The Phantom of the Opera (1988)
     by Peter F. Neumeyer & Don Weller

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I love this little illustrated book for children, and I love it immediately from its dust jacket description before even getting into it:

The masked Phantom, a musical genius horribly disfigured by an accident, lives underground beneath the magnificent Paris Opera House. With evil design and ingenious tricks, he seeks to outwit the great Persian detective and to win the beautiful Christine from the dashing young Viscount.

It's a good summation not only of the story but of the directions this adaptation takes - for one thing, the daroga is much more front and center as one of the heroes than we often get in later adaptations that tend to ignore him for not being part of the love triangle, and for another, it mentions its altered backstory for the Phantom and gives him an accidental origin for his disfigurement, not a congenital one. It also goes out of its way at the end to mention that it's based on the 1911 novel but also to note that the 1986 Lloyd Webber musical is currently on Broadway, and refers to itself as a "fast-action retelling", a phrase that apparently did not catch on because searching for it online will only get you references to this book.

But most importantly it also notes that it's a picture book that is intended not only for children but for their parents as well, making it a rare children's book that isn't afraid to bring in some complex or tough stuff for a child audience. This is important, because before I went back to see that I was very concerned about how big an ask it might be for a picture book reading level audience to deal with words like "balustrade" or "furtive" or "serpentine".

So, first of all: everything about the art and layout in this book is stunning. From the tiny heart in the O of the title to the plants growing into musical staves to the lushly gorgeous paintings, Weller is here to knock it out of the park no matter what Neumeyer does in the text. It's an extremely 1970s/1980s art style, full of bright watercolors over grungy pen shading, and the dreamlike sylization of it lends a fairytale quality to the story that never hurts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We begin in medias res at the masquerade ball, because this book is not kidding about being fast-action even if nobody else ever calls it that, at five minutes before midnight so that we can immediately leap into the High Drama of it all. An interesting choice here is to only refer to Raoul throughout the book as "The Viscount"; he doesn't get named, nor does the Phantom later, which lines them up with the daroga who didn't get a name in the original story. This might be annoying in a longer-form piece, but here it adds to the dreamy, fairytale quality of everything; by referring to the characters by their most important signifiers instead of their names, it gives them a sort of archetypal power, telling the reader quickly that the Viscount is noble and dashing and the Persian is mysterious and exotic and the Phantom is frightening and otherworldly. It also makes them that much more of a contrast with Carlotta and Christine, who by being named become focal point characters whose personalities are more important than their roles in the story. (And, weirdly, Cesar also gets named? Only names starting with C allowed in this adaptation, folks.)

 

(Unfortunately, the Persian is still being victimized by orientalism almost a century later and is getting his signifiers from his ethnicity instead of his job, which is, as usual, sad, racist, and upsettingly wasteful. He's a daroga, the chief of police. His job name signifier is RIGHT THERE.)

Anyway, please enjoy the visual of the Viscount jumping "five at a time" up the stairs, like he's the grasshopper in this story. The language throughout is 100% dramatic nonsense in the best possible way. Hark:

Cheeks flushed, breathless, he looked about. No Christine? Yes! There, by the serpentine balustrade, Christine. Neither carnival mask nor snowy white cape could hide from him the divine form, the angelic eyes of his nightingale of the Paris Opera. Quick furtive glances from behind two masks. His black cloak touched the white.

Fantastic. We've called Christine divine in like six ways in a single paragraph, we're using black versus white color theory, and the Viscount is clearly unbelievably in love and desperately building the world's tallest pedestal. Neumeyer may be doing a reduction of the original story, but he clearly gets it.

Apparently, the Viscount and Christine have been conspiring to run away together in two days, which they briefly discuss in a lightning-speed plot setup that allows us to blink and skip past the description of Christine having "almond eyes" (which I think is a weird attempt at color/shape description and not a racial signifier, or at least let's all fervently hope so). Christine argues that her Angel owns her, the Viscount points out that they've been in love since they were children and that should matter, Christine says that she's expected to give the Angel her heart in exchange for her voice and success, the Viscount is not having it, they eventually agree to stick to their elopement plan, and the very disgruntled Phantom is of course eavesdropping on it all and not having very much fun.

The Viscount refers to himself as a soldier in passing, which is pretty clearly a through-line from the original novel, where he was a navy sailor; althoughg the Lloyd Webber musical has been out for a year or two by now, there doesn't seem to be much other influence from it (outside of what was probably a publisher decision to put this book out while the hype was hot).

