Phuzzy Phantom math

At one time or another we’ve all been admonished to “Do the math!” But here’s one rationale for not doing it in the Phantom universe.

Over the course of “The Aeronaut,” the story set to conclude this week in the daily pages, some readers wondered how only two generations could separate the 19th Phantom in 1918 and the 21st Phantom in 2013. How could the Phantom’s grandfather have been in his prime when Ted West’s great-grandfather — the aeronaut — was not much more than a boy?

We’d not be tempted to do the math with Phantoms who lived and died earlier in the line; if the 21st Phantom were to speak, say, of the death of the 4th Phantom in 1646, or the 1738 birth of the boy who would grow to become the 11th Phantom.

To make the math work in the 20th and 21st centuries, the great Lee Falk, in his day, would have had to kill off at least two Phantoms. The 21st would have been long overdue in the crypt by 1977 — when he finally got around to marrying Diana Palmer! And now, nearly 15 years after Lee Falk’s death, I’d be straining mathematical credulity if I hadn’t set up the death of a 23rd Phantom by now.

If “The Aeronaut” had starred a young 24th Phantom instead of the 21st that Falk introduced to the world, there’d be no mathematical distraction. To be sure, there’s great human drama to be had in killing off and replacing The Man Who Cannot Die every 16 to 22 years, but my own view is that the Phantom universe would be much diminished if we were to bind the narrative to real time.

So, to keep our one-and-only 21st Phantom in business, we resort to sleight of hand; to a subtle dodge in the service of the illusion. We simply don’t call attention to the math.

In “The Aeronaut,” if you notice, the 21st Phantom never spoke of his “grandfather” in the trenches of World War I. It was always “my ancestor,” or “the 19th Phantom.”

Or both.


 Tony DePaul, November 26, 2013, Rhode Island, USA


For those who came in late…

It’s The Aeronaut’s denouement up ahead, over the next three weeks.

The Phantom, as you know, is ever nonchalant about how one thing leads to another. No matter how the trail winds, he just rolls with it. The Aeronaut saga started in April, when Old Man Mozz dreamed that something from beyond the grave would “reach out” to the Phantom. All right, we’ll see about that. But in the meantime the Phantom has a job to do; mopping up the jungle floor with some guys caught loading drugs onto a transcontinental jet.


Another day at the office, and it might have ended there. But, apropos of the warning from Mozz, the dust up on the airstrip leads to unexplained phenomena manifesting in the Deep Woods.

The Bandar spot an 18th-century balloon in the night sky…


And before the night is over, Devil runs to ground a lost boy, who wears the uniform of an American flier from World War I.


The boy’s disappearance sends the Phantom into Skull Cave to consult the Chronicles. All he knows for certain is that forces he doesn’t understand are sending him to New York to collar Ted West, the jet pilot who managed to escape justice at that remote landing strip.

The Phantom doesn’t know it yet, but he’s in New York not simply to apprehend West, but to save his life, and that of his wife and son. The reasons why stretch all the way back to 1918 and the adventures of the 19th Phantom.


We finish Week 32 of the saga tomorrow, Saturday, November 9. In the final three weeks, up next, the Phantom and those around him come to understand that they’ve been brought together by a man who’s been dead for decades — the Aeronaut.

Some readers picked up on the visual clues and made connections early on. Like this one in panel 2, from May 3.


And here again, panel 3, May 17.


When it appears again next week, the Phantom makes the final connection in this adventure!

Tony DePaul, November 8, 2013, Rhode Island, USA






Phantom spoken here

A friend traveling through Playa del Carmen, Mexico, spotted our hero diving with sharks today. He declined the use of a shark cage, despite that he had cut himself shaving with his boot knife. “Shark smells Phantom blood, swims the other way,” Old Jungle Saying.

Playa del Carmen