Heroes In Need: The Phantom

Note: Several months back the P:R crew convened to talk about some of the costumed heroes that seemed in need of a wardrobe overhaul. Our “Heroes In Need” provoked a lot of response, both in comments as well as artists taking up the challenge and submitting re-designs for some of the characters we mentioned. One of those is the classic pulp hero the Phantom. There’s no contest, no prizes and no judging — but as always, our crew has their comment. – Chris Arrant

Lord Mesa

Vito: Wow.  I mean, WOW!  The submissions for this are top notch, and I love the one we’re starting with.  Mesa really put a lot of thought into this, as we see in the second image.  High marks for the smoke machine and the mouthpiece ideas; these really push this design as a modern take.  Great job!

Rachel: This is a really solid design. It fits the character, it’s visually cohesive, and it’s practical if rather psychedelic against a green background. The only part I’m not super fond of is the chain mail cloak, which seems heavy and impractical, and which really looks like a rotting-away purple pelt of some kind. Color that solid black, though, and I’m sold.

Chris: This is a really strong, well thought-out piece. Like Vito said, the armaments that Lord Mesa gave really add to the character. I like the idea of chain-mail armor but the application of it here isn’t perfect.. but really close.

Mauro Balcazar

Vito: I like the cowl that doesn’t have the full mask more.  Very evocative of the original. Makes this look like an updated version of the Billy Zane costume, which, I thought, was a great design.  And I liked the movie, too, so deal with it.

Rachel: Phantomex? I dig this design a lot, although I don’t know that it’s believable as a legacy costume–the body armor and general aesthetic places it much later. And I love the full-face version of the mask.

Chris: About 60% of this design is perfect — absolutely perfect. The chest plate, armlets and the belt buckle are perfect. I like the idea Mauro put into the face-plate, but I think some further revisions need to be done to get it to a perfect compliment to the historical costume and the promise shown in the other pieces of the outfit.

Omar Landeros

Rachel: Pro tip: Putting your character’s sigil at crotch-level is almost never a good idea. That said, this is a cool costume–I like the use of the purple and black, and I like the skull mask, although the expression on it reads more villain than hero to me.

Vito: It’s an interesting take, but you’re right, Rachel.  That mask skews evil more than good.  The use of purple is interesting, but I’m not quite sure if that’s chain mail or some kind of chemical reaction.

Tony Aros

Rachel: This Phantom could have benefited from the non-super fashion dogma of taking off two accessories before you leave the house (or skullcave).  There’s so much going on here:  stripes; two different types of skull emblems; steel-toed boots that, because of the purple at the heel look kind of like stirrup spats; shoulder holsters and utility belt; elbow patches; two shades of purple; two shades of blue; the thigh guards; the fly on the pants; and ¾ sleeves with their inexplicable little ribbed sweater cuffs. Some of the individual elements are strong–I really like the shape of the blue at the shoulders and up the sides of the mask–but the good stuff gets lost on the general cacophony.

Vito: It is more “overtly” complicated than it needs to be.  I’ll give you that.  But I don’t find those elements that jarring.  I love the patches of stripes.  I really like the way the shoulders are blue, but the body of the top is purple.  They don’t blend (like Trev Wood’s, see below), but they don’t conflict (at least to me). The only thing I’d change is the mask.  While Ricardo uses the full face design, I think that the reasoning behind it is solid; it’s evocative of the character’s history.  Tony’s mask, conversely, just seems a little slapdash.  I think, and it’s purely my opinion, but if you’re going to go radically modern, you need to somehow tie it back to the original.  This could easily be a totally different character, as well as being the Phantom.  Never underestimate the power of a good domino mask.

Trev Wood

Vito: This might seem silly, but the thing I like the most on this one is the way the two colors (the purple and blue on the top) blend together.  I’m not sure what that does for camouflage, or what it brings to the costume in terms of function, but dang, that is a great blend.  If I’m not mistaken, the Phantom has been colored both ways in strips in the past, so it’s a great call-back, if nothing else.

Rachel: There’s a clean simplicity to this that reminds me, for no particularly good reason, of 80s cartoon characters. I don’t know how well it fits the character, but it’s a really solid design.

Warren Newsom

Vito: I mentioned it in our look at Iron Fist, but white is a tough color to pull off convincingly.  This is a great attempt because purple is a great complimentary color.  That mask is great too, making him look less like a luchadore (which would be completely acceptable option), and more of a scary creature of the jungle.  He reminds me of the manga, Skull Man.

Rachel: I get the temptation to dress him in white–Ghost Who Walks and all that–but I can’t agree with Vito: the bright white-and-purple combo robs the character of any subtlety and much of his dignity. That said, for a two-bit skeleton-themed henchman, this would actually be pretty awesome.

Ricardo Venâncio

Rachel: This isn’t a contest, but if it were, Ricardo would be my clear winner. I love this. It’s creepy, it’s interesting, and, unlike any other Phantom design I’ve seen, it really reflects the “ghost who walks” epithet–this is a Phantom I can believe as a more traditional folk hero as well as a super hero, and one I’d genuinely want to read or write. The mask and general design of the costume reflect the character’s origins in and identification with the deep woods of Bengali and, again unique among Phantom designs, totally avoids straying into the ludicrous or silly.