Please pause for a second to enjoy this FABULOUS turban that the daroga is wearing to the opera:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Majestic. I'm not convinced this is accurately time period appropriate - as much as I make fun of the Astrakhan cap Leroux mentions him wearing, it's in the right ballpark, as you can see from this photo of the Shah and his bros hanging out in the late 19th century:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The big round turban was still worn of course and is to this day in some places, but Persia was trending away from it by this point and it would have been worn by government officials or nobility more than anyone else, with the comically large versions (a real thing that denoted status in the earlier Safavid period of the Persian empire) being unlikely for a civil servant like the daroga. But then again, this is a masquerade ball, so maybe he's just having fun dressing up like his ancestors like everyone else is.

On to another night at the opera house, when Carlotta is performing to thunderous applause; again, it's nice to see her original form from the novel preserved, where she's a sublime artist that the audience loves and the problem is mostly that the Phantom wants her to get out of the way for his favorite already. Christine is in the chorus (where, adorably, the Viscount fancies he can pick out her voice), which is the only thing that feels strongly attached to a later adaptation, although she still isn't in the ballet so I'm hesitant to point at the Lloyd Webber musical for this one. (Honestly, it may just be a case of a non-opera-familiar writer not knowing that chorus girls and minor soloists are not usually the same people.)

The fact that the Viscount knows the daroga by reputation - to the extent that he recognizes him in the crowd in spite of never meeting him before! - is fantastic. This book really wants you to know that the daroga is this story's badass and will not calm down about it ever:

The Viscount had heard tell of this extraordinary detective. His powers of deduction, his courage, were the stuff of legend.

Whoever the daroga's foreign publicist is, they are doing a bang-up job. The daroga is the Sherlock Holmes of this universe. This is the pro-Daroga-as-Hero version of the story we all deserve.

Anyway, as per usual, Carlotta sings beautifully as she performs in an opera the book refers to as Il Diavolo, "the diabolical" in Italian, which is probably just an invented opera name for this but also could be a reference to Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable ("Robert the Diabolical", or "Roberto il Diavolo" in Italian), which was indeed premiered at the Paris opera in the nineteenth century and was ridiculously popular there, being performed almost 500 times in just over thirty years. It's neat to see a different opera highlighted than the ones from Leroux's original or the invented ones from Lloyd Webber's adaptation, and if it is a reference to Meyerbeer's opera, it has a lot of the same elements as Gounod's Faust from the original opera, including a demon-afflicted main character, people getting shunted off to hell for making bad choices, and a helpless but pure heroine who helps draw people back to good. In fact, its major difference is that it has a happy ending in which Robert escapes from demonic influence and gets to marry the love of his life, which might make it especially appealing for the Phantom if he identifies with Robert.

Whatever opera it is, this painting of Carlotta panicking about her croaking is FANTASTIC:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry, Carlotta, he is being a bucket of dead fish, as usual. When it is revealed that he sent her a threatening note earlier, we discover that he signed it "The Phantom of the Opera, the Angel of Christine," which is somehow very funny to me. Leaving aside that he clearly isn't worried about the original version of the character's attempts to keep Christine from knowing that he was also the Phantom, there's just some inborn comedy about a guy introducing himself as "a noun of my love interest". I'm going to suggest John refer to himself as "the [noun] of Anne" in polite company until it catches on.

Anyway, poor Carlotta flees the stage because she's horrified and the crowd has begun to cheer, but in a courageous move we often don't get for her character, she comes back after testing her voice backstage, because she's a goddamn professional. This turns out to be the catalyst for the Phantom dropping the chandelier on the audience, which is a nice way of replacing the conflict over Box 5 that this book doesn't have time for, and a reasonable escalation from threatning notes to ventriloquism disruptions to outright terrorism. It also, oddly enough, makes the Phantom less of a premeditated monster; the chandelier dropping isn't something he planned to do from the beginning but rather something done in escalating frustration as his other attempts don't work. Not that injuring seventeen people and killing one (sorry, new boxkeeper, this book doesn't have time for us to know who you are so that's all the eulogy you're getting) isn't still horrific, but it's more of an emotion-drive horror than a calculated one.

