Review: King: The Phantom #1

In my Flash Gordon #1 review by the same publisher I mentioned the Mount Rushmore of classic pulp heroes (Flash Gordon, Phantom, Doc Savage and The Shadow, if you want to know), Dynamite did pretty well with Flash Gordon so let’s see how they do with The Phantom.  For those not in the know The Phantom is a naturalist.  Usually a white guy fighting for the rights of an African forest nation Bengalla, protecting it from savagery and rabid developers.  He is defined by his ownership of a white horse, a skull ring he uses to bash his insignia into the faces of evil-doers and a pair of 1911 Colt .45’s.  That and the purple suit is kind of his gimmick, that’s what he wears and that’s what he does.  He is an artist with a fist, nobody punches as hard or as elegantly as he does.  He was popular in the “white people go places and make them better” genre created during the age of unfettered imperialism. What is immediately obvious is Dynamite is trying to make some kind of shared universe of pulp heroes because both this and Flash Gordon have the same intro prologue that gets new readers up to date.  What I gather from both slightly different intros is that Ming the Merciless tried to take over the Earth and was beaten back by the best heroes whose rights could be bought at a reasonable price.  In this continuity Flash Gordon took the fight to space while The Phantom was killed in the process of saving the world.  Now we have a self-admitted place holder doing the job until the “real” Phantom can be found.  The trope is obvious, he’s either not going to find the “real” Phantom and be told that he has earned the title of Phantom or he’s going to find a replacement and they’ll use that to soft reboot the series in about a year to a year and a half.  So, that Chekhov’s gun misfires.

KingPhantom01-Cov-A-CookeColThe story itself is middling to fair.  The first seven pages are so full of cliché that I wasn’t interested and it wasn’t cliché’ in a good or interesting way.  A lot of rapid cutting to internal monologue that in no way represents how an actual person thinks, it’s clear that they just needed to get a lot of exposition out as fast as they could.  Then after seven pages it picks up during an action scene with Phantom that’s funny, well written and well-paced.  Unfortunately it’s followed by more crap.  I don’t really see where the premise is for this book.  Like, besides the grand premise of The Phantom fighting crime.  I get that, that’s the grand premise of every single superhero genre book ever.  I mean I don’t see where this book is going.  They introduce a subplot about a reporter I don’t care about and seems to only exist to provide an easy cliff-hanger moral dilemma.  But, I don’t care about her.  I don’t know anything about her besides the fact that she thinks in exposition and talks in cliché which leaves the cliffhanger limp and lifeless.

I hate to keep comparing it to its cousin book Flash Gordon but while Flash Gordon was rushed it was good.  Everything Flash did right this did wrong.  It didn’t set up an interesting world, it didn’t introduce a hook or even an intriguing premise and it provided no real payoff.  On the plus side the art is solid even if Phantom is a bit ethnically ambiguous until the middle of the book.  The middle was so promising but unfortunately it can’t support a sagging beginning and end.  I’ll give this one more issue to see if it can rebound because first issues are like first dates:  They can be difficult and awkward but sometimes things don’t hit their stride until the second date.  I’ll give you one more date Phantom but I’m going to tell you what my dates tell me: show up without pants on one more time and there won’t be a third!

Score: 2/5

Writer: Brian Clevinger Artist: Brent Schoonover Colorist: Robt Snyder Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/28/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital