Tuesday, March 29, 2016

If I rebooted The Phantom

When I was a kid, I loved the Phantom. He was a weird combination of Tarzan and Batman. I loved stories about the previous generations of Phantoms. I especially loved stories about the female Phantom and pirates and the contemporary Phantom going out into the world in a hat and trenchcoat as Mr. Walker. I thought the Ghost Who Walks was a great name, and I loved the horse and dog, and I admired his independent girlfriend.

But as I grew older, I realized the world had become too small for The Phantom. He was created in the 1930s when it was easier to believe in mysterious African nations and well-meaning white guys who were a little better than everyone else. He doesn't work in the 21st century. There've been attempts to update him—in some versions, he can turn invisible, and in others, he has a super-high-tech suit that deflects bullets. Those attempts lose what made him cool: he was a guy who got by with his wits, skills, and aura of mystery, and who could die because he was only human, but when he was wounded or killed, someone else would take his place so the legend never died.

My reboot would start faithfully with the first Phantom's story: an Englishman is set upon by pirates, washes up on the African coast, is saved by the Bandar tribe, and becomes the Phantom.

But that first Phantom would be the last European in the Phantom line. The first Phantom would marry an African or Arab woman, and each subsequent Phantom would marry someone from Africa, Asia, or the Middle-East, so the Phantom line would quickly be as multiracial as it could possibly be.

The role of the Phantom would always be shared, sometimes by The Phantom's children, sometimes by The Phantom's friends, sometimes by The Phantom's lovers, so the stories whispered around the world about The Phantom could never agree: Is he a man as pale as death? Is she a woman as dark as night? Is the Phantom a giant, a midget, fat or thin, old or young? The answer would depend on The Phantom the storyteller had met—every age would have its primary Phantom who lives in the land of the Bandar, but The Phantom's family would travel the world, studying new ways to be more effective mysterious protectors.

Rather than make The Phantom science-fictional or fantastical, I would keep the pulp roots by making The Phantom a highly-trained detective, martial artist, and marksman—I'd always thought the weapons were cool, especially when they changed with the times, from the first Phantom's cutlass and flintlock to the current Phantom's twin .45s. My contemporary Phantom would carry something like a commando knife and a Taser.

As for the costume, the only change I would make would be to get rid of the striped trunks. Without them, it's basically a ninja suit, and that's perfectly reasonable for someone called The Phantom.

The stories would occur anywhere on the globe. The focus would be contemporary, but there would almost always be a flashback to a previous Phantom who was involved in something that has some bearing on the contemporary story, which could range from an ancient stash of jewels or weapons to an ancestor of someone important in the 21st century story.

Ah, well, Enough fanboy indulgence. With the popularity of superhero movies, I'm sure someone's trying to do a reboot of The Phantom. Here's hoping it's good.

ETA 2: Forgot to include this: The Phantom should only appear in the Phantom suit when engaged in an operation where a stealth suit is required. The silliest part of current Phantom stories is keeping him in the suit all the time. Which may mean breaking one of the cool things I liked about The Phantom, that his face was never seen completely uncovered. But if you wanted to preserve that aspect of the original version, keeping the Phantom in a hat or hood with sunglasses would be easy.