A look at the various versions of the Phantom comic that have been produced by publishers around the world.
For readers of Phantom comics, it is easy to sometimes get confused by the contradictions of facts and differences in style that show up in the stories from time to time. To a casual reader this is very confusing, since all stories are just part of “one and the same comic” and it seems strange that it can be so hard to keep track of the same names of ancestor’s wives etc. throughout the stories.
The explanation is that the Phantom isn't one, standardized comic – but many different versions of the same fictional creation, each a little different from the other. The Phantom is on the surface the same character in every story, but as you look more in depth you begin to see the differences between different versions of the Phantom. Each version follows a separate set of rules and background information for how the Phantom is presented in that particular version.
The different versions are mainly kept apart by the publishers who produced them.

  • First, there’s the newspaper strip, created by Lee Falk. This is the original Phantom version, and all comic book versions are based (more or less faithfully) on this version.
  • The Semic/Egmont version is the longest running comic book version, starting in 1963 and with over 750 stories to date.
  • The Fratelli Spada version is the oldest comic book version, starting in 1962 and consists of over 400 stories from the 1960s and 1970s.
  • And then there are versions produced by DC, Marvel (three different versions, all about “futuristic” Phantoms), Gold Key/King/Charlton (one series by three publishers), Bastei in Germany, RGE in Brazil, Frew in Australia and most recently Moonstone Books.

What they have in common is that no version automatically includes facts stated in other versions. Semic/Egmont stories pay no attention to stories published in Germany by Bastei, and DC did not compare their version to Fratelli Spada’s, and Moonstone does not look at Semic/Egmont stories when they create their own. Only events and characters that are directly referenced in a story can be assumed to be a part of that version’s set of background information. And facts that directly contradict facts in another version are therefore explicitly different.


A complication of the matter is that many publishers also chose to print stories from other publishers, and thereby included at least parts of these other versions into their own. Semic/Egmont has published about 100 stories by Fratelli Spada, but also edited them harshly so they would fit nicely into the mix of their own stories and Falk stories that were printed in the magazine at the same time. (They also used the same practice for Lee Falk stories, for example changed the name of wives etc. in Lee Falk stories to keep it consistent with their own version - in cases when a wife of a previous Phantom had appeared in a Semic/Egmont story first).


The newspaper strip - King Features Syndicate (USA)

The original Phantom comic is the one that first appeared in American newspaper in 1936, written by Lee Falk and drawn by Ray Moore. The strip was soon an international success. Falk stayed with the strip until his death in 1999 and therefore is the mastermind behind the comic’s development
(there are however claims that during Falk’s lifetime other writers contributed to the strip aswell).
Despite the fact that the strip’s creator remained as writer until his life ended, the newspaper strip is not as coherent as one might think.
A part of this can be attributed to the fact that the newspaper strip is not intended to be read over and over again – it is a daily dose of entertainment which the majority of the intended readers only read once. Sometimes variations of names, years and events appeared in one and the same story.
Perhaps it was also a sign of Falk’s personal opinion that it was more important to tell a good story than to be limited by what had been written before.

After Falk’s passing, the scripts for the newspaper strip have mostly been supplied by writers Claes Reimerthi and Tony de Paul; both have written the Phantom for Semic/Egmont for many years. Some of their newspaper strip stories have been straight-forward remakes of stories originally written for the Fantomen comic books. And in other instances, references have been made to old Semic/Egmont stories that most likely have never been read by those who have only followed the newspaper strip. At the same time, a lot of the plot elements Falk introduced in the later years have been left unmentioned by the new writers (uncle Dave’s anti-terrorism job, President Luaga's marriage to miss Tagama, Prince Rex' relationship with Princess Alicia etc). Because of this, it can be said that the newspaper strip today is closer in content to the Semic/Egmont stories than Falk’s.


Semic/Egmont (Sweden)

The Swedish production of Phantom stories began in 1963 and in time, it has grown to be the biggest bulk of Phantom comic book stories with over 800 stories produced so far. Their biggest success has been the Chronicle stories about past Phantoms, but this also causes some problems when contradicting facts appeared in later stories written by the creator, Lee Falk. Since Semic/Egmont has published almost all Lee Falk stories, their policy has usually been to edit Falk’s stories so that all stories published by them fit into one continuity. There have been some unavoidable contradictions over the years however, so it’s not all crystal clear for the poor readers.

