Publicity drawing of Phantom 2040.


Original medium: TV animation
Licensed from: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1994
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It was a fast-paced thriller set nearly 50 years in the future, but its roots lay much farther than that in the past. It starred a new character, but one that had been familiar to audiences for …

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… almost six decades. Phantom 2040 got enthusiastic acceptance when it debuted in 1994, but sank after a couple of years and is seldom seen today.

The back-story of the long-running King Features comic strip The Phantom has it that a 16th century shipwrecked sailor founded a line of protectors of the jungle, which has endured to this day. The current Phantom is the 21st. It isn't hard to extrapolate a few more generations, and see him operating in a high-tech urban "jungle" of the future.

The storyline of Phantom 2040 starts in the 2020s, with the 23rd Phantom (grandson of "our" Phantom) dying in a spectactular and very toxic train wreck in New York City (the name of which had by then been changed to Metropia), before his son, Christopher "Kit" Walker, could begin training to be his successor. Kit thus became the first in his line to grow up without that training — and without even knowing his heritage.

In 2040, when he turned 18, Kit was visited by an African named Guran (also the name of the current Phantom's chief retainer) who revealed all, and began making up for lost training time. Also to make up for the late training, this Phantom relied heavily on techno-gimmicks, including one that could make him invisible. This, so Kit could help thwart the powermongering schemes of Maximum, Inc., in the person of its CEO, Rebecca Madison — widow of the man Kit's father had given his life to stop. Kit could have turned his back on this and resumed his plans to work in the Brazilian eco-preserves, but didn't because, as he put it, "Someone has to care."

Phantom 2040 was set in a world of glorious splendor for the likes of Rebecca Madison, contrasted with dismal poverty for masses living in the city's lower subterranean levels. Underlying it all, in an echo of a major motif of the comic strip Phantom, was the Ghost Jungle, a morass of mutated plants that may, like some of the exotic chemicals discovered in the rain forests of the real world, hold secrets capable of bringing hope to all.

The show debuted in syndication on September 17, 1994, a production of Hearst Entertainment (a division of the same conglomerate that runs King Features). It lasted two seasons, 33 episodes in all, before being replaced on Hearst's production schedule by an animated version of Flash Gordon. Between the seasons came a 90-minute made-for-TV feature, Phantom 2040: The Ghost Who Walks. Kit's/Phantom's voice was provided by Scott Valentine (mostly a "face actor", but he did play a villain in Iron Man), Rebecca Madison's by Margo Kidder (who played Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve's Superman), and Guran's by J.D. Hall (Blade the Vampire Hunter in the animated Spider-Man). Jeff Bennett (heard in both Power Puff Girls and its most prominent knock-off, Disney's Teamo Supremo) played both Rebecca's late husband and their psychopathic son, Maxwell Madison Jr.

Phantom 2040 became the subject of a fairly popular video game, and Marvel Comics did a comic book version that lasted a mere four issues. But it didn't exactly become a multi-media phenomenon.

Today, Phantom 2040 still has its devoted fans. What it doesn't have is a regular time slot.


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Text ©2002-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.