So, He’s a Phantom...
Since people seemed to enjoy my short ramblings on the Danny Phantom show, I think I’ll continue playing with this and talk more about the show. So what better way to start than a conversation about Dannyboy himself.
So it’s easy to talk about how the idea of a ghost powered superhero is brilliant, especially one raised in a family of ghost hunters then having to hide his identity and cool versatile but balanced powers from his folks, because all of that is amazing. However I feel talking about the mechanics of his setup and powers while cool and satisfying does a disservice to what makes Danny shine, and that’s Danny himself. I have a lot of frustration and salt over how often this show flubs it, but Danny has never been anything other than the shows greatest selling point. I feel like as the show kept irritating fans and making mistakes the strength of Danny as a character is what made this entire mismanaged program work at all. For the sake of brevity I’m going to just talk about Danny as he exists in a semi vacuum, because his relationships with the rest of the cast are too interesting and well developed for me to go into any depth without this becoming a book. So lets talk about Danny Fenton/Phantom and how he relates to just himself… by starting a conversation about Spiderman
I say semi vacuum because to talk about Danny without talking about his influences in the comic book superhero world would leave us missing a lot of his strengths. Danny is a comedic teenage outcast superhero whose super powered life comes with consequences that affect his mundane non powered life. This is not an uncommon setup but for the most part was brought into mainstream existence by Spiderman, who acts as Danny’s primary influence in terms of conceptual design. Danny’s not the first to draw from Peter’s superhero trope trove, since Virgil Hawkins, Wally West, Terry McGinnis and dozens of others have all used this character type. This similarity doesn’t make any of them less special or valuable, but it does force us to examine how they use these similarities differently in order to see more than perhaps a shallow surface examination would yield
so yeah on a surface level these characters do appear fairly similar to anyone who really wanted to ignore all other aspects of their character in order to be snotty and pompous, so lets ignore those other important character traits for a second and get to the reason these characters might appear so similar. All of them are known for their comic interjections in the middle of crime fighting. I tend to refer to this superhero archetype as a Quipster, though I’m not the first to think up the word. But these characters are generally popular, with the idea of the clever comic dogooder striking a certain cord with people. But getting back to Danny specifically, I think what makes him work so well in this trope is that he comes without the trappings that I find often limit the other characters described. That absent limit being that Danny is almost never in control. When these other characters get quipy it’s usually as a means to mock their foe because the hero is so on top of things they have time to gloat. Spidermans foes have often brought up his that they know he’s loosing when stops making jokes and they’re often right. Danny’s humor is rarely used to communicate control over a situation, and even when it is that usually comes after 10 minutes of struggling to figure out what to do so it feels earned. A majority of Danny’s quips feel more like the Muppets acknowledging their own ineffectualness to the audience directly, than the classic Spiderman taunt. And while it sounds like this might be a trait that applies only to these characters as crime fighters, the truth is this difference is the defining element for everything in his depiction. Danny is allowed to fail, while Spiderman is allowed to be wronged.
Danny has zero control. He can’t control that his parents hate his ghost identity. He can’t control that everyone thinks he’s a dweeb. He can’t control his pants staying on his body. He can’t control his teenage impulses. He can’t control his mouth from spewing stupid things constantly. These are legitimate shortcomings that the show acknowledges not only exist but insists stay in the foreground forcing Danny to constantly be the butt of the joke. Contrast that with Spiderman who is never depicted as a joke because he has to be the misunderstood victim. Because of this Danny is made vulnerable to the audience in a way that his fellow quipsters never are, because he is always the center of his problem. This is so smart and realistic and I wish I saw it more often in media. More importantly that the vulnerability though, Danny’s failures make his situation believable. I understand why a babbling doofus who an’t keep his pants up is an outcast that everyone picks on. I don’t get why handsome charming Peter Parker is needlessly made a target for cruelty other than the narrative demands it. Danny’s believably as a character sells his situation, making it a powerful narrative asset rather than a constant nonsensical irritant for made for hamfisted morals.lacking any self awareness. The way Danny as a character is set up is one of the most intelligent bits of narrative construction that Nickelodeon has ever produced. It’s so intelligent in fact that I will never be convinced that the creator of Tuff Puppy could ever have done it on purpose.
So lets stop talking about Danny from a meta constructive angle and start talking about him as a person because he’s really superbly enjoyable. He’s kind, petty, patient, angry, filled with wonder and cynicism and is constantly clawing certainty in his mangled little life and I love him. He’s the type of conflicted disaster that can only come from a cesspool of teenage hormones and he wears it without becoming unpleasant. I have to give so much credit for this to his voice actor David Kaufman, who manages to make all these contrasting aspects of his character seem natural, while also instilling in Danny his most important trait, his Sincerity. I believe everything Danny does and in a world were people look at Superman protecting the city and wonder “Why?”, that is a huge feat. Danny’s role as a crime fighter is never questioned by you or the show. It just makes sense. How could he be anything but a hero? Look at how happy he is doing this, he was born for it. In a world were Danny has so little control, the escapism of the super hero is an almost dangerously perfect place for him to be.
Danny is such a well made character that it’s hard to find areas to improve him that don’t boil down to giving him over to smarter writers, but since this whole examination stems from my pointing out frustrations over the missed opportunists of Danny Phantom I feel I should find something to expand on him. If there was one area I’d really want to see him improved on that didn’t require us taking him out of a vacuum for the sake of this post, I’d love to see Danny deal with a more in depth look at depression and the temptation to abandon his life as Danny Fenton to become a full time Phantom. both of these are touched upon but could easily be expanded into full arcs or at least into a meaningful conversation with someone. I’d love to know how Danny specifically deals with his depression, or what reasons he specifically sees to keep his dual life, as opposed to the generic blanket statement of I have to be strong or it’s wrong and I love my family. I’d love to see Danny as self examining and able to vocalize his doubts and fears into something more communicable and mature than the original show allowed.
I feel like that’s most of what I can say right now on Danny without introducing his personal relationships. He really is a gem of a character and the fact that this fandom is still so alive and well I think is a testament to Danny himself. There is one other element to his character I think is worth talking about but I think it deserves it’s own post somewhere down the line. That all being said I’m having a blast getting to talk about Danny, but I don’t think I can properly continue without bringing in Sam and Tucker. Till then take care of yourself and have a super day