Do You, Diana, Take This Masked Man to Be Your Lawfully Wedded Phantom?
Mrs. Lily Palmer of St. Louis, Mo. announces the marriage other daughter Diana to Mr. Kit Walker, also known as the Phantom. The ceremony will take place in the Deep Woods of the Afro-Asian country of Bangalla, whose president, Dr. Lamanda Luaga, will officiate. The couple will honeymoon on the Isle of Eden’s golden beach of Keela-Wee, after which the bride, who will retain her maiden name, will commute between her United Nations job in New York and the couple’s home in the Skull Cave in Bangalla, where the groom is engaged in the pursuit and conquest of evil.
His friends were always wondering when the 21st Phantom would find the right girl and settle down, and next Sunday he’ll take the plunge. Why did he wait so long? “Somehow he just never got around to it,” says Lee Falk, creator of the 41-year-old comic strip hero. “But he is an independent fellow and very potent. He finally decided that it was time.”
According to legend, the first Phantom was a cabin boy, and the lone survivor when pirates sank his ship 400 years ago off the coast of Bangalla. Rescued by Bandar Poison Pygmy tribesmen, who taught him the ways of the jungle, Phantom No. 1 donned his now famous purple body suit and mask, swore that all his descendants would follow his creed, and set forth to vanquish injustice.
To the natives of Bangalla, who believe the first Phantom was immortal, each successor has been called Ghost Who Walks. Thus the current Phantom chose the name Walker when he was sent to the U.S. to begin his formal education at the age of 12. (It was while living with an aunt and uncle in Missouri that the Phantom met Diana, the girl next door.) During his stay he became an All-America football star, an expert fencer and the winner of an exhibition bout with the world’s heavyweight champion. But after his father was murdered by marauding pirates, Walker went home to Bangalla to take over the family business.
The Phantom’s domestic and professional headquarters is the Skull Cave, where he maintains radio contact with the outside world. Its vaults contain such treasures as the sword of King Arthur and the asp that dispatched Cleopatra. Although there is no indoor plumbing, the cave has chests filled with gold, diamonds and rubies, all gifts from the grateful beneficiaries of past Phantom heroics.
Critics detect colonialist overtones in the adventures of a masked man, apparently Caucasian, who is surrounded by worshipful pygmies. Falk points out that Kit Walker is a fervent democrat—so much so that the strip was once banned in Spain under Franco. Translated into 15 languages and circulated in some 500 newspapers in 40 countries, the Phantom is perhaps the world’s most widely read comic superhero, a distinction that delights his 62-year-old creator. “Growing up,” he says, “I was always intrigued with the heroes of antiquity. The Phantom is of that tradition.”
A native of St. Louis, Falk was a 19-year-old literature major at the University of Illinois when he was struck with the inspiration for his first comic strip, Mandrake the Magician. (Mandrake, incidentally, will be among the guests at the forthcoming nuptials.) Two years later, in 1936, he brought forth The Phantom, whose scenario he works out to the last detail before turning it over to artist Sy Barry, who has drawn the strip since 1963.
Falk has written a dozen plays and produced 300 more in summer theaters. In the eyes of comic strip historians such as the Sorbonne’s Francis Lacassin, however, his most enduring achievement is the man from the Deep Woods. “The Phantom,” intones Lacassin, “will outlive Falk as Ulysses has outlived Homer.”