When Wisconsin publishers Phil Kosloski and Michael LaVoy wanted to broaden their publishing house’s offerings, they looked to a bit of little-known Chicago history for their first comic book series.
Coming out in May, “The Phantom Phoenix” will be the first comic book from their Voyage Comics & Publishing, a Wisconsin publisher that specializes in Catholic-oriented entertainment.
“We create good, quality stories that have a universal message that is uplifting and also family-friendly,” says Kosloski, the founder. “It’s hard to be original or to create a superhero that is different than all the rest. What we wanted to do with ‘Phantom Phoenix’ is create an unlikely superhero.”
Chicago circa the 1920s is the backdrop for the comic book series.
“Phoenix” is Martin Claver, a Black homeless war veteran. He and Josephine Wilson, a Black Chicago police officer, are the comic book’s main characters. They were inspired by lesser-known historical figures, some with Chicago connections.
Wilson — who helps women and children and is growing suspicious of corruption in the police department — was inspired by two real-life Chicago cops: Grace Wilson, the city’s first Black female police officer, and Alice Clement, the first woman in the department to be a detective.
Claver’s character — an ace World War I fighter pilot who suffered a devastating leg injury in combat — was inspired by Eugene Bullard, an U.S.-born, Black fighter pilot who fought for France, and St. Moses the Strong, a fourth century ascetic monk who came from a life of crime.
The church in the series is modeled after St. Casimir’s Church, which was renamed Our Lady of Tepeyac at 2226 S. Whipple St. in Little Village.
“Batman originally was focused on detective crime solving,” Kosloski says. “The city of Gotham is, at least in part, inspired by the city of Chicago. We wanted to go to Chicago — and during the 1920s. We thought it was a perfect fit for a classic superhero.
“It’s that classic gangster motif of Chicago in the 1920s with Al Capone. It was definitely a time in the history of Chicago that needed some cleaning up.”
LaVoy, who’s also the illustrator for the comic book series, says they wanted “Phoenix” to be a WWI veteran.
“He’s had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but then what happens is the weaknesses that he has to work on turn into strengths,” says LaVoy, who’s an Air Force veteran. “Because he’s homeless, he knows the streets very well, and he’s able to help the police to catch the bad guys. He has a desire for justice.”
The creators enlisted colorist Jay David Ramos, whose comic book background includes having done work for Marvel, DC, Disney, DreamWorks and ESPN.
Ramos says Chicago history and Voyage Comics’ ideals are aligned.
“Chicago has deep, Catholic roots, and one of the characters in the story that helps defend ‘Phoenix’ is a priest,” says Ramos, who lives in California. “There’s a lot of Catholic imagery in and around the history of Chicago.
“It’s important to learn about all these historical characters to take inspiration from them because, when we look at historical characters, we tend to see them one-dimensionally. We see our character ‘Phantom Phoenix.’ There’s always a desire in the human heart to rise again from where you have fallen. That’s why he’s referenced himself as the Phoenix.”
Grace Wilson “is a trailblazer,” he says. “That’s the theme of the historical figures that we chose for our inspiration. We’re showing what made them trailblazers and the obstacles they had to overcome.
“Great entertainment inspires people to live heroic lives, even if they go through tough times.”
The trio is hoping comic book buyers see the message of entertainment and learning something new.
“You can never go wrong getting inspiration from these historical figures,” LaVoy says. “You know there’s so much to learn from their lives to be inspired by the obstacles they have had to overcome.”