The Phantom: The Hydra Monster (1973)

The Phantom - The Hydra MonsterLee Falk’s action hero The Phantom was at one point one of the most read syndicated Sunday comic strips with a readership that numbered in the tens of millions. Predating superheroes like Superman and Batman with a 1936 debut, The Phantom’s adventures continue to be published  today. While the character appears to be immortal sporting such nicknames as “The Ghost Who Walks”, in actual fact Kit Walker is just a regular guy who currently bears the costume that has been passed from one generation to another in the Walker family going back hundreds of years. Well ‘regular guy’ may be stretching it a bit for a hero who’s companion and sidekick is a wolf named Devil and who owns properties around the world (usually one being conveniently located wherever his latest case takes him) and has his main domicile in a Skull shaped cave in the Amazon jungle.

The Hydra Monster is one of a series of Phantom novels that were published in the 70’s. Although the cover highlights “Lee Falk’s original story”, this particular story was not written by Falk himself but is instead credited to Frank S. Shawn in the inside cover. (Falk is credited with other novels in this series.)

The ‘Hydra Monster’ referred to in the title is no creature, but rather the name of a global crime organization and one time nemesis of past Phantoms. The Hydra is a mythological reference to the multi-headed snake that grows a new head whenever one is cut off. In this case it embodies the notion that this network of criminals can never be brought down as any successful attempt to nab  members is simply replaced by new members elsewhere.

The novel is actually centered on an offshoot faction of Hydra, called the Vultures. As their name implies, the Vultures are opportunistic in that they swoop into areas of the globe having recently succumbed to any great disaster. Taking advantage of the fact that authorities are busy with duties beside crime fighting under such duress, the Vultures descend and brazenly liquidate museums or other national treasures.

One of the oddities of the novel is that Kit is often not in Phantom costume at all, but simply a ‘man about the world’ using connections and other means to target this sudden resurgence of Hydra. There are still plenty of gun battles, fist fights and a lot of sleuthing as well as visiting faraway destinations to spice up the action. There are even a few bona fide surprises although they aren’t too hard to figure out before long.

If you like a decent (but somewhat brainless) pulp fix, this’ll do the trick. If nothing else it’s a great way to get reacquainted with a pretty cool character with some great swashbuckling history.

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