Review by Anthony N. Castle
I read it for the first time after it had been read by my nephew, (the review copy arrived in the mail a week later), and that seems fitting. The Phantom was a childhood favourite of my own, after all. The character appeared in newsagents and newspaper strips and I can still picture well-loved Phantom comics on my own messy bedroom floor.
Kid Phantom, written by Gabriel Henriquez and illustrated by Paul Mason, is an all-ages book that reimagines the Ghost Who Walks as a rambunctious child. Pitching the Phantom as a young hero for young readers, similar to other superheroes in the past, is a concept that feels both long overdue and suddenly innovative.
There is a pulpy simplicity to the Phantom – a jungle adventure on horseback – that can be refreshing in a world of increasingly hypercharged and toyetic childrens’ properties aimed at nostalgic adults. Frew has decided to put The Man Who Cannot Die back into the hands of children and it feels fitting.
But this is me being sentimental.
The tale itself introduces the current Phantom as a boy, trying his hand at hunting with the Bandars, training, failing, and generally coming to grips with his familial responsibility. Henriquez’s story presents many of the key moments that readers expect of the brand but reframes the beats for a different demographic. The story ends with a scene wonderfully reminiscent of Silver Age Superboy comics and the final page builds momentum for future adventures in America (to be written by Andrew Constant, Torn, Broken Line and the recently announced DC miniseries The Demon: Hell is Earth).
Mason’s artwork seems to reflect influences as diverse as classic Kirby and Saturday morning cartoons. His style allows for both physical humour and propulsive action beats. It’s rougher than the typical house style and a change of approach for the brand. While the nostalgic purists might struggle with the artistic shift, it’s appropriate for an all-ages comic. That the book comes in a digest format that contains a sticker sheet says everything about its pragmatic appeal for the intended audience.
Frew has been printing Phantom comics in Australia since 1948 and holds the world record for a continuous print run of the character. As pointed out by Emmet O’Cuana, The Phantom rightfully has a unique place in Australian comics history. There is a weight of legacy there, made evident by the dedication of local ‘Phans’. Times change, however, and newsagents are fewer, as are the newspaper sales that once ran the character in strips. If The Phantom is to continue for another 69 years then it must build its readership.
That is the promise of Kid Phantom #1; taking new readers into the character’s past in order to take the books into the future. I look forward to the future adventures of Kid Phantom to see that promise kept.
See Frew Publications for details.