Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Long live the Ghost!

For those who came late…..

In 1536, a lone survivor of a pirate attack swears an oath on the skull of his father’s killer: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms! My sons and their sons shall follow me."

And a superhero was born. Comic legend, Lee Falk's The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks. (or Betaal, Chalta Firta Pret, as he is called in hindi)

Thanks to now defunct Indrajal comics, our generation was ushered into the exciting and mythical world of Phantom. He was my first super hero. Unlike a Superman, who well, is a ‘super’man and has special powers for granted, or a Spiderman, who also acquired special power thanks to a spider bite. Or a Batman, whose angst, anger and insecurity ridden character I started idolising later in my ‘intellectual awakening’ years. So yeah, unlike any of them, here was our hero continuing his family business of saving the world from injustice and piracy and killers without any baggage. Everything about him is so fascinating. A man who lives in jungle, has a beautiful intelligent, loving wife. Fights crime. Has a dog…err a wolf called Devil, a white horse-Hero. He is the first to wear the skintight costume that has become a hallmark of comic-book superheroes, and the first to wear a mask with no visible pupils, another superhero standard. He is loved by people and feared by criminals. And when he is not fighting crime, he takes off to the secluded Island of Eden for a family vacation. Keeping him company on the island are all sorts of animals, a Prehistoric man and his partner, Hizz and Herz, a Stegosaurus and Nefertiti and Solomon, the two dolphins. Now that’s some life!!
As a child, I of course couldn’t afford to buy all Indrajaal comics off the stand. But we had our ways. I had a ruddiwala, who was instructed to bring me any comics he gets. So every time a rich kid sold his or her comics to the scrap guy in kilos, the man would straight away bring them to me and sell them Rs. 1 a piece, which was still a steal for me. Thanks to that man, I had a sizable comic collection of Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Batman, Superman and many more, some 300 or more of them, all stacked neatly in my drawer.

Falk’s legendary character sounds like it’s inspired by Lord Shiva, another one of my childhood heroes ( As a teenager I would actually have fights with my sister about who was cooler, my Shiva or her Vishnu. Vishnu I thought was too clean, handsome alpha male. Kind of boring, isn’t it. Whereas Shiva was a loner, a recluse, a strong, rough and tough intellectual man with a temper to match.).

There are many other parallels. Like Parvati, a King’s daughter leaves everything behind to be with her beloved Shiva in the snowy Kailash mountain. Ms. Diana palmer leaves the luxury of city life to be with Phantom, the 21st. Ok, she has a job with UN (what the heck, she is a 20th century woman after all).

Like Shiva and Parvati, they have two kids, Kit and Heloise. While Nandi was almost like Shiva’s adopted son, Phantom actually has an adopted nephew, Rex, who called Phantom, Uncle Walker.

Shiva’s anger was legendary, all the gods were afraid of his temper. An angry Phantom was a terror too ("The cold voice of the angry Phantom can freeze blood - Old jungle saying.")

Shiva was suppose to be a recluse but he would come running to his follower’s prayer.
Phantom lives deep in the jungles in his Skull cave , but all the tribesmen of Bengalla got to do is play the drums to call for help. ("Call the Phantom anywhere and he will hear - Old jungle saying." )

Enough of drawing comparisons, but I can’t help draw the last comparison. Shiva’s third eye was suppose to bring disaster. A slight change in Phantom’s story. We are in 21st century after all, we can’t expect people to believe Phantom having a third eye, so we have phantom in his mask which he never takes off in front of people. ("He who looks upon the Phantom's face unmasked will die horribly...." old jungle saying)

Lee Falk died in 1999. As of 2008, the comic strip is produced by writer Tony DePaul and artist Paul Ryan. Indrajaal comics is long gone. Diamond comics keeps printing the old Phantom comics in digest format, but it simply doesn’t have the same charm. Internationally, we now have the 24th Phantom, very slim, very futuristic. I think, it doesn’t have the very soul of Phantom. Too modern, futuristic. A metrosexual Phantom. That’s the last thing our generation wanted to see.

For the generation growing up on Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and 3D Sci-Fi characters, all I can say is that you guys came a little too late.
(Some trivia and picture courtesy wikipedia and other sites. I would have loved to put more pics but am still grappling with the whole image pasting thing.)


starrynight said...

made a very interesting read, felt like i was reading an article in one of the Sunday newspapers...looking forward to read more of the same kind. though it comes later in the day, you are an awesome writer.

nima said...

Great reading this with a glass of milk in one hand. By the way what was that mesa called where Mr. Walker used to land in his chopper?
And were you invited to his wedding? What an event... remember?

Kundan said...

Fantabulous! Loved every word you wrote. Nice, easy style, we've discovered an amazing writer. Can't wait to read more :)

ManchuChanchu said...

Another pleasant piece. And Whoa! where did u get this shiva idea from. strange but its quite true. quite commendable the comparison n your writing style

vimsical said...

@starrynight: Thanks so much. Your posts are my inspiration :)

@Nima: And when you are nursing your glass of milk, i am sure you have your wolf next to you :)

I don't quite remember the name of the place where he lands his chopper. Was it Phantom head peak??

And yeah, i remember his wedding. The year was 1977. Truly an unforgettable event with president Luaga and Mandrake in attendence amongst others :)

@Kundan: Thanks brother.

@Manchuchanchu: Thanks. I have forever imagined lord Shiva as some sort of a dude. These comparisons in my head helped me idolise the 'man' more and see him less as a mere legend.

CaptainDave said...

New to blogging, but not to reading, found your blog by hitting next. Great find- Phantom! Look forward to reading more- like your style.

Kaushik said...

Another parallel with Shiva: Shiva's skin colour and the Phantom's suit colour are similar.
@Nima: Are you talking about Walker's Table? He used an elevator made of a big bucket and a huge cylindrical rock as a counterweight to ascend to the top!

divya said...

Hey do u remember mandrake? If you read him, could you write abt him too? Pls

Nirmal said...

Absolutely great read. enjoyed it, it was kind of going back in time when we (friends)actually fought to see who got to read Phantom first. btw you forgot those other great Phantom stuff, the skull cave and the ring. :)