The Phantom #1, "The Game!"

THE PHANTOM #1; November 1962; Gold Key Comics; featuring the hero created by
Lee Falk and Ray Moore for the King Features newspaper comic strip, in the
story, "The Game!"  On the painted cover (by whom I don't know), the costumed
Phantom rides his horse Hero while firing a pistol in the air, and his pet wolf
Devil lopes along beside; in the background, a skull is dimly seen.

Review by Bill Henley

Lee Falk's Phantom is certainly one of the prototypes of the costumed comic
book superhero.  Making his debut in the newspapers in 1936, two years before
Superman, he pioneered the mask-and-skintight-costume look.  And it's little
known but true that he almost wound up looking a lot like Batman before there
was a Batman.  The first few weeks of Phantom strips (reprinted in a 1940's
"Feature Book" comic which in turn was reprinted in a facsimile edition that I
own) had the masked hero fighting gangsters in urban New York, and it was
strongly hinted (though not explicitly stated) that a rich playboy supporting
character was his alter ego.  But creator Falk apparently changed his mind early on
about the direction of the strip, and the Phantom sailed away (leaving behind
the playboy, who wasn't really him) to battle pirates and other exotic
evildoers in his more familiar jungle habitat.

The Phantom had a presence in American comic books in various newspaper strip
reprint titles, such as "King Comics" and the aforementioned "Feature Book"
during the 1940's, and in HARVEY HITS comics in the late 1950's, which featured
occasional Phantom strip-reprint issues amongst the appearances of the Ghost
Who Makes Friends and other traditional Harvey characters.  However, it wasn't
until Gold Key acquired the license to the character in 1962 and published
this issue that the Ghost Who Walks had a comic-book title all his own and
stories produced specifically for comic books.  This issue carries no credits.  I
believe the artist is Bill Lignante, and I'm guessing (though it's only a
guess) that the script is written by a Gold Key/Whitman staff writer but based on
an earlier strip sequence by Falk.

The inside front cover fills in readers unfamiliar with Falk's hero on his
origin; "400 years ago, the sole survivor of a pirate raid was washed up on a
remote beach...He was the FIRST Phantom."  "I will devote my life to the
destruction of cruelty and injustice!  My descendants will follow me!"  "Generation
after generation followed!  Natives, thinking it the same man, called him
immortal!  Now, 16th of the line, the scourge of evil-doers...."

"In the Bengali highlands, near the fabulous silver palace of Prince Ragon,"
a white hunter named Gill undertakes a dangerous feat-- slaying a charging
lion with only a spear.  But his spear-toss misses, and as he flees for his life,
a turbaned potentate watching through a telescope from the nearby palace
complains, "What a disappointment!  No fight at all!  He's running!  He didn't
even pass the first obstacle!"  Further disappointment ensues as, just as the
lion is about to leap on the fleeing Gill,  the beast is slain by a shot from the
pistol of the Phantom, who has happened on the scene.  When the Ghost Who
Walks demands to know why Gill was hunting lions armed only with spear and knife,
the hunter explains it was "Sort of a crazy game!  But I LOST!"  Pointing out
Prince Ragon's palace, Gill explains that a million dollars in gold on the
palace balcony would have been his if he had passed seven obstacles to win the
game.  But before he can explain further, both Gill and the Phantom are
arrested by Prince Ragon's soldiers.  They are brought to face the Prince who isn't
happy with either of them.  Gill has failed to provide a suitably entertaining
game, and as for the Phantom, "Who is this masked hoodlum who spoiled my
game?"  "Sire, the servants say he is the phantom of the jungle!  They say he is
four centuries old and cannot die!"  "Cannot die?  We'll see about THAT!"  One
of Ragon's servitors explains the game; how the bored and aging Prince lures
players to challenge his seven obstacles in the hope of winning their greatest
desire.  Gill wanted a million in gold; another man wanted a barrel of
diamonds; yet another wanted a famous female movie star whom Ragon somehow acquired as
a prize; and a scientist sought the last two specimens of a supposedly
extinct bird.  None have ever won the prize-- or survived losing.  Nonetheless, Gill
is still eager for another try at the gold....but it's only one try to a
customer, and Ragon orders both Gill and the Phantom shot.  Disinclined to be
shot, the Phantom overpowers the Prince's guards and leads Gill to safety, sternly
ordering him to forget trying to win Ragon's "fiendish game".  However,
Prince Ragon is not altogether dissatisfied, for he has discovered the ultimate
contestant for his "game".  "Find out what the Phantom wants more than anything
else!  Then GET it!  That'll bring him back!" 

