Phuzzy Phantom math

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

At one time or another we’ve all been admonished to “Do the math!” But here’s one rationale for not doing it in the Phantom universe.

Over the course of “The Aeronaut,” the story set to conclude this week in the daily pages, some readers wondered how only two generations could separate the 19th Phantom in 1918 and the 21st Phantom in 2013. How could the Phantom’s grandfather have been in his prime when Ted West’s great-grandfather — the aeronaut — was not much more than a boy?

We’d not be tempted to do the math with Phantoms who lived and died earlier in the line; if the 21st Phantom were to speak, say, of the death of the 4th Phantom in 1646, or the 1738 birth of the boy who would grow to become the 11th Phantom.

To make the math work in the 20th and 21st centuries, the great Lee Falk, in his day, would have had to kill off at least two Phantoms. The 21st would have been long overdue in the crypt by 1977 — when he finally got around to marrying Diana Palmer! And now, nearly 15 years after Lee Falk’s death, I’d be straining mathematical credulity if I hadn’t set up the death of a 23rd Phantom by now.

If “The Aeronaut” had starred a young 24th Phantom instead of the 21st that Falk introduced to the world, there’d be no mathematical distraction. To be sure, there’s great human drama to be had in killing off and replacing The Man Who Cannot Die every 16 to 22 years, but my own view is that the Phantom universe would be much diminished if we were to bind the narrative to real time.

So, to keep our one-and-only 21st Phantom in business, we resort to sleight of hand; to a subtle dodge in the service of the illusion. We simply don’t call attention to the math.

In “The Aeronaut,” if you notice, the 21st Phantom never spoke of his “grandfather” in the trenches of World War I. It was always “my ancestor,” or “the 19th Phantom.”

Or both.


 Tony DePaul, November 26, 2013, Rhode Island, USA