disappoint most of us -- despite being the twin sister of The Phantom of 100 years ago, is utterly, shockingly helpless and useless. She decks herself up as The Phantom to help her brother, but is constantly getting in trouble, where she has to be rescued by what is obviously supposed to be a love interest, a big strong guy. Ugh. Worse, the big, strong guy is a PIRATE. OK, he's a pretty good guy for a pirate, but The Phantom, whether male or female, is sworn to eradicate all pirates. I mean, Phantoms really hate Pirates. This story leaves a painful memory, and later ones are only decent in comparison.


But the art is eye-opening -- not because it's terrific, because it's not. But the guy doing it is GOING to be terrific, and here we see his baby steps.


As all fans know, DC uber-editor Dick Giordano got his start at Charlton, the cheapest organization in the business. Given full rein by a company that didn't care what he did as long as he kept the presses going, Giordano established a credible superhero -- he called it "action hero" -- line with some top-flight veterans and some fantastic discoveries. One of those discoveries was Jim Aparo.


Aparo moved to DC with Giordano and for many years was THE Batman artist. There are no doubt people reading this who never saw Batman drawn by anybody else for the first few years they were fans. And the reason Aparo had that distinction is that he was really good.


And you can see the seeds of that here, in his first series. No, he's not quite ready for The Batman. But you can see where that greatness is coming from, and it's fun to see Aparo begin to stretch from amateur to consummate pro. You see him experiment with camera angles, and can almost hear him think, "Oops, that one didn't work." You see him introduce Zip-A-Tone to his work, which he would only reluctantly part with as computer shading came in. You see his odd anatomical choices and sketchy rendering, which he would drop in favor of Neal Adams's approach once esconced on the Bat-books. 


No, Aparo's early work isn't genius. But for fans of his work, this volume (and subsequent Charlton volumes) are surely must-haves. And, hey, it's The Phantom. Good or bad, it's going on my shelf.


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...I believe at least some of these Charlton THE PHANTOM issues had other King Features Syndicate characters in back-up stories , for instance , Jungle Jim . ( Tim Tyler's Luck ??? ) Are these present ?

  One Aparo Phantom I had had a contents page at the front of the book , which furthermore did have some art not otherwise in the book , IIRC .

  These reproduced ?

  I remember this issue having a story involving Diana , which was visually amusing/interesting as it showed Diana with a manner of dress and hair , especially , that was slightly " older-end "/not quite fashion-front , but probably like what a lot of young women in 1970 or so dressed , rather like an airline stewardess ( To use a now-outmoded term appropriately ??!!??!!!!! )/Pricialla Belieu Presley about the time she was first married to Elvis - massive Caucasian beehive hairdo !

  Later ( I guess ) on the the series , the issues did some reprinting of translated Italian -market material - the one story I had showed the Phantom in a distinctly Indian , not sub-Saharan African , world as far as the natives' skin color , manner of dress , and word for money went . By that time the comic ran letters , too...Will they reprint those ???

  In the earlier Aparo period , I don't remember letters . I do remember one text story that seemed to be playing a little game by being about a hero who, from his disc iption , was clearly meant to be the Phantom - but the story avoided using any Phantom-related phrses , and so probably stayed Charlton's property .

No back-up stories are reprinted, but maybe those are slated for character-specific reprints like Mandrake. No intro pages, either. No text pages, either.

Lots of colons in the titles, though!

...( First paragraph: ) Thank you .

  ( Second: ) Ahead of his time: Eh???????????:-)

Captain Comics said:

No back-up stories are reprinted, but maybe those are slated for character-specific reprints like Mandrake. No intro pages, either. No text pages, either.

Lots of colons in the titles, though!

Originally posted February 23: Volume one of “The Complete Charlton Collection” shipped yesterday. Volume one of “The Complete King Collection” was solicited for February 2, but this one was supposed to have been released sometime in 2011. Hermes Press collections, printed in China, usually ship about six months later than their solicit date, but they do ship… eventually… if you’re patient. It’s odd (to me) that they’ve chosen to release this series out of chronological order. Here’s the way it breaks down by publisher:

Gold Key: #1-17
King: #18-28
Charlton: #30-74

[No, that’s not a typo; somehow, in the transfer from King to Charlton, no #29 was published!]

With volume one of the Gold Key and Charlton years published, that gives us #1-8 and #30-38; when volume one of the King years ships, it will begin with #18. See what I mean? Weird!

I haven’t begun to read the stories in this volume yet, but I have paged through it. First I would like to point out that the reproduction of these stories is not very good, but that’s not necessarily Hermes Presses’ fault. Charlton not only paid the lowest page rates in the business at the time, but they also used the cheapest paper and had the shoddiest printing presses. (All of the production was done in house, including the printing and distribution, so that Charton was able to stay in business in the ‘60s when many of its contemporary publishers from the ‘50s had gone out of business as printing costs rose.) These shortcomings are particularly obvious when comparing the original art of several pages also reprinted in the volume to the final product. The most significant aspect of this volume is that it presents Jim Aparo’s first published comic book work.

Complete discussion here:

Sorry I didn't see that thread when I started this one, Jeff. A lot slips by me these days!

I said a while back if the a book of *just* The Phantom covers I would buy that. I wasn't that impressed by the innards of those comics that I have read.

Captain Comics said:

Sorry I didn't see that thread when I started this one, Jeff. A lot slips by me these days!

Not a problem, Cap. Your discussion is a review of just this one volume; mine is an overview of the entire series.

I have three Charlton Phantoms, including the last one (which states it's the last issue, isn't about the modern day Phantom but the one form the Revolution because of the Bicentennial, and suggests it might be brought back later, which of course doesn't happen.) Afraid I didn't think that much of them, probably because of Pat Boyette's artwork. His faces have a tendency to all look like wooden masks and even innocent characters tend to look somewhat demonic.

Charlton sometimes stapled the comics somewhat crooked, would have colors printed not quite in line with the inks (Harvey had the same problem), sometimes printed horror covers on the wrong issues instead of the issue the story behind the cover appeared on, and I once saw a horror comic from them that was unreadable because they'd somehow managed to print, staple, and put it on the market without any black inks (but all the other colors were there) in the entire issue. Almost bought it just because it looked so weird, but I couldn't afford a comic I couldn't read. They also had a Wally Wood imitator that was pretty good at it. You have to wonder what Wood thought about that though.  

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