by Ethan Roberts
extracted from Model and Toy Collector, Fall 1996 #36, pp.30-36
He started the day impeccably dressed for success. By late afternoon, he wilted in the corner of a bar, nursing the drink in his hand. Sweat dripped down his neck, past his open collar and loosened tie, to hide itself among his chest hairs. Power shortages caused daily brownouts, lowering the bar's cooling capacity to nil on this hot, summer day.
Oblivious to it all, he was worried about his latest assignment at venerable King Features Syndicate.
"Oh, to have been an executive there in the simpler age of 50 years ago," the young exec imagined. "Those guys only had to deal with ink arranged on paper. None of today's paper circuit, interactive, sight, sound and smell strips.
"When they worried about EEO reports, they only had to total up the race, gender, color, religion, ethnicity, age, and challenge conditions of the staff and freelancers. They didn't have to worry about sexual preferences, weight, height, beauty standard, or intelligence level discrimination. Now we even have to report it for the characters in every strip we publish!"
"Where the heck do I put the Phantom on this #$@&%@* EEO report?"
Shoot! Back in the Golden Age, it was kind of a black and white world. Most of the characters were white, Anglo Saxon, Protestants or indistinguishable from them. Dagwood Bumstead and family. Mary Worth. Dennis Mitchell. Charlie Brown and friends. Brenda Starr. Popeye, Olive Oyl and Wimpy. Dick Tracy. Archie's gang, and on and on, were WASPs or their clones. Even Maggie and Jiggs lost their Irish roots. Jules Feiffer's claim that the Spirit was Jewish was certainly lost on the general public. The Cisco Kid, Little Beaver, and Tonto had ridden off into the sunset. There were some African Americans: the stars of Jump Start; the neighbors of The Middletons; Ronald Ann of Outland; Ebony from The Spirit and Prince Lothar of Mandrake. Still, that wasn't much of a mix.
Today, everybody has to have their own star of a comic strip. Thanks to monomolecular paper, everyone could. Still, it made for a tedious task when you were the one to total them up. Then, there were the Excedrin Mega 12 headaches where you couldn't decide. That was what was giving him an ulcer and forced him to drink milk in this sweaty, hard-liquor dive.
He next became aware of the outside world when a man sat down next to him. You'd think he would have heard the man's approach, but it had been silent. This man was BIG. He was well proportioned, moving gracefully and economically. Strangest of all was how he was dressed. In the sticky, dimly-lit bar, he wore a fedora, dark glasses and trench coat.
"Guess this is where they isolate the milk drinkers," the newcomer rumbled in a baritone voice.
"I guess," answered the bemused executive. "I don't usually drink this stuff, but dammit..." He slammed his fist on the table. That's when he heard the growl. Looking down at the big man's feet, he saw an incredible canine with its neck hair beginning to stiffen.
"Yeep!" yelped the exec softly. "Where'd that dog come from? They don't allow dogs in bars in this town."
"Down, Devil!" the big man said in hushed tones. "You don't want to scare our friend here. Besides, my companion is not a dog. He's far less domesticated."
"What's got you so upset that you're drinking milk, friend?"
The exec told his story, and the big man pondered for a moment. "He's a myth, so why do you care?"
"The Phantom is one of our characters, and we have to report on him or get our knuckles rapped by the commission," the exec maintained.
The big man sighed. "Well, I've heard some things and read some things over the years that I'm willing to share -- if you'll pay heed."
After the exec nodded his assent, the big man began.
"Five hundred fifty years ago, Christopher Columbus prepared to sail west to find a route to India. There was a berth for a cabin boy available, and a foreigner -- neither Italian nor Spanish -- applied. His name was Walker, so he was probably English. Walker shipped out on Columbus' first voyage and remained to explore the New World, returning as a grown man with Columbus.
"Using this credential, Walker advanced to the rank of merchant captain of his own ship. That ship was attacked by Singh pirates in 1536 in the Bay of Bangalla. Captain Walker, his New World Indian companion Caribo, his son Kit, and the rest of the crew fought valiantly, but they were outnumbered. The last thing Kit Walker saw before the fighting swept him overboard was his father being killed by a pirate.
"Kit was swept up on a barren beach in Bangalla, sole survivor of the raid. He was found by the Bandar, a tribe of friendly pygmies, who nursed him back to health in their home: the mysterious Deep Woods. Later, along that same beach, Kit found a body. It was his father's murderer. With the help of his pygmy friends, Walker decapitated the corpse, burying the remains but keeping its head. Once the head was reduced to a skull, Walker took it in hand and spoke the fateful words:
"'I swear a sacred oath on the skull of my father's murderer to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice, and my sons and their sons shall follow me!'
"The young Phantom worked on the Deep Woods cave to enhance its skull-like appearance, and carved the skull throne. Donning the ring, a costume of his own design, with a brace of pistols and a word, the Phantom went to battle the Singh pirates and others of their ilk. In 1548, he wooed and married a Spanish princess. Two years later, she bore him a son. Kit Walker trained his son to become the Phantom on his death, thus fulfilling his oath.
