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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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).
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)
Defenders of the Earth (USA)
Above: The origin of the First Phantom in a Bastei story – completely different from any other version of the origin story!