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.
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.
"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.