Speaking again of layout and artwork, the use of text in art is also nice; for example, as the chandelier falls, the repeated use of the word "down" is depicted with the word haphazardly descending down the page as it repeats, giving us a visual parallel to the crash.

The daroga, who is our hero in this version, leaps into action without hesitation, does some quick forensics on the chandelier (as you do when you're 19th-Century Iranian Sherlock Holmes), and then drags the Viscount off with him to explain some shit. This is especially funny because he's never met the Viscount in this version; presumably, he just happens to have observed his and Christine's very bad attempts to pretend they aren't dating and assumes the guy would want to help save her.

So he drags the Viscount into a random dark room to give him a light-speed recap, in which he mentions that a stagehand was found dead a month ago (sorry, Buquet, this is a fast-action retelling so regrettably your onstage time had to be cut) and that he just checked and is sure the chandelier was deliberately sabotaged. He also explains that he's been monitoring Christine for that long because he knows the Angel she believes is helping her is really the Phantom, although he doesn't explain how he knows all this and once again we must assume it's because he's just that badass a detective.

It's time for the Phantom's backstory, since we're doing our last round of exposition before the big finale! It's not especially racially sensitive for the daroga to refer to when he was "in the Orient", but it is probably accurate for the time period. The backstory shares a lot of elements with the original while adding several new twists unique to this version: while performing the underworld scene of the opera Orfeo, the Phantom was scarred by a tragic accident involving the acid used for onstage effects, which is similar to the use of acid in the 1943 Lubin/Rains film and some of its successors but distinct in that it was explicitly an accident rather than the result of someone intentionally taking aggressive action against him. Even more interesting is the fact that this happened at the Paris Opera itself, where the Phantom was a performer years ago. His visit to the Shah's court and time spent there took place after this, as he fled his old life and everyone he had previously known, and his return to the opera is due to a mad desire to get revenge on the place and people as a whole who injured and then promptly forgot about him. This also has the neat side effect of making his obsession with Christine an accident; he was already in the building planning to wreck the place when he met her, making her already a savior figure since there's a good chance he'd have lit the entire place on fire by now if she weren't in it trying to have a career.

Incidentally, if you're wondering which Orfeo, I am, too. There are at least five operas that it might be referring to - Monteverdi's 1607 L'Orfeo, Landi's 1619 La Morte d'Orfeo, Rossi's 1647 Orfeo, Sartorio's 1672 Orfeo, and Gluck's 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice, all of which tell the same story and have Orfeo as their main character. Monteverdi might be the safest guess, since the opera is often considered one of the first of what we know as modern operas today; alternatively, Gluck's is probably the most widely-known and popular one on the list, but honestly it could be any of them. As far as I can research, none of them were being performed in Paris around the time of the Phantom story, although Gluck's was famous performed in Germany a few years later, and Monteverdi's had recently seen a republishing of its libretto in 1881.

It's probably meant to simply evoke the story rather than be a specific existing opera, and we've seen that the Orpheus and Eurydice myth of ancient Greece, in which Orpheus descends into the underworld to rescue his love and plays such beautiful music that the god of the dead, Hades, grants his wish only for Orpheus to accidentally fail at the last minute and have to leave Eurydice behind, is a resonant one with the Phantom story and its themes of transcendent music, doomed love, and the Phantom as an inhabitant of the underworld rather than a living person. In a few years, Meyer's 1993 novel will have the Phantom actually use Orpheus as a pseudonym, although I doubt that influence came from here; it's more likely that both authors just recognized the rich symbolic possibilities.

Anyway, the daroga is done expositing now and tosses the Viscount back into the fray to chase the Phantom again, which is especially hilarious because we have to conserve page space so the Viscount actually has not gotten any lines and is just staring at the daroga throughout this entier section. Never mind that, though, because look at Weller going to town on representing the opera and its sub-basements:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We're off now to the night of Christine's first performance as soloist, since Carlotta is taking some hard-earned rest somewhere from all this murderous nonsense. Once again, the language is dramatic but has a lot of fun with it.

It would be hard to say which was the greater marvel - the voice of Christine, or the glorious Paris Opera, with caves and cellars and miles of passages that wound their way, not only under the Opera itself, but under the Rue Auber and the adjoining neighborhoods.

