The Phantom strikes like a thunderbolt but moves softer than a stalking great cat.
- Old Jungle Saying
As we grow older, our tastes evolve, our hobbies mature, we embrace the upgraded version of our pastimes. We quit playing Mario in those archaic Sega consoles and move on to playing Modern Warfare in the highly sophisticated PS3s and X-boxes. We turn our Walkmans off and switch on to our I-pods, I am running out of metaphors here, but you get the picture right?
In this Digital Age where a revolution is born within a hundred and forty characters, and the crowd for an uprising is gathered in our Facebook walls, everything that we do has a digital signature to it. Even the art of reading has evolved - from flipping the pages of a book whilst taking in its smell, that tells the age of a book, just like the taste does for a wine - it is now all about pressing the navigation keys or maneuvering the screen through a touch screen. Our PDAs and tablets do not possess the soul and essence of a book, they are cold, hard and metallic - they are what they are: an object, unlike a book that in our hands feels like a living creature which moves and breathes, that has a smell and a taste of its own. Every now and then we need to go back a few years to a time when things were much simpler, when reading a book was only about flipping pages where with every new page we got closer to the lives of the people that resided within it. A few days back during one of my day-dreaming sessions at work I had mentally visited that part of my life where I had first made friends with books. Or a more adolescent and colorful version of a book which is known as comic books.
Having a parent as a school teacher inspite of a few pitfalls has one positive, it gives you access to the school library without the pressure of having to return the books within the two-week period. And it was in the summer vacation of 1992 that I had befriended comic world's first superhero, Lee Falk's "Phantom". Dubbed as "The Man Who Cannot Die" and the "Ghost Who Walks" by the jungle tribe of the fictitious nation named Bengalla, the Phantom fought crimelords and pirates who tried to disrupt the sanctity of the jungle and its tribesfolk. Two decades back Phantom was the most widely read superhero in the Indian hemisphere, as the first real contact a child could have with a man who fights evil within the pages of a book, he had captured our imagination like no other character could have. It wasn't Batman nor was it Superman who had pushed me to the fanboy extreme, but it was Phantom - whose skin-tight purple colored costume made me do the deluded act of wearing my underwear over my pants at the age of six.
Phantom did not possess the superhero powers of a Superman, neither was he bitten by a spider to be gifted with freak-like abilities. He was more like Batman or infact Batman was more like the Phantom who used his intellect, his strength and his legend of being an immortal to spook and strike at his enemies. Another similarity between the two masked vigilantes was that they never killed their enemies, while Batman used his boomerang based Batarang to disarm his enemies, the Phantom used his gun to disarm his foes by shooting their weapons out of their hands.
He was a protector and an avenger, the duality of which was symbolized with his two rings. The Skull Ring on his right hand when punched on his adversary's face left an indelible impression of the skull on their face, and the ring of Crossed Swords which was a symbol of the Phantom's goodwill towards those who had it stamped on their hand. The Phantom also had the support of his trusted steed Hero, and Devil - his wolf who is always mistaken as a dog by the villains. He also doubles up as the Commander of the Jungle Patrol - an elite crime fighting unit in the jungles of Bengalla, and surprisingly also keeps his identity as a secret only to be known within the unit as a man they have heard of but never seen. Phantom's real identity was Kit Walker, a man who stayed away from alcohol and always preferred milk in bars when he visited the city to meet his lady love Diana Palmer.
In this day and age where lesser enigmatic superheroes like Captain America, Thor and the Green Lantern are revived by the Marvel and DC Comic franchises, its disheartening to see Phantom - the world's first ever comic book hero to not find a suitable relaunch in the cinemas. I say relaunch because there was a movie made on The Phantom in 1997 which starred that guy Billy Zane (#youremember) who loses Kate Winslet to Leo Dicaprio in the movie Titanic as the Phantom. A flop it may have been, nevertheless it didn't stop me from watching my favorite purple-colored-figure-hugging-tights-wearing crime fighter kick some ass on the big screen, whilst my parents were watching Se7en on the other screen. If I were an eleven-year old, I would recommend the movie to you as a mad fanboy, but more than a decade has passed and sanity has prevailed within me as I wear my pants over my underwear these days. Yet, I wish I could go back to being a six-year old in my summer vacations reading the legend of Phantom, immersed in the vivid imagery, as Lee Falk gifted me with a superhero who true to the legend is immortal for he still resides in my memories.