Here are some examples of obvious differences between Falk’s stories and how they have been handled by Semic/Egmont:

*In a Falk story, the 9th Phantom-to-be has three older brothers (triplets!), and he marries the mongol princess Vhatta Khan. He is also the shortest Phantom ever and is called “The Runt”. In Semic/Egmont’s edited version this was changed to the 13th Phantom (despite the fact that this contradicts another Falk story where the 13th marries Jeanette Lafitte!). The reason for this edit was apparently that Falk had previously mentioned that the 13th Phantom was the shortest of all, for example in the novel “The Story of the Phantom” from 1972.

 

 

*In a Falk story, the 5th Phantom marries Juliet Adams and it is mentioned that the 15th Phantom marries an opera singer. In Semic/Egmont’s edited version they roles have changed so the 15th married Juliet Adams and the 5th married an opera singer. The reason for this was that the time period that the story is set in does not match the years of birth and death that were attributed to the 15th Phantom.

*Also, Bengali was renamed Bangalla by Falk in the 1970’s, but is still called Bengali in stories by Semic/Egmont.


There are also many stories that are direct sequels to Falk stories, several remakes (some faithful and some very loosely based). There are also some very long-running plotlines about enemies like Dogai Singh (leader of the Singh Brotherhood) and Kigali Lubanga (who was president of Bengali for a while). These characters have (yet) never appeared in stories created by other publishers.

Influences from Fratelli Spada

In the past, a lot of stories by Fratelli Spada were published in Sweden. There are a few interesting examples of FS stories that were referenced in S/E stories (usually they have been ignored in the “S/E version”):

*In 1964, a villain was introduced in the Fantomen magazine called “Järnhanden” (“The Iron Hand”). When FS stories were being selected for publication in Fantomen, the Swedish editors discovered a similar character who also had an iron fist, named Strangol. In an example of "clever" editing, this character was also given the name “Järnhanden” and shown as being the same character as the previous one!

Above: Fratelli Spada's Strangol (left) and Semic's Iron Hand (right)

  • *One FS story introduces Lara Collins, the wife of the 18th Phantom. After being published in Sweden, this story became part of the Semic/Egmont continuity and there are several S/E stories that mention her.

 

The reason Semic began to publish these stories in the first place was lack of new stories, and that it was cheaper to buy stories from Fratelli Spada and edit them than to create new stories from scratch - mainly because at the time there was not yet any organization at Semic that could handle a large-scale production of new Phantom stories. So, Semic in Sweden published about 100 Italian stories in the Fantomen magazine (and subsequently in Norway, Denmark and Finland too) between 1968 and 1974.

The first problem was the format of the stories: The italian magazine was in pocket size, and it didn't look good to simply print the pages as they were in the larger comic book size. Instead, the panels were re-arranged to fit the Fantomen page size better – but logically, that also made the stories shorter. In order to make the stories longer again (Swedish readers were used to stories that were about 30 pages long), additional art was inserted here and there, and occasionally two Italian stories were edited together as one story.

But even the stories that weren't partially re-drawn were heavily edited. The storylines were not considered to be very good, so future Team Fantomen writers Janne Lundström and Magnus Knutsson got the job to re-write the stories. Basically, their job was to change the entire dialogue, and sometimes create a whole new plotline based on the Italian artwork. There were also at least two stories were Lundström used Italian story ideas as basis for Team Fantomen stories (with completely new artwork).

Since the Italian artwork was pretty good, but the stories were bad, why not try to supply Fratelli Spada with better stories to begin with? Janne Lundström actually wrote one script which was drawn by Italian artists and first published in the Italian L'Uomo Mascherato magazine and drawn by Giorgio Cambiotti and Lamberto Lombardi. The story was later reprinted in Sweden.
Above: The original version of "The Last Singh Pirate" by Lundström, Cambiotti and Lombardi
However, the Italian production ended around the same time so this was the only time anything like this happened. The new Fantomen editor, Ulf Granberg, felt that the editing of Italian stories didn't give good results and instead decided to increase the number of stories created originally for the Fantomen magazine.

Influences from Gold Key/King/Charlton
A handful of American comic book stories have been published in Sweden, but most of them in the comic book “X9” and not the regular Fantomen comic book. Some small elements of American stories can still be said to have found their way into the Semic/Egmont Phantom version. For example the name Rachamond, which has been used as the name of a villain in both an American story and a Fantomen story, and the Witch of Sangari that also has appeared in stories from USA aswell as Sweden.