Combined with Weller's stellar artistic rendering of the dreamlike world of the story, this really helps solidify the opera as a character within the story itself, something that pops up now and then in adaptations. It's especially relevant in this version, since the Phantom is opposed to the opera itself more than individual people within it; in a very real way, the opera is the main protagonist against the Phantom as the antagonist, with the actual characters standing in as representations of related concepts. Neumeyer directly compares Christine and the opera in case this isn't clear, singing both their praises on an equal footing.

The Phantom is running out of pages to do his thing, so he just goes ahead and kidnaps Christine in between acts, leading to a hilarious interlude in which the other performers and audience just sort of noodle around wondering why she keeps missing her cue until the daroga realizes what's happening. He and the Viscount rush the stage and re-establish who's the boss in this relationship when the Viscount suggests they check her dressing room in case she was feeling sick and the daroga is like no, you sack of unimaginative beans, we're going to the CELLARS.

Which they do, allowing Neumeyer to take us on a quick but delightful journey through other forgotten characters of Leroux's original story, including the Man in Black, who is explained as them being frightened of the gasmen who run the lights under the floor before realizing who those dark shapes are, to the rat-catcher, who they run into driving his herd of rats into the sewers. We don't get to see the rat-catcher, which is a shame as his brief description as "cadaverously thin" and his given title of "the Pied Piper of the Opera" brings up some old theories about the Phantom himself being some or all of these characters in different guises, but we do get to see some very evocative artwork of alarmed rats in a canal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, the daroga and the Viscount drop into the second cellar and boom, they have fallen directly into the mirrored torture chamber. Their dynamic from the novel is very amusingly rendered, with the Viscount immediately being like, "Okay, what now, boss?" and the daroga being like "Please shut up, we are almost definitely about to die," although the Viscount's reaction of literally just sitting down on the floor to moan about Christine is so in-character it hurts. (Incidentally, I've never quite gotten the vibe people who are into shipping Raoul and the daroga are seeing, but this book gets close.)

Luckily, the daroga is an unstoppable superhero and just prods around in the machinery until he finds the secret catch release and rescues the both of them HIMSELF, no Christine necessary. He's also aware that he's the baddest of asses, delivering the line, "He may be the Emperor of Illusion, but..." as he ushers the Viscount to safety. He's not wrong. I would love to see the Phantom versus the daroga in a battle of wits with these versions of the characters.

The two of them hit the third sub-basement and are... immediately in the torture chamber again, or rather in a version of it, since this book has made the weird but sort of understandable in search of progression decision to separate the mirrors into one trap and the heat and iron tree into a second one. I mean, it's weird, but it gets us some fabulous artwork, so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I especially love that the Phantom took the time to lovingly craft the parrot at the top of this piece. (Or is it a goose? And is there a lion in the foliage? Is this the foundation from whence the 1990 Richardson/Dance film got its weird underground picnic forest?) The daroga once again finds the secret escape hatch and rescues them both, causing them to drop into the fourth cellar, where dehydrated and exhausted they are annoyed for more than one reason to discover that all the barrels have gunpowder in them instead of liquid.

At this point, the daroga gets tired of the entire circus and just starts yelling at the Phantom, which is honestly a delight. Eventually his shouts of "I know you can hear us, asshole, what's your problem" get a response and the Phantom's disembodied voice explains that he's already got Christine and leads the two men out of the area and toward his lair, all the while cheerfully explaining that, per the original novel, that's not gunpowder, it's marriage insurance.

Down in the fifth cellar at last, it's Cesar! The artwork for the Phantom's domain is stunning, juxtaposing inky blackness and the unknown with an illusory fantasy of beauty and light that the reader can only guess about, wondering whether it's real, or only some of it, and what might be underneath if it isn't. The Phantom's house is an actual palace complete with minarets that reflect on the lovingly-described shimmering waters of the black lake, and the wind is described as the "zephyrs of an underworld", again tying the Phantom to the idea of living death. Cesar just adds to the picture, the white horse often used in symbolism to represent purity, beauty, or innocence.

