Part The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, part American Psycho, this one-shot puts a new spin on a Golden Age character. It’s a great premise, though a single issue only scratched the surface of the character’s frustration with the modern world – as well as his own potential.
Pity the life of a serious print reporter in 2022. As writer James III says in the opening pages of the Bob Phantom one-shot, “Print’s dead. News is fake. And opinions are facts now.”
It’s a little different for a journalist working at The New York Times or The Washington Post. But protagonist Walter Whitney isn’t nearly the quality of reporter to work for those institutions. Instead, he’s relegated to writing theater and puff pieces for Blue Ribbon Gazette. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone.
While Whitney would much rather be reporting on graft and corruption, his editor is only interested in filler. She sends him to cover a new star of the musical The Phantom of the Opera when an incident thrusts Whitney into the spotlight. His name is mistaken as Bob, and Bob Phantom, the internet sensation, is born.
That’s not enough for Whitney though. Bob Phantom soon takes a life of his own – at least in his mind. He’s a cape-wearing bulletproof superhero who can stop a bank robbery while Whitney is powerless to do anything more than taking pictures of the bleeding victims with his cracked phone. Think of him as a modern-day Walter Mitty.
Yet Bob Phantom is anything but modern. As Archie Comics Editor James L. Rotante explains in an afterward, the character first appeared in Blue Ribbon Comics #2 in 1939. James has updated the character and the settings and placed him in our so-called “post-truth” world.
Richard Ortiz and Juan Bobillo draw the art for this story, picking up the mantle from comics legend Irv Novick. The pair’s artwork complements the story well – regular comics pages when Whitney is seen, with a more pulpy look when Bob Phantom arrives. That distinction becomes more blurred as the story progresses, which seems appropriate as Whitney’s tenuous hold on reality gives way to the superhero’s perspective.
In many ways, this Bob Phantom is an American Psycho for today. It deals with a man frustrated by the times who seeks refuge by becoming something bigger than he really is. That’s high praise – and to be clear, Bob Phantom is not nearly as good as that seminal novel. Few works of fiction are. But, like its main character, Bob Phantom aspires to be much more than it is. And there’s a nobility to that.
Bob Phantom will be available for purchase tomorrow.