Fratelli Spada (Italy)

This Italian version began in 1962 and consists of over 400 stories until the production ended in 1974. Here we meet the arch enemy Strangol (Järnhanden / The Iron Hand), and also the Singh Pirates in several stories. This version of the Singh Brotherhood is not the same as the Semic/Egmont version, where Dogai Singh is the leader.

There are a handful of Chronicle stories, most notably the story introducing Lara Collins mentioned above. This story also shows that the 18th Phantom was named Ken – not Kit!
The first appearance of Lara Collins
Above: The first appearance of Lara Collins

There are also a few remakes of Lee Falk stories (for example “The Ambassador”), and even direct sequels to old Falk stories (like the return of Baron Grover).
Above: The return of Baron Grover

Gold Key/King/Charlton (USA)

Three publishers shared the longest running American Phantom series, which was published from 1962 to -77.

There is little or no continuity from one story to another in this run; they are mainly stand-alone stories. Several stories in the Gold Key/King part of the run were remakes of Lee Falk stories, some of them with very interesting changes. For example, in the remake of “The Ambassador” (the story about how Luaga became president) both Luaga and Bababu are shown as white, instead of African!

A handful of Chronicle stories were also produced, and the most popular ones were about Julie, the 17th Phantom’s sister.
When Charlton took over and produced the majority of the issues (#30-74), the quality took a turn for the worse. Most issues featured up to three short stories, that were very childish and stiffly drawn by Pat Boyette. The mystique of the Phantom was nearly all gone. It wasn’t until the end of the run that the story length increased and better artists (most notably Don Newton) were hired. There was a bit more continuity in these later Charlton stories, but they also missed the mark on how to portray the Phantom on several occasions and it felt more like standard US superhero comics. One of Newton’s stories also show how the 20th Phantom is killed by nazis, which of course goes againts Lee Falk’s story “The Belt” where he is killed by Rama Singh.

During its 74-issue run, this Phantom series also included five Italian Fratelli Spada stories (including a couple featuring the aforementioned Strangol), but there was no reference to these stories in any of Charlton’s own stories.


 

DC Comics (USA)

 

In 1988, DC Comics (most famous for comics like Batman and Superman) launched a 4-issue mini-series about the Phantom. The success of the mini-series led to a regular series which lasted 13 issues.
The entire DC Series take place before The Phantom married Diana, and indeed the last issue shows the actual marriage. DC’s version show different events leading up to the marriage than we see in the newspaper strip, and the marriage itself is not identical either.


Defenders of the Earth (USA)

 

Defenders of the Earth was an animated TV-show that teamed up Mandrake, Lothar, Flash Gordon and The Phantom in a futuristic world where they battled Flash Gordon’s arch enemy Emperor Ming the Merciless. They were helped by Mandrake’s adopted son Kshin, Lothar’s son LJ, Flash Gordon’s son Rick and the Phantom’s daughter Jedda. In this version, The Phantom really had “the strength of 10 tigers” and other things mentioned in the Jungle sayings. As Phantom fans quickly see, this is very different from the Phantom as we know him from his own comics.
The Defenders were actually referenced in the Phantom newspaper strip once, as a promotion for the TV series. However, they were only shown in a dream sequence and there are no “real” connections between DotE and any other Phantom version.
DotE was originally a TV-series with over 60 episodes, and also a comic book published by Marvel Comics. Only four issues of the comic book adaptation were released. Trivia for fans; the comic book was drawn by Alex Saviuk (later Phantom artist for Egmont) and Fred Fredericks (Mandrake and Phantom artist on the newspaper strip).

