Jan 30, 2012

Phantom at the Window: Frew #1623

What's going on with that kid's hand?
Well it's been a while since we've seen the Phantom stalking people, so let's talk about Frew #1623, and maybe add a few more images to our already legendary collage.

Maybe? Son we found *seven* new images!

Frew #1673 is Frew's 2012 Annual Special. The Annual Specials are a tradition that's been going since 1991, and this is the 21st Annual Special ever. These books are enormous -- 250-300 page comic books. The equivalent of a trade paperback, and a large one, released to news agents as a regular comic book for $11. It's frickin' awesome.

And this is my first one since getting back into Phantom last year, so I'm totally chuffed to get Frew #1623. So why don't we take a little look at it together?

Each of the annual specials reprint multiple classic Lee Falk stories that have been out of print for some time. This issue specifically reprints seven stories. Most of the annuals also come with replicas of early Frew comics -- in this case a replica of issue 20. It's pretty awesome looking back and seeing how those old comics were formatted, and seeing how much old stories were chopped up.

Women always seem to puzzle the Phantom.

The Annual is 260 pages, and I was surprised to see it actually has a (light) card cover. That's something I wasn't expecting and makes it feel pretty robust. It's very cheap, but... well... you're paying for a cheap product. The comics are black-and-white, on cheap newsprint, and... well... since Frew's shifted to a digital printing process the prints of the comics have been kinda pixelated. They look a little fuzzy, and not as crisp and pure as some of the older Frew reprints.

It's unfortunate, but you get so much damned content it's hard to be too upset.

Trust me, this is just as weird in context.

The place where these comics really shine is, as usual, the editorials. There's the usual publisher editorial, plus an introduction to the book itself, and introductions to every story... and some other stories even got summing up editorials after the story! You want context and background information on these classic Phantom stories? You got it, son.

See? Context doesn't help!
But you're not here to have me rave about format of the issue. You want me to talk about the stories, don't you? Okay, let's try and give a quick rundown. But only quick.
The Governer and Suzie.
This story is a piracy story with a nice twist or two. A femme fatale named Suzie is part of a gang who hi-jack ships by pretending to be German U-boats (this was published in 1943). It's a cracking story, with a tonne of shipboard action. and you know what that means? Phantom staring through windows!

The Prexy? The Prexv?
Uhhh... I dunno. Bad printing.
But it's when it gets off the ship that the story gets awesome. The Phantom is racing cross-country, Suzie in tow, being chased by an army! There's great scenes of the Phantom in disguise, and the Phantom driving a jeep. Not to mention getting bombed by jets! It's freakin' awesome.

This should be a T-shirt.
The only problem with this story is that the Frew printing actually went ahead and spoiled the ending! And it's not like you could skip the editorials, they actually printed huge panels from the ending of the story in the


 Princess Valerie
This story is a love-letter to Lee Falk's own oldest daughter Valerie. And it's a really sweet. Valerie is an adorable, idealised little girl, and the Phantom as the protective father figure is also kinda wonderfully cute.

This is my favourite ever! Maybe...
 The run-around as the Phantom tries to return the lost Valerie (who in this story is a Princess in the kingdom of Volara) is a lot of fun. But the best bits are actually just Valerie by herself in the jungle, befriending a deer, and telling off a tiger for being mean.

This one doesn't count, that's
actually a door, not a window.
 It's clear that artist Ray Moore really loved drawing this story, as it's one of his best. According to the editorials, Moore also had a connection with Falk's daughter, and was dedicated to making the story, particularly the sections starring Valerie, awesome. There's even a section where Valerie has to hide out at an orphanage, which one can't help think was perhaps a reference to other popular comics.

This on the other hand
totally counts!

 I found this to be the weakest of the stories in the book. It's basically a story about claim jumpers in a mining boom -- with the only twist being that it's uranium claims (hence 'U-town'), not gold claims. It's an okay story, but there's nothing really exceptional here to make it stand out.

Sky-lights count as windows!
 The Valley of No Return
This was a pretty standard jungle adventure, with the Phantom saving a bunch of naive young people from the deadly dangers of the jungle. It's not too bad, with some neat sequences, especially an awesome sequence of the Phantom charging into some hostile natives on his horse, Hero. The setting is also fairly compelling, but it's a pretty short story, so there's not many twists.

The Crown Jewels of Corba
Now this is a neat story. Most of the start of the story doesn't have the Phantom in it at all. It's a tense mystery story -- almost what you'd call a 'thriller', if it was a movie. The Phantom comes into the story as a straight-up super hero, saving the day.

This is part of a full-page sequence of the Phantom
chatting to Marston through a window.
I don't want to give anything away -- unlike Frew I don't make it a policy to spoil 70 year old comic stories -- but I think the best thing about this story is its really unconventional antagonists. While you might see the final twists of the plot coming ahead of time, they're still really well done, and the story is pretty damned engaging.
Petra's a guy. I thought it was important
to mention that.
 The Gurk Twins
This is a story about the Jungle Olympics, an idea Lee Falk would come back to several times. The titular Gurk Twins are a pair of giants who the Phantom has to teach a lesson when they steal the championship trophy from the Jungle Olympics. It's pretty awesome.

The thing that makes the story so readable is the cast. The Gurk Twins are causing trouble, so to keep them out of trouble the Jungle Patrol have them go with a little dude named Dr. Meeks to catch butterflies in the jungle. It's an humiliating job, but if the two thugs don't play ball it's back to jail for them!

This is pretty standard morality play stuff for Falk, but it's really engaging because of how well developed the Gurk Twins and Dr. Meeks are as characters.

The Curse of the Sacred Image
This is the only Lee Falk/Sy Barry story in the special. All the other stories were drawn by Ray Moore or Wilson McCoy. Getting at least one Barry outing in the book was a relief, since he's basically the best Phantom artist of all time.

I'd love to count this... but no.
This story is another morality play. A   jungle artefact is stolen and the Phantom has to get it back. There's much made of curses and things in this story, which is interesting. Often in the Phantom a curse will come up and it's left up to the reader to decide whether the curse coming true was a coincidence or an actual curse. And maybe, in the end, there's no difference between the two.

Okay, phew, so that's it for the stories in this special. Honestly the reviews were just an excuse to show all those images that are potential candidates for our world-famous Phantom-at-the-window collage. So how about we have a look at the collage as it was before:

Now let's add all the images from this issue! It's not many. Only, oh... SEVEN images from one issue! (One 260 page issue...)

Holy crap man. I think eventually we're just gunna create an image of the Phantom peering in through someone's window... using nothing but images of the Phantom peering through people's windows.

--Andrew S.

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