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21st Century PHANTOM

Talking with Charles Knauf, writer of the new SCI FI show

By Rob M. Worley     May 06, 2009
Source: Mania

Mania Interview: 21st Century PHANTOMS
© Mania

Last March, the SCI FI Channel announced plans for a new TV mini-series based on Lee Falk's classic, long-running comic strip character 'The Phantom'. Production is underway on the new show, with actor Ryan Carnes poised to wear the skull of the 21st Century Phantom. Other cast members include Isabella Rossellini, Cameron Goodman and Sandrine Holt.

Who better to bring 'The Phantom' back than comics and screenwriters Daniel and Charles Knauf? Mania.com talked exclusively with Charles Knauf about his work on the new show.

"Dan was approached by SCI FI to do a two-hour movie based on 'The Phantom,' essentially updating the old Lee Falk character.  I saw the initial pitch that they sent his way and I told him we HAVE to do it," Knauf said.  "I love those old pulp figures from back in the day and we agreed to work together on the project."

Created in 1936, Falk's comic strip told of a gun-slinging crime fighter, who defends the African city of Bangalia. Falk's hero has not only been interpreted many times on film and video, but he's also evolved on the four color page, starting as a comic strip, and continuing as comic books. Numerous publishers have produced their own version of 'The Phantom' in the past 70 years.

Cover art to The Phantom: The Crime School

We asked Knauf if any story in particular stood out as his inspiration for the new take.

"It was a story by Falk called 'The Crime School.' I know a lot of fans may give me flack for it, but in going back to check out the mythos it really was a tight little story, way ahead of its time and a lot of fun to read," Knauf said. "Plus I totally dug the artwork! Classic stuff!"

Of course, brining a character with that much history to a modern audience is no easy task. The new storyline will be split between the hero's Bengalia base, including the famous Skull Cave, and present-day New York City.

"We want to keep it as grounded as possible to the original concept. Of course there's going to be some minor changes to bring the story into the twenty-first century, but our overall approach to bring back the two-fisted action and adventure that was, and is, 'The Phantom,'" Knauf said.

The character has enjoyed a very distinctive look that has remained relatively unchanged since its inception: a purple leotard, a black mask, a legacy skull ring and a gun belt with a chrome skull buckle. We asked him if the purple tights would stay or go.

Character designs for THE PHANTOM

"We're fully aware of the problems that go with having a guy running around in purple tights with striped spandex on screen. Sometimes things that make perfect sense in comics and still images just don't translate well on the screen," Knauf said with a laugh. "So what we wanted was to keep the majority of the costume intact like the guns, the buckle, the colors, the mask the rings and other things that work, but update the look - not just for form but functionality as well."

The upgrade was revealed to fans recently design illustrations released by the SCI FI Channel. The new Phantom's garb appears much more like body armor but, so far as those illustrations go, there's no sign of the mask.

The locals call the character "The Ghost who Walks" due to his seeming immortality. In actuality, series of men have inherited the mantle of the The Phantom over the centuries. Falk's comics and the new show deal with Kit Walker, the current Phantom.

"The beauty of The Phantom is that each generation has his own story to tell," Knauf told Mania. "With the new Kit that Dan and I are working off of, we needed to establish who he was in relation to the other Phantoms of the past. The main thing we were trying to work on was introducing the new Kit, bring back some familiar faces (both good and bad) and keep his lineage in line with the original Lee Falk character."

SCI FI Channel has not yet set an air date for 'The Phantom' TV movie. Plans are for the movie to serve as a backdoor pilot for a possible TV series.


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monkeyfoot 5/6/2009 6:55:49 AM

I'm not totally familiar with most aspect of the character but it sounds like they are on a good path. I hate the costume design though. It looks like he's an alien astronaut. But I'm sure this is only a preliminary sketch. Hopefully, it will become more functional looking.

