In 2004, Nickelodeon launched an animated series that should have launched a multi-media empire, at least on the level of Cartoon Network's Ben 10. That was Butch Hartman's Danny Phantom, a clever show that straddled the line between comedy and adventure while effectively carving out its own universe.
Running for three years, the show has still lived on in re-runs but never quite gotten its due. This week, Shout! Factory (faithful servants of the nerd machine) have released the first season, giving you a chance to discover it if you haven't already.
I mean this seriously – yes, Danny Phantom looks a little more funny cartoony than those Man of Action shows Ben 10 and Generator Rex, but Nickelodeon has always tended more to lighter fare. Hartman still managed to keep the stakes fairly high while providing laughs.
Set in a quaint American town overrun by ghosts (as most are), the show sets up a classic superhero quandary. As the theme song explains, Danny Fenton stumbles into his ghost-hunting parents' high-tech Ghost Portal, a doorway between our world and the next. The confluence of living and dead transforms Danny into a half-ghost boy, able to sense the supernatural before it appears and giving him powers to match the evil specters that keep invading.
Of course he has to hide this from his parents, but his best friends at Casper High School know about his dual identity and help out when they can. That's convenient since apparently ghosts tend to go right for the high school, starting with the first episode's Lunch Lady Ghost, seeking revenge against those who would eliminate meat from the cafeteria menu.
Like many supervillains, the ghosts tend to be dogmatically obsessed with one concept, such as the Box Ghost, who likes to confine things. Eventually Hartman laid out a continuity, attracting some interesting guest stars to voice the ghosts, including future werewolf Taylor Lautner.
The four-disc set has all 20 episodes of the first season, but no extras. I'm of two minds about these bare bones sets. When it's an animated series I really enjoy, then I have that obsessive need to be able to watch an interview with the creators, or something. But then I realize I'm digging just watching the episodes and wouldn't have time to watch any extras.
So Shout! Factory has delivered a high-quality transfer on an enjoyable series. Their press release says Nickelodeon fans have been waiting for this, but I think it can reach out a little further. Danny Phantom appeared in a few video games, but maybe we need a Danny Phantom renaissance.
Seriously, with all the heat circling around a Ghostbusters 3 that may never happen and may be as bad as Ghostbusters 2 anyway, why not turn to a teen hero who ain't afraid of no ghost, already has a multi-ethnic cast and powers that could fuel an action figure line?
If it happens, you read it here first. And then you went and bought Danny Phantom: Season One and found out for yourself.