By Rob Cline, correspondent
Kevin Patrick is an independent media studies scholar, and much of his work has been focused on comics. His new book, “The Phantom Unmasked: America’s First Superhero,” traces the publishing history of a character with origins in the United States but whose loyal fan base can be found in Australia, Sweden and India.
Though the book certainly offers plenty of background on The Phantom and his adventures over decades of stories, “The Phantom Unmasked” is fundamentally a study of popular publishing in the three countries under consideration. The book is filled with names and dates as well as detailed looks at various trends in publishing. Of course, questions of why The Phantom might find success far from his native shores are foregrounded, but Patrick has a broader history to recount.
Patrick has a readable style, which prevents the reader from getting bogged down in the fine details of the publishing endeavors he explores. His enthusiasm for the character and the publishing history behind The Phantom’s continued success is evident.
The book, published by the University of Iowa Press, would benefit from the inclusion of some examples of Phantom comics. Licensing fees, however, stymied efforts to include this material. Fortunately, plenty of examples of “The Phantom” can be found online; seeking them out enhances the experience of reading Patrick’s book.
For those who know and love the character or those who have an interest in the history and development of comics as a force in popular culture, “The Phantom Unmasked: America’s First Superhero” is an engaging, valuable addition to comics scholarship.