The Phantom, 7/31/04
The Phantom is one of those strips that, it strikes me, was created in significantly less politically correct times, and is desperately trying to make up for it now. After all, it revolves around a benevolent white man protecting the dark-skinned, half-naked, ludicrous-straw-hat-wearing, pidgin-spouting natives of the amusingly named African nation of Bangalla. It’s the sort of comic strip that Rudyard Kipling might have come up with, if he had known about the wonders of form-fitting spandex. Of course, today Bangalla is an independent democracy, with a capital city full gleaming, modern buildings, and a suit-wearing president with the admittedly unfortunate name of Lambada (“the forbidden dance!”) Luaga. (If the current Sunday storyline is to be believed, Bangalla has a thoroughly modern relationship with the U.S. military-industrial complex; I’ll bet President Luaga isn’t so pleased that his old friend has decided to borrow his multi-million dollar missile cruiser for his own purposes.)
Anyway, in the current weekly series, the Phantom is kicking ass and taking names not in Africa but in his wife’s native United States. And while portraying one of the strip’s African villains like a Planet of the Apes extra would probably cross a line that the strip is already too close to, I suppose it’s OK that the leader of this band of evil rednecks looks uncannily like the majestic mountain gorilla, or maybe Ernest Borgnine.
One of the things I like about the Phantom is that his origins lie in an earlier, pre-Superman era of comic book heroes. Although he is highly skilled in both fisticuffs and gunplay, he has no actual superpowers as such, though the melty word balloons in this strip imply that he has the power to make his voice super scary.
Bonus observation: Our redneck posse includes a member of America’s diminishing but still-proud suspender-wearing community.