"In 1560, the lst Phantom destroyed the Singh pirates at least for a time. The years and the battles began to wear him down. In the next decade, the lst passed on, thanks to another battle with pirates. The 2nd, true to his father's oath, resumed and successfully concluded his father's last battle. To do this, he picked up his father's old gear. The pirates, a superstitious and cowardly lot -- not knowing their foe had a son -- mistook the son for the father. The 2nd Phantom did nothing to disillusion them. Thus, a legend of indestructibility was born and a Walker tradition was established.
"In time, the 2nd met and fell in love with Marabella, a granddaughter of Christopher Columbus. In 1589, a son was born. At age 12, the lad was sent to study in England. Young Walker fell in with the wrong crowd, one William Shakespeare being the most prominent. The 2nd quarreled with his offspring-turned-actor and got as far as most parents usually do with teenagers. In 1602, the 2nd left England in disgust and the line almost ended there. A half decade later, when a message arrived from the Deep Woods, the young adult Kit Walker returned to the Skull Cave to entomb his father and take up the burden.
"The 3rd had kept up his physical conditioning, despite his somewhat sissy profession. In costume, he looked enough like his father and grandfather, so the legend continued to grow. One of his deeds was to defeat a trio of assassins, who attempted to murder Grand Sultan Mamoud Ben AI'Lina. The Sultan and the 3rd became close friends. The relationship was so strong that when the old Sultan fell in love with the beautiful, young daughter of an Indian maharajah, he sent the 3rd and an escort to fetch Princess Pura to him. On the trip back from India, the 3rd did the John Alden and Priscilla thing by falling in love with Princess Pura. They were married in a 1616 nuptials.
"The 4th, like his father before him, also married the daughter of a maharajah. Except, this time the Phantom eloped with his bride. Since he'd been raised in India, at the court of his grandfather, this was an obvious choice."
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!," the tired and bemused exec squawked. "You're telling me that the Phantom is of English, Spanish, and Indian descent. If that's true, he could be white or Hispanic or Asian. I like that!"
"Do you want to answer your question or not?" the big man interrupted icily. "This is only the beginning. The 5th had an interesting bride, especially for a Phantom. She was captain of her own pirate ship! 20-year-old, red haired Juliet Adams accompanied her sea-captain father on his clipper ship's trading voyage to the Orient. Due to a number of misadventures, the ship was falsely branded a pirate in Goa, India. In order to survive, the Adams ship was forced to turn to a form of piracy. They would stop other merchant ships with as little violence as possible, take what they needed, and leave trade goods in return. The effort to arm and supply the ship seriously handicapped Captain Adams, leaving Juliet in charge. Her fame grew as the notorious Captain Amazon. Eventually, one of the few places she could land to refit was the pirate's isle of Saba. Concentrations of pirates are magnets for the Phantom. While she was there, the 5th managed to save Juliet from the unwanted attention of other pirate captains and destroyed Saba isle. In the process, Juliet and the 5th fell in love and were later married.
"The 6th will always be a favorite of mine, for in 1664 he founded the Jungle Patrol. It started with Redbeard the giant pirate and his lieutenants, Bart, Sala, and the Crusher. The 6th tamed the pirates and made the best of them the core of the Jungle Patrol. In doing this, he released their last captive being held for ransom: Natale, rightful Queen of Navarre, an Iberian subject duchy. She left to resume her royal duties, but abruptly abdicated the throne and journeyed to Bangalla to propose to the 6th. Their son was the great friend of the fabulous black Emperor Joonkoor. Joonkoor was the man who donated the Jade House and the golden sands of Keela Wee to the Phantom line.
"The 8th was the tallest of the Phantoms, standing well over six and a half feet tall. He married a blonde woman of English descent, whose father had been a privateer, made his fortune, and decided to settle down. Using his crew of fighting seamen, the retired privateer carved out a tiny, independent state in Bangalla, known as Koqania. When the old guard passed, his beautiful daughter Heloise, Queen of Koqania, and her generation were not as bold and ruthless as their predecessors. Heloise realized this, so the clever teen decided to add trickery to weakening arms. Thus was born the legend of the Hanta Witch. The witch, whose beauty drove men mad, and her demons collected tolls until 1675, when Sultan Abu Mahoud complained to the 8th. The 8th was making short work of the demons, when he was captured by the beauty of Heloise and the spell of Hanta Witch. Although the 8th managed to escape and destroy the Koqania stronghold, he didn't manage to escape Heloise!
