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The Phantom

Defenders of the Earth
by yo go re

Today's review is history!

The Phantom is the possessor of the strangest and most unique powers on Earth. He draws upon the ancient secrets and supernatural strengths of his roots in the Deep Woods. The Phantom's "flashes" of raw animal power are invaluable in the Defenders' conquest of evil Ming and his ruthless robot army.

This toyline is inspired by the late-80s Defenders of the Earth cartoon, which is where that bit about "animal power" comes from: in the comics, he's just strong and well-trained; on the cartoon, he was pretty much Vixen, able to call forth various animal abilities. Of course, the Phantom on the cartoon was said to be the 27th Phantom, while the current Phantom is only the 21st - the gimmick of the character is that "he" has been active for nearly 500 years, with the identity being passed from father to son and earning the Phantom the nicknames "the Ghost Who Walks" and "The Man Who Never Dies."

Lee Falk created the Phantom in 1936 - two full years before the introduction of Superman, making him the first comic character to wear an iconic skin-tight costume. Phantom is built on the same Djordje Djokovic body all four NECA DC/AvP crossover figures used, so it's appropriately superheroic, if a bit distended and gross. The forearms are new, with cuffed sleeves like a sweatshirt, and his underwear area has the wide black belt with its "skull in a striped triangle" buckle emblem molded on.

The head is also new, because I don't care how you paint Batman's head, it's not going to look like this... well, with one exception. When he was creating the Phantom, Falk was inspired by the statues of Greek and Roman heroes, which just had no sculpted pupils. So he gave his character a black mask and blank white eyes, a feature countless comic heroes adopted after him; including, quite famously, Batman. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Batman who actually has pupils outside of live-action.

The Phantom is known for his iconic purple outfit, though that almost wasn't the case. The early strips are quite clear about the fact that he's wearing gray - in fact, Lee Falk thought about calling him "The Gray Ghost," but just didn't like that name as much. This wasn't a big deal when it was just black and white daily strips, but when he expanded to Sundays three years later, suddenly they needed a color. Gray is famously difficult to print reliably (that's why Hulk changed to green), so it ended up looking more purple, and it stuck. For his part, Falk kept refering to Phantom as gray all the way until 1956, when a daily strip finally called him purple. 17 years after the fact! The promotional photos on the packaging make it look like the toy is going to be a dark, rich purple, but the final product is a faded lavender. It's definitely closer to the old Galoob figure than the cartoon, for what that's worth. Maybe they'll do a comic version in the future, with a darker purple, plus the blue-and-black-striped trunks, rather than solid purple?

Existing body, existing articulation. Call him the Ghost Who Walks with hinged toes, swivel/hinge ankles, swivel boots, double-hinged knees, swivel thighs, swivel/hinge hips, a swivel waist, hinged torso, swivel/hinge wrists, double-hinged elbows, swivel biceps, swivel/hinge shoulders, and a barbell-jointed head. Several of the joints are stiff, but it's been that way since the first appearance of this mold. For those of you who like to keeep track of NECA's mistakes, my Phantom had one pin in his left knee not pushed all the way in, the left boot didn't want to turn, and the left hip didn't want to swivel - hot water was the solution to all three. Because so much of the figure is purple, that's what all the joints are molded in - so when you move his hands or feet, the paint can scrape off and reveal flashes of purple plastic beneath.

In the comic, Phantom is armed with a pair of M1911 pistols. That would never fly for an '80s cartoon, so (while the stock photo shows him with a pair of hands open to hold guns) the toy does not include them. He does have a futuristic laser pistol, and a translucent blue blast effect that can fit on the barrel, but it's just not the same. His fists are molded with the Phantom's two rings: on his left hand is the Good Mark Ring, a symbol of four crossed swords that signify protection; on his right is the Skull Ring, which will forever mark anyone punched by it. In the Defenders of the Earth cartoon, Phantom could also apparently fire blasts with the ring, marking people from a distance? To that end, this set also includes the alternate right hand and plug-in blast effect from Green Lantern.

And finally, there's Zuffy. Zuffy is a juvenile alien Zuffoid from the planet Mongo that was found by Flash Gordon's son Rick and usually hung around with Mandrake's apprentice Kshin. It's a fuzzy blue creature, with white hair and atennae, making it look kind of like Star Trek's Andorians. Zuffy was the show's comic relief character, its Orko or Snarf. Why does poor Phantom get saddled with taking care of it now? The little alien is surprisingly articulated, with balljoints for the head, hips, and tail, and swivel/hinge shoulders. Heck, we weren't expecting any joints at all, so this is amazing. There's a translucent blue crystal in his left hand - the memory crystal Flash's nameless wife's mind personality elements were transferred into when she died, meaning this set technically includes three characters, not just one. That's value!

The first hero to wear a costume, the first hero to have blank white eyes in his mask... Phantom really is the halfway step between older pulp heroes and the comic heroes who followed them. Heck, he was even going to have a secret identity as a millionaire playboy until Lee Falk decided to change the backstory a couple weeks into the first arc! Whether you know him from the comics page, from this cartoon nobody remembers, or from the 1996 movie with Billy Zane, the Phantom is easily the most iconic member of this first Defenders of the Earth series; no wonder he keeps being the first one to sell out.

-- 05/20/21

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