Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It SHOULD have been an epic team-up!

When I was using Wednesdays to primarily review Marvel comics in chronological order, I occasionally had to talk about a story that simply wasn't any good. It was a natural part of the process.

But when I phased that out in place of doing random reviews, I figured I would pretty much always be talking about comic books I enjoyed or at least had elements I found interesting.

But, by gum, I just gotta vent about this one. Sorry you all have to suffer for it.

Because if you toss John Paul Jones into a story, then you create an expectation that story will be epic. Harold Lamb understood that when he used the early American naval hero in a couple of related short stories.

So when Charlton's The Phantom #45 (August 1971) gave us an effectively composed cover promising a battle between the titular hero and the pirates of Tripoli--and then we learn that the story is titled "The Phantom and John Paul Jones," then BY GOLLY we have every right in the world to expect epic-ness.

Sadly, we don't quite get to epic levels. The concept is great: The story is set in 1777, taking advantage of the fact that the Phantom (passing the mask from father to son through the years) has been active for centuries. While most of Charlton's Phantom stories involved the contemporary hero, this particular issue included a pair of stories flashing back to earlier Phantoms.

This by itself is a good idea, but Charlton consistently shot itself in the foot with this series by limiting each story to 7 pages each to include three per issue. That meant each individual story was rushed or overly simplistic.

Also, it seems there was a rule to NEVER allow the Phantom to take off his costume and mask, even when he was supposed to be in disguise. Here's a few panels from a story set in 19th Century Paris, where the Phantom is trying to track down a stolen ruby:

Yeah, that's a brilliant disguise. Gee whiz.

Also, the artist, Pat Boyette, had good compositional skills and drew nice ships and buildings, but his figure work is very stiff.

The set up for "The Phantom and John Paul Jones" is perfectly good. Some Bandari tribesmen (allies of the Phantom) have been captured and taken as slaves to Tripoli, so the Phantom travels to that pirate-ridden city to rescue them. Entering the city in full costume, he's spotted almost immediately and captured, then made a galley slave alongside the Bandari. Still in full costume, by the way. The pirates don't even bother to take off his mask.

The ship he's on goes to sea looking for prey and soon finds an American frigate captained by John Paul Jones. Jones is outnumbered and at risk of being overrun when the pirates board him, but the Phantom and the Bandari break loose, catching the pirates between two forces.

There's a brief fight--Jones kills the pirate captain and saves the Phantom. Then the story ends.

It's all too abrupt. Once again, the general idea is sound, but it needed the entire issue devoted to it to properly flesh it out and generate any real sense of excitement. It gives no opportunity for Jones and the Phantom to significantly interact with each other. Heck, there's literally only one panel in the entire story in which the two appear together.

Was it the Phantom's plan to get captured? If so, how did he know he'd end up chained next to the Bandari? Or was that dumb luck?

It's a missed opportunity, taking an inherently cool idea and just messing it up.

So I had to vent. Sorry to inflict that on you. Next week, we'll return to comic books I think are actually fun as we follow the son of Tarzan on a trip to another planet.

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