Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Slave Market Of Mucar

Until I found this paperback in a Chicago used book store, I had no idea a series of prose novels starring Lee Falk's legendary comic strip hero The Phantom even existed. It turns out Avon published fifteen Phantom novels from 1972 to 1975. Falk himself wrote five of them with ghosts (who didn't receive cover credit) penning the remaining ten.

The second book, THE SLAVE MARKET OF MUCAR, was written by Basil Copper, whose career includes a lot of horror and crime fiction. It isn't an original story. Falk originally wrote "The Slave Market of Mucar" as a story arc in the daily newspaper strip that Sy Barry was then drawing. As a matter of fact, "Mucar" was Barry's debut on the PHANTOM strip. It ran 25 weeks in newspapers across the U.S. from August 21st, 1961 to February 10th, 1962. So it probably seemed fresh to readers when Avon presented it in prose form in 1972.

The Phantom is summoned to Bengalla by the local Jungle Patrol commander, Colonel Weeks. It seems dozens of prisoners have recently escaped (in smaller bunches) from the local prison run by Warden Saldan. Not only have none been recaptured, but none have ever been seen again. Weeks' attempt to place an undercover man, Slingsby, in the prison backfires, and Saldan is uncooperative. Well, of course. Because he and his chief guard, Larsen, are tricking the prisoners into escaping, only to recapture them immediately and transport them to Mucar to be sold as slaves. Surprisingly, there's a large market for male slaves, though you would think females would be more valuable. Or perhaps Falk didn't want to get into anything so sordid.

The Phantom (also the star of a 1996 film starring Billy Zane) recruits Slingsby as backup, along with his pet wolf Devil, who gets an incredibly heroic showdown against a pair of nasty mastiffs. The Phantom goes undercover in the Mucar slave market (mask and all) to rescue the latest batch of prisoners and seal Saldan's fate, which he does with a masterful sting operation worth of the IMF.

Copper's writing isn't flashy, but it's great storytelling. I suspect he didn't deviate much from the original Falk/Barry storyline, delivering a straightforward story of desert heroics and adventure. The Phantom doesn't come off as a fully rounded character, though with 35 years of history behind him at the time this book was published, perhaps it was expected that most readers would be familiar with the character. A lot of what we learn about the Phantom is through the eyes of Slingsby and Weeks, who considering The Ghost Who Walks something of a demigod.

Avon's painted cover is pretty great.


August West said...

I read a few of these when I was a kid. I was a Phantom nut back then. The first one had a lot of detail around the character's origin. Good stuff and great covers. Your review brought back some good memories.Thanks...

James Reasoner said...

I read all of these back when they were new and enjoyed them. I believe at least some of the books credited to Falk were actually ghosted, but I don't recall the details. Oddly enough, I've read hardly any of the actual Phantom comic strips and comic books.

James Reasoner said...

By the way, the Phantom novels are being reprinted in trade paperback.