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THE PHANTOM: In Marxism and Other Theories

The Phantom was started by Lee Falk as a newspaper comic strip on 17th February 1936. He is also known as ‘The Ghost Who Walks,’ ‘Guardian of the Eastern Dark’ and ‘The Man Who Cannot Die’ due to the belief of his immortality and constant return from the dead. This is because the Phantom is not one person but a total of 21 generations of men. The first Phantom was Sir Christopher Standish. In 1525 he had seen his father being killed and his ship being burned by pirates before being washed ashore on Bangalla. With the skull of his father’s murderer, he took an oath (which is known as the oath of the skull) and thus was born the legend of the Phantom. The current Phantom is the 21th Phantom. He lives in a Skull Cave in the jungles of Bangalla, Africa with his wife Diana Palmer and his twin children Kit and Heloise.

Marxism is the analysis that focuses on class relations and societal conflict which uses a materialist interpretation and a view of social change. The Phantom has worked greatly for the oppressed. This can be seen firstly with the oath of the skull (which every Phantom has to take to continue the family tradition.). The oath of the skull states that, “I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice in all their forms and my sons and their sons will follow me.” Secondly, the first Phantom also started saving the oppressed by saving the Bandar pygmies from the Wasaka tribe who had kept them as slaves for centuries.

Ideology is a systematic body of ideas articulated by a particular group of people. The Phantom’s ideology is to fight against injustice, piracy, to keep peace and maintain law and order. The ideology of the jungle people is that the Phantom is the one and only authority. To please him is to get his blessings and win favour with him. To make him angry can result in death. This is also an example of ‘Ideological State Apparatus’ where the rule of the dominant class (The Phantom) is reinforced through ideology which results in people submitting due to fear of prosecution, violence or social ridicule. ‘False Consciousness’ is the creation of a masked or distorted image of reality. One of the main reasons the Phantom manages to make the jungle people fear him is because he always portrays himself as a ghost who cannot be injured or killed and has lived for centuries; while in reality, he is a normal human being.

Hegemony is the political, social and cultural dominance of one class or group by another. It is also the process of making, maintaining and reproducing this authoritative set of meanings, ideologies and practices. The Phantoms have been more educated and modernized. They have changed a lot of customs of the tribals over the years with the ones they prefer. For example, before the Phantom came to Bangalla, the young men from different tribes used to have a competition where the strongest person killed the others and became the king of the jungle. Over the years the Phantoms managed to change this into a wrestling match to avoid bloodshed. The Phantom also teaches his son the different ideologies and practises of the Phantom lineage in order to train him in becoming the next Phantom and in turn maintaining the ideas passed down from one Phantom to another.

Orientalism is basically the West’s perspective of the east. The jungle tribal people are seen as dark people, cannibals and superstitious by the white people. Their traditions and customs are seen like a lot of ‘mumbo- jumbo.’

Feminism is the ideology that states that women and men have equal rights to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights. In spite of the phantom being a man in each generation, there has been one female Phantom till now. When the 17th Phantom got ill, his twin sister Julie Walker took his place to maintain peace and order in Bangalla. She is depicted as a brave, intelligent and strong woman who is able to fulfil her brother’s role in his absence. When the 15th Phantom had been kidnapped by pirates his wife, Julie Adams rescued him. However, while on one hand women have shown their merit by taking up the role of the Phantom or rescuing him, on the other hand the Phantoms can also be biased. Eg. In the Skyband adventure (Skyband was an air piracy unit which was run entirely by women) the 21th Phantom attributed that the reason for its failure was that its leader had a ‘woman’s heart with hate and jealousy.’

Popular culture or Pop culture is a widely accepted form of culture or practises. After the death of Lee Falk, there have been many authors writing, illustrating and publishing the comic over time. These include Ray Moore, Sy Barry, George Olesen and others. It is currently produced by author Tony DePaul and artists Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty. It has also been published as comic books by various publishers like David McKay Publications (1940s), DC Comics (1988), Moonstone Publications, Hermes Press (2014), etc.

The Phantom comics have been made into films as well as television series. There have been many TV mini-series like the Defenders of the Earth (1986- 1987), Phantom 2040 (1994- 1996) and The Phantom (2009- 2010 and 20th June- 7th Sept 2010). Films of the Phantom include The Phantom (1996) and The Phantom Legacy.

The Phantom has been portrayed through various mediums like newspapers, comic books, films and TV series for almost 80 years. Thus just as its legend, the Phantom (comics) seems to have lived for a number of years as well as will live for a number of years to come.

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