Sunday, May 26, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Phantom 2040 -- The Ghost Who Walks...Into the Future

A few months ago I discussed the forgotten '80s animated series Defenders of the Earth, which teamed-up newspaper heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and the Phantom into a jury rigged, pseudo-Justice League of sorts. While the show still has its fans, it pretty much came and went after a season. Still, that was hardly the end of the multitudinous attempts by King Features Syndicate to branch its coterie of classic heroes beyond their newsprint purviews. Another such try arrived on our collective TV screens in fall of '94, with the launch of Phantom 2040, which took Lee Falk's legendary jungle hero and transposed him into the futuristic cityscapes of the year 2040. Here's the intro:

Developed by sci-fi writers Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, with character designs by Peter Chung (whose lanky, off-kilter character aesthetic helped make MTV's  Æon Flux animated show a breakout success just a few years prior), Phantom 2040 was a hard sci-fi take on the concept that paid due homage to Falk's comics, but pretty much did its own thing (a smart decision, as I somehow doubt the original incarnation of the character would have played with the kiddies of the '90s) by setting the purple-clad hero's exploits in the futuristic nightmare city of Metropia.

Heading up the voice cast was actor Scott Valentine (who remains best known today as Justine Bateman's lovable lunk boyfriend Nick on Family Ties) as Kit Walker, Jr. the 24th incarnation of the legendary "Ghost Who Walks" (the Defenders Phantom was #26, you'll recall, not to say this one has any connection to that). Also providing voicework was ex-Lois Lane Margot Kidder (as the main baddie, industrialist Rebecca Madison), Ron Perlman, Mark Hammill, and Leah Remini. Not a bad lineup for a "whatever" syndie skein.

With a heavy "nature good, technology bad" message at its core, Phantom 2040 definitely had its bleeding heart in the right place. Unfortunately, it arrived at a time when we saw a bit of a glut in action-adventure animated fare, and while it had its admirers, the relatively mature approach to the material, and the off-kilter character designs made it a hard sell to the kiddies it was aimed it, most of whom were likely unfamiliar with the character's comic strip origins. I'd assume an attempt to clarify the concept a bit was the reason for a revised intro in year two:

Although there was some scattered merchandising, including a short-lived Marvel comic illustrated by none other than Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, Phantom 2040 never really found its footing in the zeitgeist, quietly going away after two seasons and thirty-five episodes. While they cut the first five eps into a "movie" for home vid, no complete set has shown up as of yet. That said, some enterprising soul did upload the entire series onto YouTube (for now, anyway), and you can catch the first ep below. If you've never seen it, it really does deserve more than a Ghost of a chance.

Coming next week: Nostalgia Theater 100!

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