In addition, the reeds, duplicated and reflected until they resemble musical notation and instruments, make it clear that even if some of this is real, not everything we're seeing is - it's too perfect, too storybook. To take us way from Greece and a little further east for a moment, it's reminiscent of the Hindu tale of Mayasura, a demon who was such a cunning architect that he could create buildings that were Escher-like illusions, including one where he created a room with a floor that appeared to be entirely made of liquid, into which visitors could fall and drown if they did not know exactly where to step to find the translucent crystal places with an actual surface. Mayasura is an interesting figure, representing illusion and craftsmanship that are so great as to be supernatural and definitely admirable, but who also contributes to the Hindu theological problem of enlightenment being unreachable while the world is snared in illusions. The daroga is Persian, not Hindu, but the two countries (and their traditional religions) have traded a lot over the centuries, and after his "Emperor of Illusion" comment earlier, it's not hard to suspect that he (and Neumeyer) might be implying the Phantom as a representative of a cosmic illusory force.

The Phantom may have led them down here via possibly magical ventrioliqusm, but he isn't a taxi service, so the daroga and the Viscount have to get into the boat and start poling their way across the lake. The daroga takes this opportunity to explain that there is no actual wind down here and that what they're experiencing is the Phantom projecting an "angelic humming", which he outright states is the same thing he has been teaching Christine to improve her singing. It's honestly odd that a book with this much commitment to making the Phantom seem wholly supernatural and alien, which it does pretty well, also included such a prosaically mundane backstory as "work accident" to explain where he came from. I wonder if an editor somewhere got antsy about no one explaining this dude's origins and wanted it added in there. Either way, the lake's "wind" actually being a possibly supernatural voice echoes the theory that the so-called siren of the lake mentioned in Leroux's novel is the Phantom himself.

We're going back to Greece now, though, since the entrance to the Phantom's home is decorated in Medusa heads. While it's a stretch to come up with much of a way that the Phantom could be related to the legend of Perseus, the Greek hero who defeated Medusa by using a mirror to allow him to fight her without making eye contact and being turned to stone by her powers, it's not as hard to relate him to Medusa herself: depending on the retelling of the myth, she was a priestess of Athena who was assaulted by the sea-god Poseidon in the temple, and Athena, angry that her temple had been defiled, transformed Medusa into a hideous snake-haired monster. The Phantom might very well identify with the story of someone who was transformed into a new and hideous form through no fault of her own and then became everyone's standard for horror for the next few thousand years. (Not to mention that Perseus only being able to see her clearly in a mirror is also pretty resonant for our career mirror-lurker here.)

But it's finally time for the big finish, as the boys arrive to discover the grasshopper- and scorpion-shaped handles from the original novel, representing Christine's choice about whether to stay with the Phantom or let him kill basically everybody she knows. The Phantom's explanation leans more toward him giving up haunting and retiring quietly with Christine if she agrees, which again is neat in light of his stated motivation of blowing up the opera that hurt him; once again, Christine's mere existence is an intervention against his plan to kill a bunch of people, and possibly a nice echo of Leroux's symbolism: as in the original novel, the Phantom believes that Christine's love will prove that he is still a member of society and humanity who deserves a normal life, and therefore he loses the need to get revenge on the opera house for kicking him out of both.

Plus, the grasshopper and scorpion inexplicably have tiny nonses and look like bewildered little people, which is just excellent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point, Christine herself finally shows up - or, more accurately, Cesar shows up, carrying the unconscious Christine on his back. The artwork for this is gorgeous, melding their images so that the reader can't decide where one stops and the other begins, making it clear that Christine is as much a symbolic representation of goodness and purity as the traditional white horse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Phantom, who continues to explain himself from a distance, clearly implies that he thinks Christine will choose the grasshopper and kill everyone (he does preserve the "hops" pun from the original French, by the way, for those who like to keep track of that sort of thing). While some adaptations go with this as an indictment of Christine herself, making the Phantom just very astutely aware that she doesn't give a damn about him and/or that she would rather die than submit to his nonsense, this one leans more on the sad side: it reads more as the Phantom fatalistically assuming that literally no one on earth would want to be around him, and that Christine, even the best of humanity that she is, can't be expected to behave otherwise.

If you wondered why he's being so dramatic about people not wanting to be around him, wonder no longer, because he has finally arrived on the page and his artwork is BONKERS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The white mask is probably not a reference to the Lloyd Webber musical, since it's full-faced and doesn't resemble that famous bit of graphic design; it's more reminiscent of the 1943 Lubin/Rains film's plan borrowed theatre masks. It's also notably plain, shining, and white, matching the fabulous palace, Christine, Cesar - everything given the visual shorthand of good and pure, in other words, suggesting that the Phantom wants to be part of that beauty but knows that he has to disguise himself even to touch it.

