James III is a writer, producer, and actor, best known for co-creating and co-starring in Astronomy Club on Netflix. Most recently, he appeared on ABC’s Abbott Elementary, wrote for and voiced a role in Netflix’ Human Resources, and wrote on the All That reboot for Nickelodeon. For Marvel, he voiced various characters in Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show podcast and appeared on Make Me A Hero. For Archie Comics, James contributed to Jinx’s Grim Fairy Tales and wrote the Bob Phantom one-shot.
Bob Phantom was Archie Comics’ first Superhero. Bob Phantom’s first appearance was in Blue Ribbon Comics #2, December 1939, before moving to Top Notch Comics. He was created by writer/editor Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick. By day Walter Whitney was a theater critic and gossip columnist, who was very critical of the local police.
Now with Bob Phantom now starting in his first solo comic, James III was nice enough to stop by First Comics News to let our readers know all about Bob Phantom.
First Comics News: When did you discover Bob Phantom?
James III: A few years back I pitched a wackier take on the character for television. I think I called it “Walter Whitney: Broadway Star” which answered the question: what would happen if a theater critic suddenly got superpowers? Become the next big Broadway star, of course! But that was based solely on what I could find out about the character online. I first read original Bob Phantom comics when working on this issue, which will be annoying for some to read, I’m sure. The Archie team was great, sent me a bunch of early comics, and I got to dive into his origin before writing this new take.
1st: What attracted you to the character?
James III: Bob Phantom doesn’t take any mess. If he hears about a problem in one panel, in the next panel he is already on the scene beating the bad guys to a pulp. You gotta admire this dude’s conviction. He also has a big mouth. He’ll call people out on his radio show as Walter Whitney, then show up as Bob Phantom to put his money where his mouth is. (Though the bad guys don’t know that.)
1st: With your presentation of Bob Phantom, pants or no pants?
James III: Pants! Nothing wrong with shiny exposed thighs though.
1st: Originally Walt Whitney was a reporter, now he is only Bob Phantom and serves aboard the M.L.J.’s orbital watch station. Is your story in the current continuity or an all-new relaunch?
James III: This is a new relaunch of the character. He is a reporter and mainly a reporter in this one-shot, which serves as more of a new Bob Phantom origin story.
1st: As print newspapers are dying off, how does Walt approach his job and his industry?
James III: This is a major part of Walt’s journey. He has a tumultuous relationship with social media and struggles with the reality that everyone carries cameras and voice recording equipment at all times, gear that used to be reserved only for certain professions; namely his own. He also struggles with not getting to report the kinds of gripping news stories he wants to and he blames the oversaturation of pedestrian journalism for that.
1st: Will there be any other Mighty Crusaders popping up in this one shot?
James III: There is a hint that another character in the issue is also a costumed vigilante. But I can neither confirm nor deny that.
1st: What makes Bob Phantom unique from the other MLJ heroes?
James III: His mystery; he’s a bit of an enigma! His powers are so drastically different from one another. They don’t seem to be connected to one thing like Jaguar shapeshifts into (or depending on the continuity has the strength of) a jaguar, Spider-Man (not an MLJ hero, obviously) can crawl on walls and shoot webs like a spider, while Bob Phantom has super strength, can fly, teleport, and uses his cape to make tornados . . . you know, like a phantom? While the connective tissue is present (here in a second, gone in a flash like a ghost) there were so many times in reading early issues where the powers seem to simply relate to whatever would work or be fun in that moment, logic be damned! I love that.
1st: Traditionally his enemies were Trigger Slumm and Ah Ku. Will either of them be showing up in the one shot?
James III: These two will not be in the one-shot, but if there are more issues, I think there’s certainly room for more characters from the OG stories. The main villain in this one is Bugs Stanley, another gangster from his original comics run. I imagine him as connected to a major crime ring and there could be all sorts of figureheads there.
1st: What about his secretary/girlfriend Jinx Friday?
James III: At the end of the one-shot, Walt gets a “promotion” of sorts and I pictured him moving into a New York Times office and meeting a whole new cast of characters, Jinx being one of them. But she’s not in this issue.
1st: I know this is a one-shot, but are there any more plans for Bob Phantom beyond this comic?
James III: As evidenced by my last two answers, I have a lot of ideas and have made that very clear to the powers that be at Archie. But this all depends on you all. If you buy the issue, we can probably make some more!
The Bob Phantom comics is on sale now at your local comic shop, or at the Archie Comic Shop.