Phantom Eagle

Phantom Eagle

The Phantom Eagle's debut. Art by Herb Trimpe.
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
First appearance Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (Sept. 1968)
Created by Gary Friedrich (writer)
Herb Trimpe (artist)
In-story information
Alter ego Karl Kaufman
Team affiliations Freedom's Five
Abilities None: Ace World War I pilot
Good hand to hand combatant

Phantom Eagle is the name used by two fictional aviator heroes appearing in American comic books. The first character to use the name appeared in the 1940s in Fawcett Comics publications, depicting contemporaneous World War II adventures, while the second and better-known character was created in the 1960s as a Marvel Comics World War I character.

Publication history

The first Phantom Eagle was introduced by uncredited creators in Fawcett Comics' Wow Comics #6 (cover-dated July 1942). Following his debut, the Golden Age Phantom Eagle appeared in every issue of Wow Comics, and in the final issue, #69 (Aug. 1948) was a sidekick to Commando Yank. His primary writer-artist was Marc Swayze.[1]

The second Phantom Eagle was an unrelated World War I hero created by writer Gary Friedrich and artist Herb Trimpe in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (Sept. 1968).]].[1][2] As Trimpe described, Marvel production manager John Verpoorten "had been a classmate at SVA. When I got out of the Air Force in October 1966, he worked in the production department at Marvel. He said they were hiring freelance people, and I should come up to the office and show my work to Sol Brodsky, who was Stan [Lee]'s right-hand man at the time. I said, 'Okay'. Later, while I was in the photostat department, I did the Phantom Eagle freelance, the first book I penciled. I think".[3]

Trimpe in 2002 described the character's creation:

[T]he Phantom Eagle was primarily Gary Friedrich's idea. He knew I was interested in airplanes and that kind of stuff, so he came up with this wacko idea that became the Phantom Eagle. However, I could not quite justify this Americanized version of some sort of WWI combat ace. ... There was too much of a superhero in the character. If you know anything of that time in history or the feel of that time, you would know that it was just so wrong. But it was fun and I got to make up some of the airplanes. ... [T]he Phantom Eagle airplanes were all made up, and not patterned after a real airplane, but an original design by me. ... It had a kind of corny design pattern painted on it, like wings and that kind of stuff, which was not that far from what the pilots painted on their planes. But that character was what Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were to the American Western – totally Hollywoodized.[4]

The character made few appearances beyond his debut. The first was a time travel story in The Incredible Hulk #135 (Jan. 1971). Next came a flashback appearance in Ghost Rider #12 (June 1975), in which the Phantom Eagle, as the cover proclaimed, was a real phantom. The Invaders #7 (July 1976) retconned the character as a member of the Freedom's Five, a newly created World War I team of costumed adventurers never subsequently seen. The Phantom Eagle also appeared for two panels in Thor Corps #3 (Nov. 1993), when the antagonist briefly alters reality.[1]

Ghost Rider #50 (Nov. 1980) contains a page of pinup art by Trimpe that one historian speculates[5] may have been an unused cover of issue #12.

Fictional character biography

In 1914, Karl Kaufman was a skilled American pilot from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, whose German parents had returned to their native country. Kaufman had become an expert stunt-pilot and co-owner of a flying circus, by 1917, when the United States entered World War I, and desired to fight the Central Powers. Concealing his identity so as not to risk reprisals against his parents, he devised a stylized aviator uniform with darkened goggles and a cape, and joined the European conflict to become an ace on the side of the Allies as a U.S. Army Air Corps test pilot. In his first mission as Phantom Eagle, he successfully led a U.S. fighter squadron against an experimental dirigible aircraft carrier with which German forces attempted to invade New York; however, he witnessed the death of his best friend, Rex Griffin, as a result.[6] At one point the time-traveling dictator Kang the Conqueror sent the simpleminded brute the Hulk back to 1917 in an effort to secure a victory for Germany, by preventing the Phantom Eagle from destroying a key German super-weapon.[7] Another time, a brief altering of reality saw the Phantom Eagle's biplane pursued by modern jet fighters.[8]

The Phantom Eagle went on to join the team of costumed adventurers known as Freedom's Five, consisting of himself (the sole American), the Crimson Cavalier, the Silver Squire, Sir Steel, and Union Jack.[9]

Kaufman and his parents were later killed together near the end of the war by German pilot Hermann von Reitberger, who strafed both the Phantom Eagle and the two civilians with his machine guns as they fled from Germany into Alsace, France. Swearing vengeance, the Phantom Eagle's spirit haunted and hunted von Reitberger through the years until, after a chance, modern-day encounter with the original Ghost Rider, he battled the aged German in aerial combat. With von Reitberger's death, Kaufman's vengeful spirit was allowed to pass on.[10]

Powers and abilities

The Phantom Eagle was a normal man with no superhuman powers. He possessed good hand-to-hand fighting skills, and was an expert stunt-flyer and combat pilot. He customized his own World War I vintage biplane.

Other versions

Counter-Earth Phantom Eagle

Another Phantom Eagle exists on Counter-Earth, located on the far side of the sun.[11] He is the counterpart of Nefarius, the Lloyd Blochs of the main Marvel Universe.


Writer Garth Ennis and penciller-inker Howard Chaykin produced an alternate-reality version of the character in a World War I-set miniseries, War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #1–5 (May–Sept. 2008), published under Marvel's mature-audience MAX imprint.[12][13]

This version of the Phantom Eagle reappears in a tie-in to Marvel's 2015 Secret Wars event, starring in Where Monsters Dwell, a miniseries by Garth Ennis and Russell Braun.[14]


  1. 1 2 3 Phantom Eagle (character, both Fawcett and Marvel versions) at the Grand Comics Database
  2. DeFalco, Tom; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2008). "1960s". Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. Dorling Kindersley. p. 131. ISBN 978-0756641238. Aviation buff Herb Trimpe, who flew his own biplane for many years, teamed up with writer Gary Friedrich to create flying ace the Phantom Eagle.
  3. "An Interview with Herb Trimpe". Green Skin's Grab-Bag (fan site). November 9, 1997. Archived from the original on November 3, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2011. Additional WebCitation archive, October 7, 2010. Note: Per the Grand Comics Database, Trimpe had actually made his professional penciling debut with two Kid Colt Western stories, in Kid Colt, Outlaw #134–135 (May & July 1967).
  4. "Hulk-inued! An Interview with Herb Trimpe". December 21, 2009. Archived from the original on January 8, 2011.
  5. Ghost Rider #50 at the Grand Comics Database
  6. Marvel Super-Heroes #16
  7. Incredible Hulk #135
  8. Thor Corps #3 (Nov. 1993)
  9. recounted in Invaders #7
  10. Ghost Rider #12 (June 1975)
  11. Thunderbolts #59 (Feb. 2002)
  12. Ekstrom, Steve (January 7, 2008). "Nick Lowe on Marvel Max's War is Hell series". Newsarama. Archived from the original on December 8, 2008.
  13. Hudson, Laura (February 19, 2008). "Ennis Moves from Punisher to Phantom Eagle". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on September 15, 2008.
  14. Garth Ennis (w), Russell Braun (p), Russell Braun (i), Dono Sanchez Almara (col), Rob Steen (let), Nick Lowe (ed). Where Monsters Dwell v2, #1-5 (27 May – 28 October 2015), United States: Marvel Comics
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