In the motley world of superhero comics, some faces are undeniably more recognizable than others. In the case of Lee Falk’s The Phantom, the purple-wearing hero served as a transition from classic pulp magazines to the golden era of comic books. Such a pivotal character should be regarded as one of the most emblematic of comic book history – but the truth is that hardly anyone recognizes the iconic character.
That is unless they saw the 1996 movie starring Billy Zane. In an effort to reinvigorate the character, director Simon Wincer took a chance to ride on the coattails of Tim Burton’s Batman, bringing a relatively unknown character to the big screen.
The choice of casting Billy Zane as the lead character was a huge bet on Wincer’s part; though undeniably talented, Zane was a relatively unknown actor that had yet to make it into mainstream popularity.
Fortunately for everyone involved in the project, Zane did a terrific job playing The Phantom. Unfortunately for Zane and Wincer, critics couldn’t decide if the campy tone of the movie was the proper way to handle the character. In the end, the film proved a financial failure, though it has garnered a cult following thanks to home media releases.
It goes without saying, but superhero flicks have become the norm for blockbusters these days. The titans of the MCU and the DCEU seem to be taking all the attention to themselves and their caped characters, leaving little room for minor superheroes to enjoy their time under the limelight.
However, shows like Invincible and The Boys prove that there’s an audience for alternate heroes in today’s media landscape.
Considering the popularity that the 1996 film has enjoyed in recent years, it wouldn’t be too out of the blue if we got a new adaptation based on the original comic strip. After all, this is a character that hasn’t gotten any kind of adaptation beyond the movie, even if there have been some plans to reboot the series for quite some time.
Recently, Billy Zane has voiced his support for a new iteration of The Phantom. The nature of the character’s powers is that he passes down his powers through his ring, so Zane could appear as an older, wiser incarnation of the character.
Parallels with the Marvel superhero Black Panther could also benefit the character with most audiences. A hero that emerges from a secretive African nation was exotic back when the character was first released but now could prove to be a great way to introduce modern societal issues into the film’s narrative.
Even if we don’t get a proper live-action continuation of the legacy of The Phantom, that doesn’t mean that the possibility of seeing the character again in any capacity is gone. As we mentioned before, Invincible proved that there’s a space for animated superheroes in modern streaming services – a space where The Phantom fits perfectly well.
The importance of The Phantom for modern superhero comics can’t be overstated. Seeing Billy Zane’s dedication to the character is certainly refreshing, and seeing him return would be a matter of fans seeing if fan demand is high enough.
Also worth mentioning is that the rights of The Phantom are currently in Paramount’s hands, giving them the perfect opportunity to release a revival for the character in their Paramount+ streaming platform.