By Jim Beard
The Phantom Reporter makes his mark this September with the DARING MYSTERY COMICS 70TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL and two incredible firsts: an origin story and the comics debut of award-winning novelist David Liss!
Liss, writer of such historical thrillers as "A Conspiracy of Paper" and "The Devil's Company," pulls no punches when attacking the beginnings of such a hard-hitting Golden Age hero.
"Dick Jones starts out as a true believer in the transformative power of journalism, that exposing the truth will always produce justice," Liss says. "He discovers along the way that sometimes sunlight is not always the best disinfectant. This story is fundamentally about how he learns to synthesize the impulse to play by the world's rules and the impulse to make the world
conform to his rules. Maybe the whole point of the character, at least as I see him, is that he can't choose between the two paths."
The Phantom Reporter clocked in with only one true 1940's adventure and no origin, but his starring role in J. Michael Straczynski's THE TWELVE sets him up as the perfect tabula rasa for a historical novelist the caliber of Liss.
"I did a lot of reverse engineering," he notes of his approaching the Reporter in the DARING MYSTERY SPECIAL. "I thought about who the character was, what sorts of things he did, his work, his disguise, etc., and I tried to think backward. What would make someone behave this way? Also he comes from a time when super heroes are first becoming part of American culture. In the Marvel Universe of today, it is clear why someone might, if they had the ability, choose to become a super hero. In the case of the Phantom Reporter, I thought it important to supply specific means, motive and opportunity for someone to take so unlikely a leap."
Liss' novels tend to paint a grittier, more realistic portrait of history, writing experiences that allow him a foot up in the sometimes-seamy world of Dick Jones' 1940's America.
"In any kind of story telling, I always think that character comes first, so I wanted to make Dick Jones' journey an interesting one for readers," he explains. "I also like writing about characters who live by their own rules and aren't afraid to do some ambiguous things in the service of what they believe is right. Both the setting and the character felt perfect for telling the kind of story I like to write as well as read."
THE TWELVE also presented an opportunity for the writer to peer into the Phantom Reporter's "future," a situation which aided in the crafting of his own tale.
"I'm a big fan of J. Michael Straczynski's work in general, and I love what he did with the Golden Age characters in THE TWELVE," Liss points out. "It was impossible for me not to
work his take on the character into my own story. Dick Jones in the Golden Age was perhaps a little too impulsive, almost to the point of being psychotic by today's standards. He seemed to think excessive violence was the first and best response to every obstacle. Dick Jones in THE TWELVE is much more measured and reasonable. I took Straczynski's stable Dick Jones as my baseline, but I wanted to show that the Golden Age propensity for tough guy action was still very much there, and perhaps even a side of his personality he had to keep under control."
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