In June, The Phantom is coming to SyFy as a two-part mini-series, giving the network a unique foray into the world of superheroes.
"It turned out being the kind of high-energy action story we wanted," series co-writer Charles Knauf told Newsarama yesterday. "It keeps the elements of the comics that were so great, like those Colt 1911 pistols he carried, and the mark he makes with the ring. All the great detective work and globe-trotting and adventure and action is right there. It's very cool the way it turned out."
Newsarama broke the story back in 2008 that Daniel Knauf (of HBO's Carnivale) and his son, Charles, were writing a pilot for the SyFy television network about The Phantom, one of the oldest comic superheroes, for a possible series on the network.
Now The Phantom two-part mini-series in June will also serve as a pilot for a possible SyFy TV series, depending on ratings and audience reaction.
"We saw the final cut and it looks great," Charles Knauf said. "According to SyFy and the people behind the project, they really like the outcome, so we're hoping it could become an ongoing series for the network. That would be great."
While this is their first co-venture into television, the Knaufs co-wrote costumed heroes for Marvel Comics the last few years, including Iron Man and the Eternals. So in the case of the Phantom, they wanted to keep as much from the tradition of the comics as possible.
"The great thing about the Phantom and all those heroes from the comics was that these guys would go out and be detectives and get into fire-fights," said Knauf, who is a long-time comic book reader and fan. "So he's out there with those Colt 1911s that he has, and the training that the Phantom always had, and the high-energy fights you always saw in The Phantom comics. That's what I really dig about those early comics, and that's what we wanted to put on screen."
The Phantom, which has been published in various comic formats since it was created by Lee Falk in 1936, is the story of the legendary "Ghost Who Walks," the hero who protects the innocent with the help of his Jungle Patrol in the fictional country of Bangalla. A character who has been the subject of TV shows and movies in the past, the Phantom is believed to be immortal by the people of Bangalla because the mantle has been passed down through generations of the Walker family since the 16th Century, with each son replacing his father.
"The Phantom is unlike any other superhero out there because it's more than just one person in the role over time," Knauf explained. "With Batman or Iron Man or other superheroes that have been in movies, it's the same guy in the costume. But the Phantom is all about family, and the knowledge is passed on to the next Phantom in the line. It brings an even more realistic element to it, because the Phantom can be around for hundreds of years, and because it's been this secret that is kept by the Walker family for generations."
Because of the Walker legacy, the Knaufs didn't have to "reboot" the franchise, instead creating a new Phantom to take over the mantle from his father – and in this case it's Kit, the 22nd Phantom.
"In this case, Kit had no idea he was the Phantom, but you'll see in the beginning what put him in that unique situation," Knauf said. "You'll discover the legacy of the Phantom along with Kit. And starting as the Phantom at this age puts him at a disadvantage because usually, the Phantom is trained to take over the mantle from the time he's born. But this becomes a coming of age kind of story for him. And you'll see the explanation for why he wasn't raised on Skull Island."
The Singh Brotherhood that served as a nemesis to the Phantom in the comics is still around for the TV mini-series, but it's been updated along with the hero. "There was so much great stuff in the original stories and we wanted to bring that out in a modern setting," Knauf said. "The Singh Brotherhood is now this international criminal organization that's also a major business enterprise. And Raatib Singh is the latest in the lineage of Singhs to lead the organization. There's an interesting little twist to him that you'll find out. But he's ruthless and deadly and powerful. But he's a modern businessman too."
Some comics’ fans were disappointed when sketches for the Phantom's costume were released and revealed that the old, traditional costume had been replaced with a more modern leather look. But the trailer for June's mini-series shows that the original costume does make an appearance, although the new Phantom looks at the purple skin-tight outfit and says, "I'm not putting that on."
"Yeah, we decided to have a little fun, to have Kit react to the old costume and explain why things were changed up," Knauf said with a laugh. "The setting is a modern world, with a real, live action setting. And nothing against the old costume itself. We really liked a lot of the things that were part of the Phantom look and kept the colors and the fact that he's masked and the guns and the ring and everything. But the look had to change. It's just so hard to put a character on screen with the same outfit that works for comic books. The suit needed some tweaking to make it more comfortable and to make sense in a modern world. So yeah, that was our little jab at the old costume while still wanting to show it on screen and pay homage to it."
Knauf actually talked his father into doing the project when he saw a proposal sitting on Daniel Knauf's desk. The two had already been writing comic books together and decided to give The Phantom a try for SyFy. Since writing the script with his dad, Charles Knauf has started writing The Heap for Moonstone Comics, "which is the same genre as the Phantom," he said.
"It's all worked out really well, working on this character for SyFy and also being able to find time for comic books," Knauf said. "It's been a thrill for both of us, and I think the Phantom is going to surprise people, the way it's been updated and the way the story works in this movie. It really captures the Phantom tradition and legacy that was so great from the comics, but it's also got this modern energy and high-level action and crime-fighting that just makes it a lot of fun."