Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Phantom in the Mines of Death

The Phantom #1580
September 2010
Frew Publications
“The Mines of Death”
Story: Sverre Arnes
Art: Heiner Bade

In this reprint of a Scandinavian story from 1990, The Phantom sells himself into slavery in order to break a human trafficking ring. The story is set up well with a Bengali villager who has suffered the loss of property and livelihood through a hurricane that destroys his village. In order to continue to support his family, Kenneth (a rather odd name for a Bengali villager) must take a job in a ‘sulphur mine.’ Upon being asked to ‘make his mark’ on the work contract Kenneth replies, ‘I can read and write…’ thus rebuking the racist assumption of his white overlord. He soon finds that he has been tricked into slavery in a gold mine, where his wages are held by the bosses and he is forced to work twelve hours a day and receive only the smallest amount of food. All communications with the workers’ loved ones have been cut off. Old, sick and weak miners are dropping like flies and the bosses only work them harder and without mercy.

Meanwhile The Phantom makes a visit to Kenneth Landola’s home village of Lando to survey the damage wreaked by the hurricane. Kenneth’s wife Roza asks The Phantom to investigate her husband’s situation as she has not heard from him since he took the job in the mine. (Is there a slight Scandinavian dig at the Americans as the Phantom muses, ‘I’ve heard rumours about the Americans who run this mining company before!’) The Phantom visits his old friend Luaga, President of Bengali, and they plan to make an official inspection of the mine. The mine bosses put on a good show but The Phantom, as Kit Walker, is suspicious. He returns to the mine alone, disguised as ‘John Smith’ looking for work. As The Phantom and with a little bit of help from his trusty wolf Devil, he busts open the slavery ring. President Luaga appropriates the mineral wealth of the mine and distributes the proceeds equally among the workers (is Bengali then a socialist state?). Kenneth is able to return to his family, purchase a new fishing boat and start afresh, in the final two panels enthralling his wife and children with stories of The Ghost Who Walks, who moves even ‘faster than lightning itself’ to establish justice.

The translation seems clunky at times. Surely, as an expression of mischievous laughter, “Hee Hee Hee!’ would be preferable to ‘Hi Hi Hi!’ There are problems with punctuation, including missing full stops and unwanted question marks. Here and there the lettering fits oddly into the speech balloons. It seems the Scandinavian speech balloons have been left and the English translation made to fit into the same spaces, resulting in some speech balloons having excess space and others being overly crowded. The interior art by Heiner Bade is well executed. Bade’s Phantom is particularly menacing. Strangely, though, the skull from the triangle on The Phantom’s belt is missing in most panels. The cover art by Antonio Lemos is not up to the same high standard. His front and back painted covers look amateurish and poorly rendered. Not a bad issue overall – three stars from me.

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