I love comics and superheroes. If you cut me in half, I’d probably have the word “MARVEL” running through me like a stick of rock. Either that or something really rude. Speaking of, I was in Torquay the other day, and went into a sweet shop. The rock shelf was a catalogue of obscenities that would literally kill Grandma if her eyes worked well enough for her to read. Times have changed, it seems. I do wonder what kind of person would want to spend all day licking a piece of pink candy that says “DICKHEAD” anyway.
One of my favourite superheroes is The Phantom. I just love the concept – a man who never dies. The ghost that walks. You see, The Phantom is an idea more than a person. The identity of The Phantom is handed down from father to son when the former dies or is no longer able to carry on. As each descendant inherits the mantle of responsibility he takes this oath:
“I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me”
Over the centuries, this has led to the popular opinion that The Phantom is immortal. Of course, this consensus is only a boon to him, as he has no supernatural or otherwise unusual power. The Phantom relies only on his wits, skill and strength. Oh, and he has a horse called Hero and a wolf called Devil. My friend Bruce recently wrote a little about The Phantom here, so if you want to know more go and visit his site. I have a different tale to tell!
Imagine yourself in Papua New Guinea, maybe forty or fifty years ago. It’s a diverse and somewhat daunting place, and you begin to wonder whether you should have gone to the Solomon Islands instead. Breaking out of your stupor, you realise you have been ambushed by warriors. Maybe they just want a chat, or maybe they want to bash your head in and make orphans of your children, who knows.
While considering your fate, you study their attire and take a closer look at their shields. Rubbing your eyes, you squint and look harder:
For realsies. Turns out that the warriors of Papua New Guinea have adopted The Phantom himself as their mascot! Some say that the populace were introduced to the character during World War II. The Americans had comics, and probably littering was the last thing on their minds, so the comics were scattered about the island like ticker tape. In later years, The Phantom eventually became a pop culture icon and appeared in comics published in Tok Pisin (more widely spoken than English. ‘Pidgin Talk’, you see) as well as adverts and promotions.
Evidently, some tribes hold him in very high regard. Warriors themselves, it’s also been suggested that their affinity with the character is made stronger by the fact that he is masked. The Whagi people, to whom most of these shields belong, wear masks into battle, as well. And if the Phantom has a reputation as a fearsome warrior who cannot die, that’s something I’d bring into battle with me if I could.
It seems that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. I doubt I’ll ever go to Papua New Guinea, but in doing research for this article I’m glad that I’ve come to know a little more about the country. It’s a fascinating world out there, kids!
“Licking a piece”