The only other bad thought I'm having is rememberance of the SCI-FRY version of Flash Gordon. A very bad interpretation on a threadbare budget, IMO. I hope they avoid that.

Knightsong 5/6/2009 7:02:19 AM

I agree with monkeyfoot. I know a little more about the character, but I think the suit looks wrong. I deffinately don't like the hood. Would much prefer a mask. Also, I'd love to see a little color brought to these Sci-Fi productions; has anyone else noticed that most of these mini-series and shows seem to have a limited color pallete and a washed out look to them. Tin-Man and Flash Gordon were perfect examples of this. I don't know how they took two of the most colorful worlds in science fiction/fantasy and turned them into bland uninteresting places, but they did it. Guess we'll just have to wait on this new series.

Kraken89 5/6/2009 9:38:41 AM

I think with the costume design that implied armor underneath is way better than a person who wears an exoskeleton like armor in those designs. The hood is good...when it's raining, but it would really decrease his peripheral vision. Instead just make it similar to the one he already has by using a simple ski-mask/hood with the face open. For the mask, why not just make it either a large black streak across his eyes like a racoon or thick black tactical goggles like this. [IMG]http://img131.imagevenue.com/loc1156/th_27821_GXR001CLG1_122_1156lo.jpg[/IMG]. Don't make it look like he's the Green Arrow or Flash from smallville but rather an American special infantry spy/soldier would wear if he where to stay in and survive in a third world city in Africa. Also, remember the flux of weather.

br003 5/6/2009 9:52:27 AM

Here's hoping for some BSG creativity.

thrillho131 5/6/2009 12:38:59 PM

The new Phantom looks like he is wearing a stillsuit from Dune.

vlomski 5/6/2009 11:08:15 PM

 WHAT A LAME ASS COSTUME!!!!!!!!!!!!! Like all things Sci-Fi or the gay ass Sy Fye or whatever the hell it is. It will suck in the same way all those damn lame ass weekly movies or that boring ass Flash Gorden crap NBC has been spewing out!!!!!!! Will someone with an once of integrity and creativity PLEASE! buy back the Sci Fi channel from NBC?????!!!!! 

goldeneyez 5/7/2009 5:43:31 AM

I actually like the Phantom a lot.  I was introduced to him through Defenders of the Earth, various comics, and some cartoon about the Phantom of the future.  That all said, I'm holding my breath that this will be more BSG and no way near Flash Gordon (although technically the Phantom & Flash Gordon have similar roots & were in Defenders of the Earth together).  They totally ruined Flash Gordon.

Also, that uniform looks so freaking lame.  It reminds me of the Smallville Justice League which also had really lame outfits.  What about something more in line of the new Batman oufits?  The really need to keep the mask.

phantomx69 5/7/2009 1:43:03 PM

ok please lose the hoodie,  give him a tight fitting hood like hes supposed to have, a mask is a must but you could use infared sunglasses instead so he can see in the dark but lose the hoodie...

Myrdinn 5/8/2009 6:40:23 AM


Phantom by far predates the Defenders of the Earth; and, similar roots to Flash Gordon? Hrm, what? Which Phantom are you referring to? Only one was raised in the US (as far as I remember). And, that fellow was more of a boxing champion, than a football player. (Although, that one DID chase down a panther in the middle of a city with a spear and bow/arrow combo as a kid... incidentally scoring points with a young girl who I think was the one he married when full grown. Been a while since I read the book that Faulk wrote.)

Just sayin', after all... Phantom's a hero from way back... he belongs to the Zorro/Shadow generation of heroes (those that were just RIGHT before Batman and all the various supergroup collection of heroes).

gauleyboy420 5/8/2009 4:21:10 PM


I think Goldeneyes knows Phantom is older that DOTE  BUT that was the same Show that introduce the Phantom to ME.

The phantom is "immortal" so he actually belongs to all generations. I think this new version could be very cool, and as Usuall I will hold all my critism's uuntil afetr I see it on screen.


Tha Gauley has spoken

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