The Phantom
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The first comics character to fight crime while wearing a distinctive costume and hiding his true identity behind a mask was not Batman. It was The Phantom. Writer Lee Falk drew on tales of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel in creating his mysterious hero, but shortly after the strip's Feb. 17, 1936 beginning, he added a wrinkle of his own.

Originally, Falk planned for readers to discover that The Phantom was actually a member of the first story's supporting cast. But before he made that revelation, he had a better idea the idea that made the strip a classic, enjoyed by readers all around the world, for over six decades. He decided to make the character immortal.

Falk accomplished this by making the present-day Phantom the 21st in a line stretching back over 400 years. During all that time, his ancestors had fought evil wearing the same costume, in the same unspecified jungle venue, encouraging a legend that they were, in fact, the same man. Later accoutrements that were added including the Jungle Patrol, which he secretly heads; the Bandari, a tribe he rules; the Phantom Chronicles, from which adventures of his ancestors are occasionally recounted; and especially the "old jungle sayings" that lend credence to his legendary status all serve to add to the character's appeal.

The strip played a minor but notable role in World War II. When the Germans occupied Norway, they tried to demoralize the people by forcing newspapers to print stories about America having been utterly destroyed. But the Norwegian people knew something the Nazi administrators apparently did not that The Phantom originated in America. As long as that strip appeared unchanged, the people knew the "news" stories were false.

Originally, Falk collaborated with artist Ray Moore. When, during World War II, Moore joined the U.S. Air Force, his place was taken by Wilson McCoy. Later, Bill Lignante, who also illustrated the character's comic book adventures, took over. Starting in 1963, the strip's art was handled by Seymour "Sy" Barry, who stayed with it for over three decades. The strip is currently drawn by George Olesen, who started as Barry's assistant, and Graham Nolan. Falk is still credited as writer, despite the fact that he died in 1999.

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The Phantom & all related characters and indicia 2003 King Features Syndicate, Inc.