Ragon sends his servants combing the jungle for items of Phantom lore, but
they learn only that the Phantom rules the jungle from his mysterious "Deep
Woods" headquarters , is thought to be immortal, and has a vast, legendary
treasure of his own.  "Fame--power- money-- all his!  WHAT can we find to lure such a
man?"  "Don't be so stupid", Ragon orders.  "Find his GIRL!"  And so, Ragon's
agents go out again looking for clues to the love of his life.  One of the
agents finds what he seeks by pretending friendship for a young messenger of the
Bandar pygmy tribe.  Expressing admiration for the Bandar's master, the
Phantom, the agent muses, "What a magnificent WIFE such a great one must have!" 
"He has no wife....but a sweetheart....the far-away Missy Diana...."  And so,
getting a glimpse of the message the Bandar is carrying, Ragon's men learn the
identity of his "sweetheart," the American girl Diana Palmer.  "Weeks later",
having tracked down Diana, Ragon's agents hire an American gangster to accost
and kidnap Diana-- but she is no fainting flower, and disables the hired gun
with a judo throw.  The next day, however, Ragon's men capture Diana while she
is water-skiing and bundle her onto a speedboat, then an airplane which carries
her to Ragon's faraway palace.  Now, with Diana captured, the bait is in
place to force the Phantom to play "the game".

Hearing through the tom-tom jungle telegraph that Diana is at Ragon's palace,
the Phantom discovers it is true.  He tries to sneak around the back way
rather than facing Ragon's obstacles, but is stopped by the Prince's troops. 
Warned that Diana will never leave Ragon's clutches unless he plays "the game",
the Phantom agrees to face the seven obstacles.  The first, as with Gill, is to
face a big cat (a tiger this time) armed only with a spear and knife.  The
Ghost Who Walks dispatches the tiger with the spear, though the weapon is broken
in the process.  " WONDERFUL!  He's an iron man-- should last through at least
two more obstacles!", the watching Prince enthuses.  The next obstacle is a
stream filled with crocodiles, but our hero manages to get past it by actually
leaping from one croc's back to another, evadin the snapping jaws.  Next, he
falls into a quicksand pit and is attacked by giant hawks-- but he takes
advantage of the dual threat by grabbing the birds' legs and letting them pull him
out of the pit.  "No one has EVER gotten this far!  He's passed the third and
fourth obstacles!"  Meanwhile, as he gets nearer to the palace, Diana
recognizes her would-be rescuer and calls her encouragement.  The next obstacle is an
armored medieval-type knight armed with a lance, but the Phantom manages to
grab the lance away from him and topple him from his horse, leaving him helpless
as a "tortoise on his back". 

The next to last obstacle is a wall of fire fed by a hidden gas pipe, but the
Phantom uses the lance seized from the knight to pole-vault over the flames. 
Now all that is left is to climb the nearly sheer wall of Ragon's cliffside
palace, but the Prince makes that interesting by unleashing an avalanche of
rocks.  The Phantom evades the rocks and continues his climb to reach Diana, but
she warns him that the unscrupulous Prince is scheming to have his soldiers
kill him, even though he has won the "game".  So instead of climbing to Diana's
side, our hero descends on Prince Ragon himself and holds him hostage. 
Lifting Ragon over the palace parapet, he warns, "Order your army to drop their
guns, or over you go!"  The leader of the troops is impressed-- "What a man!"--
and Diana responds, "MY MAN!"  As the Phantom and Diana lead Prince Ragon off
into custody, his troops show little loyalty to him; one of them says, "And I
HOPE they hang him!" to which another replies, "Hanging's too good for him! 
They oughta make HIM play the game!"

The inside back cover tells of another bit of Phantom lore-- the twin rings,
the skull ring on the right list which leaves a skull mark on evildoers, and
the crossed "good mark" on the left-hand ring, left on the Phantom's friends as
a sign of his favor and protection.  The back cover duplicates the front
cover painting, minus the cover logo.  This issue contains no ads, and has the
slightly odd-looking no-panel-borders design common to early Gold Key issues.

Gold Key went on to publish 17 issues of THE PHANTOM, after which King
Features took over the title for its own short-lived King Comics line of comic
books.  When that line folded, Charlton took over the title and numbering with #30
(#29 was skipped), and kept it going through issue #74, 1977.  While the Gold
Key and King issues featured Lignante art in more or less the style of the
newspaper strip, Charlton used an assortment of artists ranging from Jim Aparo to
Pat Boyette to Don Newton.  One of the Aparo Charlton issues was actually my
first introduction to the Ghost Who Walks (I got interested enough in him to
collect these earlier Gold Key/King issues, as well as whatever strip reprints
I could get my hands on).  Maybe I'll review that Charlton issue another time.