Friday, January 18, 2008

Fair Trade -- The Phantom: Death in the Deep Woods

The Phantom: Death In The Deep Woods
Take a journey into the African jungles, where legend speaks of a terrifying spirit who haunts all those who stand for injustice and greed. This Man-Who-Cannot-Die, the Ghost-Who-Walks, has stalked the darkest part of Bangalla for the better part of five centuries, and he does not tolerate crime in his adopted homeland. So if you serve evil, and you find yourself deep in the woods on a dark night, watch your back -- because The Phantom will be there.

Collecting the first four issues of Moonstone's relaunched Phantom series, written by Ben Raab and with art by Pat Quinn and Nick Derington, Death In The Deep Woods tells two stories of the Kit Walker, the 21st and current Phantom. For those not in the know, the title of the Phantom is a hereditary one, passed from father to son for generation after generation, each donning the mask and purple and black costume, leading to the legend of the undying hero. And since this hero must produce an heir, the Phantom is a family man, with his wife Diana, their daughter Heloise and son, also named Kit.

The first story (both are two-parters, and as a result this is a pretty short trade, all told) revolves around Diana's work as Bangalla's representative to the United Nations. Namely, an anti-terrorist bill she is working on has attracted the unwanted attentions of a certain Middle Eastern extremist, and he has designs on silenting her. Unfortunately for him, the lady is protected by the Ghost-Who-Walks! The second tale is a little more experimental in nature. Raab introduces a foil for the Phantom in the form of Kua The Undying, a towering member of the Bandar's rival tribe, who has menaced the Phantom many times over the centuries. Turns out that Kua himself is a multi-generational creation, who's mission is to kill the Phantom and enslave the Bandar. Kit has his hands full with Kua, who is smarter than he looks and has plans to strike at the Phantom where he is most vulnerable.

Both stories are fast moving and energetic, with a lot of action crammed into a slim page count. Phantom himself is sort of a Batman figure, using not only his physical strength but also his mystique (Old Jungle Legends) and psychological tactics to take out his opponents. But he's not nearly as grim as Bats, though, adding some levity and almost a swashbuckling-type of tone to the adventure. Raab makes Kit extremely readable, and the reader begins to identify with him very quickly. Same goes for the supporting cast, including Diana and the kids. They are handled not as baggage, but as integral pillars supporting the entire structure. Diana is no stay-at-the-cavw mom, either: she's as much a hero to Bangalla as her hubby is. The Bandar tribe add a nice element as well, and are not portrayed as superstitious or ignorant savages. Even the Phantom's two animal assistants -- the timberwolf Devil, and horse Hero -- acquit themselves nicely.

The art has a nicely weighted feel to it without looking too photorealistic. Quinn and Derington never forget that they are drawing a comic book, and keep things grounded in that reality. The action is intense, but since this series is wat I would call can Adventure strip -- as opposed to a Superhero one -- things do stay relatively low key, but in a good way. I do have to say, though, that Phantom throws the sickest punches this side of Jim Aparo. Don't believe me? Check this out (click to Phantom-ize!):


I rather liked this trade. It's a bit pricey at $14.95 for 120 pages (in addition to the 4 issues, there is also a two-page short explaining the character's history), but it reads really well and is a lot of fun. I was already a Phantom fan before I bought it -- the only reason I didn't buy these as singles is that I didn't know they were being published, which will teach me to pay more attention to Previews -- but even a Ghost-Who-Walks novice can pick this up and enjoy. Definitely worth reading if you want something a little bit different from your typical superhero fare.

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