Bastei (Germany)
The German publisher Bastei is one of the more prominent producers of Phantom stories, with about 100 original stories created. However, their stories are almost unknown even to the most devoted Phantom fans.
In the 1970s Bastei published several succesful Phantom titles: Phantom, Phantom Pocket, Phantom Spezial etc.
It seems that most of the material came from Sweden, since Bastei used the same edited versions of the newspaper strip aswell as Fratelli Spada stories, that previously had been published in Sweden.
Despite using Phantom stories from the newspaper strip, Semic, Fratelli Spada and Gold Key/King/Charlton, this was not enough to cover Bastei’s need for Phantom material. Therefore they began to produce their own stories. All of the Bastei stories were written by the productive German comics writer Peter Mennigen, and mostly drawn by anonymous studio artists. Despite the fact that these stories were published side-by-side with Phantom stories from other publishers, there are big differences between Bastei’s stories and the others. For example, the Phantom is no longer a mysterious jungle legend, but a well-known crime fighter who is contacted by the police when they need help.
Above: Samples of Phantom stories from Bastei. The Phantom is far from a mysterious jungle legend, instead he is a well-known crime fighter who is frequently contacted by the police. He doesn't even get a chance to relax with Diana at the beach!
There were also some Chronicle stories produced by Bastei that also do not match the Chronicle stories from any other producer of Phantom stories. In one Bastei story the 4th Phantom meets his future wife (who according to this story gave birth to three children, two daughters and a son), and is also accompanied by his wolf Devil! The Wolf who Cannot Die, perhaps!?
Above: The Third Phantom with his wife Sarah and the Fourth Phantom with his wife Aretha – and Devil!
One positive side of the Bastei stories was that the Phantom was frequently shown as speaking actual Swahili with the natives. It reinforced the fact that even though the Phantom is a white man in the jungle, he's still just a native himself.
Above: The Phantom speaks Swahili.
In total, there were about 100 Phantom stories produced by Bastei until they stopped publishing Phantom comics in 1983. With the exception of a handful of stories that were published in France these stories have never been published outside Germany.

Above: The origin of the First Phantom in a Bastei story – completely different from any other version of the origin story!

 


 

RGE (Brazil)
The Phantom has a long and varied history in Brazil, with several publishers producing Phantom comics with different contents. The newspaper strip has been the basis of most Phantom publications of course, but stories from Semic, DC, Marvel and Moonstone have also found their way to Brazil.
As of yet, I lack enough information to be able to point out any key differences or similarities between RGE:s Phantom stories and other Phantom versions. But one story worth mentioning is of course the story where the Phantom visits Brazil!
Above: The Phantom at the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Note Batman and Robin in the background!
RGE:s stories have been reprinted in Brazil by other publishers, but not published outside of Brazil yet.
A few years ago, there was a “manga” version of the Phantom published. However, the publishers did not get the rights from King Features to actually call it “The Phantom” so it was published under the name “Fantagor". The costume was changed a little, but many elements from the Phantom legend are exaclty like the original, for example the Skull Cave and the Singh Brotherhood.

Marvel (USA)
In the 1990s, Marvel Comics published a 3-part mini-series about the Phantom, with a futuristic “updated” look. Although it is not explicitly stated, it is implied that this Phantom is the 22nd, and that the 21st Phantom was killed by his arch enemy General Bababu.

Phantom 2040 (USA)
Another futuristic Phantom version was the TV series “Phantom 2040”, which was about the 24th Phantom. Just like the Defenders of the Earth TV series, this TV series has had no impact on any of the other Phantom versions and stands on its own. The TV series lasted 36 episodes and there was also a comic book from Marvel Comics that lasted four issues.

Frew (Australia)
Frew is the publisher of the Phantom comic book in Australia. Since Frew reprints the newspaper strip in unedited form, side-by-side with Semic/Egmont’s phantom stories, the differences between these two versions become even more evident. In cases where Semic/Egmont have eliminated contradictions by editing the newspaper strips, these differences are very noticeable in Frew's comics. Frew has relied mostly on material from other sources, but produced four stories of their own in the 1990s.
Frew’s four Phantom stories are based on the newspaper strip version and take no consideration to Semic/Egmont's version. Therefore, we can see Kabai Singh in "The Return of the Singh Brotherhood" but no sign of Dogai Singh. “The Search for Byron” also shows the return of a classic Lee Falk character.
Moonstone Books (USA)
The latest producer of Phantom stories is Moonstone Books in the USA. They have been creating Phantom stories since 2002. There are obvious differences in storytelling and art style when compared to other Phantom versions, but also The biggest difference is probably the graphic novel “Legacy” which is a re-telling of the first Phantom’s origin which differs a lot from how this story has been told in stories by Lee Falk and Semic/Egmont.
Above: Moonstone's version of the First Phantom
Still, Moonstone base their stories on the newspaper strip by Lee Falk only and do not take into account any information from other producers of Phantom comics. Moonstone has also included rarely seen supporting characters from the newspaper strip, like Sala of the Sky Band and Diana’s cousin, Agent Don Palmer.