Vito: Ditto.  I love that mask.  I love the flow of the clothes and the modern paramilitary look of the belts.  I also like that it’s not tied to what came before it other than the original concept.  It’s not overly purple, and the skull is modified…Ricardo is pure in his approach.  It’s certainly got all the elements of the Phantom that I’d like to write.

Rachel: Fight you for it.

Vito: You win.


Chris: At first I thought this one was too far off with the Phantom, but thinking back to the Phantom’s actual origin — it flows in with that. Lee Falk intended for the Phantom to be a sort of boogie man inhabiting the African continent, and Ricardo has really taken that into a modern, logical context. The idea of Phantom wearing an African-style mask is ingenious — I might just work more to bring in the original Phantom face design. But truly a guardian of the eastern dark.

8 comments to “Heroes In Need: The Phantom”
  1. Warren Newsom’s is the closest to the direction I’d like to see– white skull mask & purple spandex. The Phantom’s problem, as far as I’m concerned, is less costume design & more…well, he’s just such a gross colonialist legacy, the white guy who rules over a bunch of indigenous people, & they are sooooo glad the white dude is there to tell them what to do. Blech.

  2. Thanks, Mordecai. :)

    And I also love Ricardo’s. It takes an entirely different approach to the look of the character, while remaining true to the concept.

    All that said, I find myself wondering why none of us ever considered a multi-racial Phantom. Seems to me that after a generation or two in Bengalla, that would not only be possible, but it would be highly likely. Shame on me for not thinking of it when I was designing my costume.

  3. OKAY I’ve been saying the Phantom needs an update for years, and like Vito I am a fan of the Billy Zane film and costume design (The silkscreened skull on the torso was awesome), but these are just amazing. My personal favs would have to be:

    Ricardo V’s- I love the African tribal skull mask and the over all look. It pays homage but is entirely original.

    Lord Messa’s- I love the look. PERIOD!! I’m not sure about the face though. I kinda wish he had done some kind of mask or something. Maybe A “Scorpion” style ninja mouth piece that resembles a skull mouth. But I love the chain mail that hangs over the rest of the suit.

    Mauro B’s- I love it as a modern version of the character. It’s what the suit for the lauded SyFy mini-series should have been.

    Trev Wood’s- because the simplicity of it just makes it sleek and still says The Phantom. The war paint instead of the mask is a nice touch too.

  4. i really like Ricardo’s version. i think it was a well thought out re-imagining of an impractical character. it oozes mystery, and yet i feel it’s believable, taking into consideration the characters african roots. which imo is the phantoms real problem, believability.

    solid work all around though…

  5. Hi guys!
    Thanks for the nice words about my entry, it was a treat to take a stab at one of the first characters I ever read and who, along with Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, kickstarted my love for comics when I was a kid.
    I think this character has so much potential for great stories (Rachel and Vito, I don’t want you guys to fight, I’m game for whatever you’d want to write), but I agree with some of the comments about the thin line the “Ghost Who Walks”, er.., walks between cool and campy.

    Also, and to join Mordicai and Warren’s point about the Walkers’ European origin and current racial status, the completely closed African Art-inspired mask meant first, to dehumanize the character and bring it more into the “boogie man” effect Chris spoke of, second, to (as you fine folk also noted) put some African flare into the costume (which I think the original badly needs), and third, to mask the possibility that over the many generations of Phantoms, the traditional European features would indeed fade away into a mixed racial profile.
    I personally think it’s far more interesting to have a Phantom with mixed lineages than having every generation go “white wife hunting” whenever he turns 20 years old.
    And how cool would it be to have a female generation struggling between hiding herself beneath a male costume to uphold the Phantom’s legacy or break away completely from it?
    Well, but I digress… :)

    Congratulations to the other entries, great work all around.

    Ricardo Venâncio

  6. Venacio’s is the best. It looks African in origin, and it conveys the ghostly quality not found in the traditional costume or the redesigns. The Phantom is a centuries-old legend, and a person who took on that mantle would take advantage of that, using a lot of Batman-type psychological intimidation against the “cowardly and superstitious”.

    Because the costume covers his body completely, in a weird way this addresses the colonialist legacy of the-white-hero-in-Africa that makes the character problematic these days. Who’d suspect a white guy of being a guerilla/shaman? Another interesting wrinkle is that Phantom would have to hide his true identity even from the people he was trying to save.

  7. Venancio’s absolutely looks ready to plug into a very deep and fascinating retelling of the original comic. I like it better than the others, but not by much–most of the others also show a lot of promise.

    However, I have to agree with the good things said about Trev Wood’s version as well. I love simple, clean, and dramatic lines, and his Phantom costume delivers.

  8. this kind of dissapoints me since here in europe, he is still extremely famous, and is of no need of a make-over, though these designs are interesting, they are all purple, which is weird, because in the 80s the phantoms suit changed colour to blue, i dont know if it is like that over in the states, but it was a long time since he was purple.

    and besides, the design now, is timeless, perfect.

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