"Heloise introduced the genes for multiple births into the Walker gene pool. She gave birth to identical triplets in 1703. A year later, the 8th was the proud father of yet a fourth son. This was the largest family of any Phantom generation. The triplets went to England for their education. But, their younger brother, Kit IV -- the runt of the group -- stayed home to be raised by Heloise and the 8th. To overcome Kit IV's short stature and inferiority complex, the 8th gave him extra training. The triplets were in England when the 8th tried to secure the release of jungle trip captives from Jhetun Khan, descendant of Ghengis Khan and the king of the Mongol raiders who had settled in Bangalla. While trying to reason with Jhetun, the 42-year-old 8th was shot in the back with an arrow by one of the Jhetun guards. The 8th escaped, but was near death by the time he reached the Deep Woods. As the only son available, Kit IV was forced to assume the cowl of the Phantom.
"The contrast between the tallest Phantom and the five foot two and a half inch 9th provoked laughter among the Bandar. So, the 9th went after Jhetun in jungle shorts and a sword. Fighting his way into the presence of Jhetun, the 9th demanded the release of all jungle slaves. To secure this release, Jhetun decreed that the 9th must defeat the Mongol champion in a duel to the death. The Mongol champion just happened to be Jhetun's lovely and unspoiled daughter, six foot tall Vhatta Khan. Extremely athletic, Vhatta was taller, stronger and more skillful than any of the horde. The 9th defeated her in battle, then married Vhatta in the presence of Heloise and Kits I, II, and III in 1726."
"Yes!" bubbled the reviving exec. "Chinese ancestry. Just what the cyberdoc ordered!"
"If you want me to finish this, you'll have to hold it down. Now, I've got an appointment, so I'm going to have to speed it up. The 10th married a Scandinavian sea captain's daughter whom he rescued from a shipwreck. The 11th eloped with the daughter of the Native American tribe.
"The 13th was educated in America after his 12th birthday. While visiting New Orleans, the teenaged 13th encountered the sister of notorious Louisiana pirate Jean Lafitte. The 13th pursued his fascination with Jeanette Lafitte, against the wishes of her brother. In 1812, he was called back to Bangalla, due to injuries to the 12th, and took Jeanette home to a Deep Woods wedding.
"I seem to be rambling again," the big man apologized. "The 15th married an orphaned, raven-tressed Italian opera singer. The wife of the 17th gave birth to twins -- the Hanta Witch genes kicking in there -- on August 3, 1852. The boy was named Kit and the girl was named Juliet -- Julie for short -- after her great, great, great grandmother. Julie became the only female of the Walker line to ever wear the family uniform. No one, except her future husband and her brother, saw her clearly, or the Phantom legend would have some fairly kinky wrinkles in it.
"The 19th married the daughter of a South American explorer, who came to look for Joonkoor's lost civilization and was captured by the rope people. He was the Phantom who brought the line into the 20th century. The 20th was the first Phantom to have to deal with the effects of a World War. The fighting never reached the intensity in Bangalla as it did in Europe and the Middle East. The 20th managed to keep the Phantom Peace operative in the interior and limited sectarian violence in the rest of Bangalla.
"After the war, the 20th went in search of a bride. He picked an American woman named Maude, who he met and fell in love with during the war. Years later, struggling physician Dr. Bjorn Axel was hauled from his home by pygmies. Blindfolded, he was led through the jungle on horseback until he reached the Skull Cave. There he found Maude in labour. Axel delivered a baby and earned the gratitude of the Phantom, who later helped make Axel's jungle hospital a success.
"Thus was born the greatest of all Phantoms: the 21st. On his 12th birthday, the 21st Phantom was sent to live with his maternal aunt in America. Even though he was accompanied by the adult Bandar prince Guran in his journey, the 21st wasn't happy. Though powerful and skillful enough to defeat most adult males, emotionally the 21st was still a child. So, he and Guran ran away from home. A search was mounted. The 21st was found by a nine-year-old girl, who introduced herself as Diana Palmer. She persuaded the 12-year-old to return to his aunt's home. The 21st settled in and began his studies, while Guran returned to Bangalla.
"Much later, Diana became his bride after the longest courtship in Walker family history. Their wedding ceremony was presided over by the presidents of Bangalla's two black democratic republics, Presidents Luaga and Goranda. All the local potentates were there as well as foreign ones, including Prince Lothar and his magician friend. A year afterward, the Hanta Witch genes struck again: a pair of twins were born to Diana Palmer-Walker, named Kit Walker XXII and Heloise Walker.
"And there you have it," concluded the big man.
The executive straightened his tie and smiled. "So, what you're telling me is that the Phantom is English; Hispanic from both Spain and South America; Asian Indian; Chinese; Scandinavian; Native American; French; and Italian. That means I can put him just about anywhere on my EEO report ... except maybe African, Irish, or Jewish."
"I don't know about that," replied the man in the trench coat. He rose to his feet along with his wolf. "I'm about to see my fiancee, Colleen N'duaguba-Cohen."
"Say," the puzzled executive said, scratching his chin, "How do you know so much about the Phantom?"
The deep voiced drifted back from the shadowy night streets. "The Phantom is just a jungle and sailor's myth. The Ghost Who Walks Can Never Die. There is no such person. Never was."
© 1996 KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, INC. THE HEARST CORPORATION
Bryan Shedden / email@example.com
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Last Updated 17 June 2000