|Synopsis||Danny Phantom is back to save the day when his two greatest enemies emerge and threaten to destroy both the human world and the Ghost Zone.|
|Release Date||July 18, 2023|
Last September, someone let slip that one of Nickelodeon’s most popular animated shows was receiving its first official continuation in nearly two decades. This was a pleasant surprise, given that Danny Phantom has largely sat on the shelf for a long time. The show’s network considered it a partial failure due to its inability to produce marketable tie-in products and merchandise sales, outside of a brief line of Burger King toys.
The show has long since left syndication, but a DVD release of the show in 2014, in addition to online fan interest, has more-or-less kept the show’s popularity solid. Many hundreds of fans appealed to the network for some sort of revival in the age of streaming. With series creator Butch Hartman having left Nickelodeon to work on Christian shows and promote his faith views, the responsibility for reviving interest in the show has fallen to one Austin, Texas-based artist. She opens the book where the story left off in 2007, creating an epilogue graphic novel that old fans of the series can enjoy.
Spiritual Content: Exploration of the metaphysical meaning and origin of the spirit realm of this world
Violence: PG-style action violence with characters punching, shooting lasers, and implicitly dying off-screen
Language/Crude Humor: None
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Themes: None
Positive Content: Themes of self-sacrifice, growth, and purpose
It’s kind of surreal that there has been no official new Danny Phantom content in 16 years. The original three-season show — running from 2003 to 2007 — was a personal favorite of mine growing up, being between the ages of 8 and 12 when it originally aired. And I continue to hold a nostalgic warmth for it as an adult, even as my fascination with children’s shows has generally waned. When the release of a new Danny Phantom graphic novel was announced last year, I immediately wanted to know what it was about.
The show left off almost two decades ago. Its season finale completely uprooted the show’s premise with a barnburner ending in the resolution to the central plot threads of the series. The lead character revealed his secret identity, and the villain was functionally dispatched. The final season left a lot of young fans feeling cold though, as it proved to be a far more gimmicky and shallow season than the prior two. Unfortunately, the finale also left multiple plot threads dangling indefinitely with the hope of being resolved, including the fates of multiple favorite characters.
While Danny Phantom: A Glitch In Time doesn’t answer every question, it does rejuvenate the franchise with a fresh shot of energy that seems to suggest Nickelodeon is testing the waters for a revival — either in comic or animated form.
Set almost immediately after the season finale, we discover that Danny is beginning to lose his powers for an unknown reason; at the same time, Vlad Masters has unintentionally reawakened Dark Danny from his captivity at Clockwork’s tower. Facing the destruction of both the human world and the Ghost Zone, Danny, Vlad, and his friends go on a quest deep into unknown areas of the Ghost Zone that can unlock hidden knowledge about the origin of ghosts and reawaken his dwindling powers.
It should be said just how well writer and artist Gabriela Epstein does with leading the project. She is the bestselling author of Invisible and the Baby-Sitters Club and seems to have singlehandedly led the project of reviving the series without significant oversight from series creator Butch Hartman, who has largely moved on to producing his own content like The Garden.
Even without much oversight from the original creators, Epstein does a spectacular job recreating the pacing and tone of the original series. There is a surprisingly adept understanding of the original characters from the cartoon at play. The author picks up where the series left off and actively builds on that foundation, creating an epilogue to the series with arguably better character resolution and payoffs than the actual series finale “Phantom Planet.”
Epstein doesn’t necessarily try to recreate the Hartmann art style, although her models are on point with the original series the entire time. Her grasp on movement and action is more fluid and less stiff than Hartman’s. It does a good job of matching the style of the original show while playing with the art style enough to feel unique and expressive. It lacks the immediate effect of Hartman’s original style, but it has an excellent energy to itself regardless.
With such huge events on display, the comic can’t help but feel like an impressive epilogue to what came before. The writing elevates what we saw in the series finale, building into a larger story about what motivates these characters spiritually and morally and how it has an effect on the world — arguably, giving Vlad more character development in 100 pages than he gets three seasons of television.
The big villain of the piece is naturally the climactic return of Dark Danny, making his first appearance in the series since the television movie Danny Phantom: Ultimate Enemy, which fans of the TV show generally consider the height of the show’s creative talent and popularity. The character was always hinted to come back, but this series actively plays with that possibility. The protgonist’s evil doppelganger from a dark future timeline, where cheating on his career aptitude test results in him being turned into a monster, finally returns in all of his glory with a chip on his shoulder and a score to settle.
I rewatched “Reign Storm” and “Ultimate Enemy” after reading the comic, and it is amazing just how Epstein builds off of the original Dark Danny character. The movie presents him as a tragic inevitability and a force of nature, a symbol of who Danny can become if he uses his powers for evil and compromises his morals, even for something innocent like a school test. Dark Danny in the graphic novel is explored far more as a character, digging into his motivations and what makes him tick. We actually get a sense of the pain and humanity behind a character who purposely gave up his humanity for power, and we start to pity him by the end.
Minor spoilers ahead, but the two major plot developments from a series perspective that come out of the book are some exposition on the metaphysical nature of ghosts in the Danny Phantom universe and a new status quo for future stories. The story is effectively a fetch quest with Danny having to find ancient secrets in order to find the secret to his powers, and the secret itself has to do with the creation story of the ghost zone itself. The ideas at play end up resolving some of the original series’ weird handwringing about death, with Hartman at one point deflecting and claiming that the Ghost Zone is just an alternate dimension and not part of the afterlife.
The story’s ending is conclusive for this particular story, but it is clear that the reveals and time travel aspects of the story exist largely to give the writer a chance to revert the status quo back to a more ideal point for telling stories in the franchise. In lieu of exploring how these characters respond to the events of the series finale, Epstein seems to believe that a different status quo is necessary, and I can’t help but feel that she is making a mistake in doing this.
Regardless, A Glitch In Time is already doing the impossible and managing to bring back this popular animated series in a way that is satisfying to fans of the original show. I’m not sure what Epstein and Nickelodeon have in mind for Danny Phantom going forward. The comic’s ending seems to imply that at least two or three major story elements will be explored in some format in the future. I am just glad that this shot of nostalgia proved to be more thoughtful than I expected when it could have so easily just been fan fiction.
+ Spectacular Artwork and Writing by Epstein
+ Surprisingly Adept Character Writing
+ Possible Setup For Future Stories
- Mildly Disappointing New Status Quo
- Handful Of Unresolved Plot Threads
The Bottom Line
A Glitch In Time makes up for lacking the original creative team of the popular kids' action series by telling a story that matches the original style and deepens the characters as we know them.