But also, yes, he's a green troll. This is somewhat confusing since turning one into a green troll is not generally the usual effect of being accidentally splashed with acid. It's also clearly a full-body condition, not a localized one, with his long nails, green flesh on hands and arms, strange coiling hair, and so on, so unless they dipped him in an actual vat of acid AND it was actually not acid but troll-transformation liquid, this is still somewhat discombobulating.

But, like the rest of the book's artwork, it's not trying for realism. It is in fact aggressively avoiding realism, looking for dreamlike representations, symbolism and color implications, images that tell the emotional thrust of the story rather than trying to directly depict what's happening. So the Phantom's appearance doesn't make logical sense, but in the same way Christine isn't supposed to actually be a weird backwards centaur and the minaretted palace probably isn't actually something that could fit in the cellar, his appearance is meant to illustrate the terror and horror of his presence and appearance rather than being an active image of what he'd look like in the real world.

Incidentally, his voice is just as dramatic as the rest of him:

...the voice whispered like a wind of plague, and yet, within that sound of evil, there may have been a sob.

You can almost hear the string-heavy, menacing, yet sorrowful theme in the distance. As above, so below: grand opera in both places.

Unfortunately, it's probably pretty clear by now that Christine is not only not the heroine of this adaptation, she's barely in it at all; the main characters are clearly the daroga, the Phantom, and the Viscount, with her more of a symbol of goodness and purity than someone we ever get to know very well. In essence, the book agrees with the Phantom and uses her as symbolic of the goodness of humanity, which fits in well with the whimsical and dreamy representation of the story but also noticeably removes the female main character in favor of having a bunch of dude characters do stuff around her instead. It's possible that Neumeyer realized this, because even though she's barely had any lines the entire book, she clearly isn't a pushover, standing straight and proud against the Phantom before choosing to save everyone and kissing him (on the lips, which also might be a touch of Lloyd Webber influence creeping in but also isn't exactly an unpopular adaptation move).

The story once again forgets to agree with itself when it says that the Phantom cries for the first time in his life after being kissed (maybe it means the first time since becoming the Phantom? I feel like acid burn victims cry a lot but what do I know), again really making me almost sure that the acid backstory was tacked on later and therefore matches absolutely nothing else. I won't reproduce the artwork of the kiss, which is amazing, just so I don't put too many pictures here and discourage anyone from actually hunting up the book itself, but the Phantom gets a great ine about how his tears, mingled with Christine's, can now finally wash this place clean of evil. This is an especially neat line given that his palace of illusion is shining, beautiful, perfect - and therefore either that none of that matters to the symbolic evil of his presence, or that he isn't able to see or experience that illusory perfection that he shows to everyone else.

It's time to wind down, so the Phantom places Christine's hand in the Viscount's to tell her she can leave with him, and then the daroga proudly conducts them out, riding on Cesar. The artwork for the end is especially compelling; the characters have clear differences in their appearance, with the Viscount human-shaped and warmly colored, Christine almost blindingly white to represent her innocence and goodness, and the Phantom... well, he still looks like himself, wearing a giant red cloak and hood that remind us of his turn as the Red Death at the masquerade. As they leave, we see the Phantom's hand in the foreground, holding the scorpion in his hideous palm; not only is this nice visually with a contrast of shapes and colors, but it also very literally shows the Phantom's own determination to let Christine leave, placing the handle that represented acquiescence and love in his hand after hers.

We close out with a notice in the newspaper two weeks later claiming that the Phantom is dead, a convention directly from Leroux's novel, but Neumeyer adds an additional coda for his version in a scrap of staff paper found backstage afterward:

And three years after that, a crumpled piece of music paper was found in a dim corner behind the stage: “Our tears mingled. Enough. Enough.”

It's a lovely bit of poignancy and also recalls the original character's conviction that the scrap of human kindness of being kissed on the forehead was enough happiness that he would never need more until his death.

Overall, it's a condensed and simplified version of the story, which of course it has to be to fit in a traditional children's picture book format, but it's also hitting all the major emotional beats of the original story and gorgeously executed in spite of a few wrinkles. The only major sorrow is the loss of Christine as a main character, but as her screen time went to the often deeply underloved daroga instead, it's hard to not appreciate someone finally writing him the love letter his character deserves.

If you're interested in Weller's artwork, he primarily does western-themed watercolors these days, which you can see on his website.

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