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In the year 2040, college student Kit Walker learns that his father, who disappeared when he was a baby, was the 23rd Phantom, latest in a long line of heroes. Kit takes up the mantle, with the support of Guran, his father's friend and assistant, and Professor Archer, one of Kit's teachers, who puts two and two together after the return of the Phantom coincides with a sudden decline in Kit's academic performance. Kit's Aunt Heloise, who raised him in ignorance of his heritage in the hope he could avoid the short and dangerous life his father had led, also lends her support when it becomes clear that he's committed to it whatever she does.
The Phantom's fight against crime and corruption often involves crossing swords with megacorporation Maximum, Inc. Maximum's founder, Maxwell Madison, disappeared on the same night as Kit's father, and this, it quickly becomes clear, is not mere coincidence. The corporation is now run by his widow, Rebecca, with (not much) help from Max Madison Jr. Following the death of his father, Max Jr. has developed into a psychologically withdrawn young man with no interest in anything much except his cat, Baudelaire. (Having the temperamental Rebecca for a mother probably didn't help.) Rebecca Madison's Dragon is Maximum's security chief, Graft, a cynical former soldier and enviromentalist who was critically injured in a battle and now is kept alive by Maximum technology; what's left of his body can be plugged into a variety of robotic frames ranging from approximately-human to full-on-battle-mech.
The visual aesthetic of the series is similar to that of Aeon Flux, as it has the same designer, Peter Chung. The series also, in retrospect, has some interesting similarities to the later Batman Beyond, though this is probably just convergent evolution from a similar premise.
The animated series has these tropes:
- AI Is a Crapshoot: Mr. Cairo. He was originally an analytical program that was going to be integrated into Doctor Jak's mind to help him find out who was responsible for the Sector Zero wreck (which killed his wife), but the illegal clinic where he was receiving the operation was raided by the Enforcers, and the program ended up being lost on the net, where it eventually became self-aware and developed its own personality.
- Likewise Heisenberg, the fractal biot, who becomes self-aware after his external processor is damaged. He then uses his own sub-components to make other biots selfaware, beginning with Pavlova, Dr. Jak's assistant
- Animated Adaptation
- Big Applesauce: The series is set in New York (though it's now called "Metropia"), with a brief handwave about why the Phantom doesn't live in Africa any more.
- Clothes Make the Superman
- Comic Book Adaptation: It was drawn by none other than Steve Ditko.
- Compilation Movie: The video release Phantom 2040: The Ghost Who Walks was the first five episodes edited together.
- The Commissioner Gordon: Enforcer Sagan Cruz is Phantom's contact in Metropia's law enforcement. She's also The Lois Lane; attracted to Kit, but suspicious of the Phantom.
- Consulting Mr. Puppet: Max Madison Jr. never expresses an opinion without prefixing: "Baudelaire says"... Baudelaire is his cat.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Rebecca Madison.
- Creepy Monotone: How Maxwell Madison Jr. speaks.
- The Danza: A weird example - One episode features a techno-wizard named Cordwainer Bird, voiced by Harlan Ellison!
- The Dragon: Graft
- Evil Diva: Vaingloria
- Fallen Hero: Graft. Some of the series' most notable moments are the ones where it turns out he still has some lines he won't cross.
- Fat Bastard: Gorda
- A Fate Worse Than Death: What happened to Sparks' parents. They were used as mental tissue for the biomechanical "living building" Project Gauntlet, Cyberville's security system.
- Graft definitely would've preferred dying on the battlefield to becoming Rebecca Madison's half-robotic errand boy.
- Flying Car
- Fun with Acronyms: Riffing off the original Phantom's wolf, Devil, Enforcer Cruz has a cyborg police dog named D.V.L. It's not revealed what this stands for.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Mr. Cairo, in "The Sacrifice, Part II".
- Hollywood Cyborg: Graft. Vaingloria and Doctor Jak as well, to a lesser extent.
- Hollywood Hacking: Sparks
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: As a cyborg, Graft's paid for and owned by Maximum, Inc., regardless of his wishes. In one particularly harrowing scene, he's left in agonizing pain after having his cybernetics damaged in a fight and begs Maximium's retrieval team to kill him, while Max Jr. simply watches from afar:
Max Jr.: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But all the queen's horses and all the queen's men just kept putting poor Humpty back together again. And again, and again, and again...
- Played up even more when Max Madison Sr. returns. A continuing plot from his reintroduction to the finale was his desire to die, but inability to end his life because of his programming. Ultimately, the Phantom does this at his request.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: The complete series has yet to see an official release, but transfers of the episodes recorded from TV during its original run pop up on torrent and streaming sites on occasion. Bootleg DVD sets (such as the one pictured at the top of the page) also appear from time to time.
- Land of One City: There is no real "United States" any more, just a series of city-states that are independently ruled.
- Land Down Under: That one episode set in Australia, with the brown-plated boomerang-throwing Biots and the rocket-launcher-toting robot wallaby.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: "The Magician", an old friend of the Phantom family who bears a striking resemblence to an elderly version of Falk's Mandrake.
- Legacy Character
- Meaningful Name: Two meanings of the word "graft" are "A portion of living tissue surgically transplanted from one part of an individual to another, or from one individual to another, for its adhesion and growth" and "The acquisition of money, gain, or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, esp. through the abuse of one's position or influence in politics, business, etc." It's the perfect name for the character Graft, a Hollywood Cyborg who is the enforcer for a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
- Mecha-Mooks: Maximum, Inc. apparently consists of three people and an army of robots.
- Mega Corp: Maximum, Inc.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: Which is one of the reasons there are so many robots for the Phantom to blow up now.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Vaingloria, a pop idol voiced by Deborah Harry, is the show's futuristic version of Madonna.
- Older and Wiser: Aunt Heloise.
- Paparazzi: Doctor Jak, for most of the series. In "Matter Over Mind", it is shown that he was actually an Intrepid Reporter in the past, before his wife died in the Sector Zero crash, and these more heroic tendencies resurface throughout the episode.
- Pick on Someone Your Own Size: In an intergender example, Rebecca Madison and Kit Walker quickly pick up the enmity previously shared by their husband and father, respectively.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Max Jr.
- Reforged Into a Minion: Graft.
- Secret Keeper
- Shout-Out: Sean One's main orbital platform is named Dykstra Platform, likely a reference to John Dykstra, the visual effects supervisor for the original Star Wars films. The episode "The Woman in the Moon" takes place on Trumbull Platform, named for Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects supervisor for Blade Runner (and one of Dykstra's mentors).
- Sticks to the Back: The Phantom's smartguns (well, to his hips, anyway).
- Troubled Child: Perfectly describes Maxwell Madison Jr., apart from the technicality of him being an adult now.
- Turn Out Like His Father
- The War of Earthly Aggression: Foreshadowed, with off-world colonies and an independence movement, but it doesn't come to outright hostilities during the run of the series.
- Unrobotic Reveal: A human woman disguised as a biot.
- Wretched Hive: Metropia.
The spin-off video game provides examples of:
- Golden Ending
- Missing Secret
- No Problem With Licensed Games: This is generally considered a classic of the 16-bit era.
- Press X to Die