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The Phantom Unmasked: America’s First Superhero


With the Walt Disney Company making Marvel Universe blockbusters one after another, and Warner Brothers making millions off DC Comics, it would seem that all American comic book heroes have found their way into the contemporary zeitgeist.

Yet one American comic book hero, arguably the very first, has slipped through the cracks—until now!

In his new book, The Phantom Unmasked: America’s First Superhero, Kevin Patrick, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of communications, explores The Phantom comic book series, which made its American debut in 1936. It was a forerunner of the genre.

Patrick said The Phantom series never gained the staying power in the United States that it enjoyed abroad in countries like Australia, India, and Sweden. The comic books’ use of varied landscapes enabled any number of nations to identify with the superhero. By contrast, Batman and Superman operated in a distinctly (American) urban landscape.

In the book, Patrick explores American comic book distribution across international markets. He uncovers the early days of the books’ licensing, and how the genre has ballooned into a massive entertainment industry today.

But while the current affinity for superheroes may seem a trend, Patrick says it has ancient roots. The Phantom, in fact, is not one person but a dynasty of crime fighters that go back 500 years.

“The Phantom is known as the Ghost Who Walks, the Man Who Cannot Die,” said Patrick. “This [dynasty]  created the legend of an immortal hero, one that exists in Nordic legend, polytheist myths of ancient India, and the Aboriginal Dreamtime culture in Australia.”

(Video by Tom Stoelker)


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