Earlier this month, I went to NYCC with a friend. From the start, I admired all of the delightful and clever cosplays that I saw. It was there, on my way to hunt for yet another piece of superhero merch, that I saw him. I don’t know who he was. In fact, I only got a glimpse of him. But there he was, a guy dressed up as Danny Phantom, weird jumpsuit thing and all. My heart lit up like a menorah on Hanukkah.
To be honest, Danny Phantom is probably not my first crush. My memory is pretty bad and I was consuming a lot of media at a young age (thanks, mom, for the pre-pubescent Sex and the City viewings). He is, however, definitely the start of a pattern of my fictional crushes. Therefore, even if he isn’t my exact first crush, he still endures to this day and that makes him worthy of this piece.
I watched a lot of television growing up. I guess my parents figured that I read enough to offset all the potential brain damage, or whatever parents worry about when they think their kids are watching too much TV.
Danny Phantom was a personal favorite. Aside from being a big reader, I was also kind of a weird kid in the way that a lot of us bookworms were. I had read the Harry Potter books quite young, and the Magic Treehouse books still hold a warm place in my heart. Safe to say, a show about a boy who is half-ghost was right up my alley. I watched every episode of Danny Phantom, including the longer quasi-movie ones. I knew the theme song by heart. Danny’s older sister, Jazz, annoyed me at first, but eventually I couldn’t imagine Danny fighting ghosts without her. Luckily, neither could he.
Like many girls I know, I hated the love interest of my fictional crush. I thought Sam was whiny, demanding, and not a lot of fun. Internalized misogyny gets the best of us all.
But like all children, I grew up. Cartoons were replaced by live-action Disney Channel shows which morphed in CW dramas. Though I never forgot Danny, I had more important shows to watch.
I had spent some time poking around the internet for ways to watch the show, but never fully dedicated myself to it. I was worried. Danny Phantom was cool when I was younger because he was 14, a real teenager! What would one of my favorite shows be like now that I’m older than its protagonist?
Upon discovering recently that the whole show is on Hulu, I could no longer claim accessibility as an excuse to avoid a rewatch. Thankfully, it was still as funny as I remembered. Danny was still cute and I give myself points for having good taste in fictional men at such a young age. And yes, I could still sing every line to the theme song, even the instrumental parts.
My other first impression after years of not watching was that of a lot of media I consumed as a kid — where are this kid’s parents?! But that’s one of the main points of Danny Phantom, and why I connected with him as a kid. Danny’s parents are around; they’re loving, if eccentric, and they care about their son. They just…don’t really get him. And Danny seems to prefer it that way.
In an episode where they learn about his ghost powers and accept him, Danny still chooses to reset reality so that they never discover his abilities. In fact, he’s even sometimes afraid of them. This is a feeling I knew all too well.
Teenagers with superpowers are often metaphors for the teenage experience as a whole and Danny Phantom is no different. After all, this show is the origin for my love of the “hero discovers and tries out his new powers” scene that is essential to every superhero show. It is most poignant when the hero is just entering puberty. Danny fails a test the same episode he keeps falling through the floor because his limbs randomly go intangible on him.
What gained more weight upon a second viewing is the first quasi-movie episode, Ultimate Enemy. The episode starts with Danny obtaining the answers to the in-universe equivalent of the SATs. As someone who took them twice and then swore off standardized tests for good, it’s hard to fault Danny for considering cheating. Danny battles an evil future version of himself who has literally ripped the humanity out of himself and destroyed it (something that is probably more terrifying with the passage of time). This is all incredibly overwhelming to find out when you’re just 14 and even now, as an adult, I felt Danny’s anxiety.
The theme of that episode is that nothing is set in stone, even what appears to be. Danny learns a new power that his evil future-self doesn’t learn until ten years after high school. Clockwork, master of time, even looks a little smug from his post in the Ghost Zone as he and the mysterious ghosts known as the Observers watch Danny turn in the answers instead of using them. As someone who is halfway through my senior year of college, it’s a nice reminder that we make our own futures, one choice at a time.
Later in the show’s run, there is some in-depth mythology introduced regarding the “halfas” as Danny and his archenemy, Vlad Masters, are called by the ghosts of the Ghost Zone. As I have gotten glimpses of in the past, there is a Danny Phantom fanbase on Tumblr. There was even a brief internet campaign to bring back the show, using the tagline #GoGhostAgain. The continued love for the show is what helps Danny Phantom keep my interest all these years later. I had no one to talk about it with then, but now I have the whole internet at my fingertips.
Even after a more mature rewatch, Danny is still my favorite character on the show. Though he often struggles to not use his powers for selfish reasons, it only adds to his compellingness. He has lofty dreams of becoming an astronaut that I can see now are somewhat unrealistic, but it’s hard not to grin when Danny excitedly talks about the space program.
My first crush was a nerd because I was a nerd. He gets consistently picked on by much of the school while the adults remain either unaware or just plain useless. It’s painfully reminiscent of my middle school years. Danny Phantom is your typical teenager in all the ways I’m glad I’ve grown out of, but not enough that I can’t sympathize. Ultimately, my favorite thing about Danny back then is still my favorite thing about him now — he’s a good person, even when he doesn’t have to be.
It’s the mark of all heroes, sure, but with every failed test and missed hangout session with his friends, perfectly reasonable excuses for a 14-year-old boy to rid himself of all responsibility, Danny still tries his best to save everyone in his town of Amity Park. They eventually come to accept him as their defender, but he protects them anyway despite the large amounts of trouble it gets him into.
He’s snarky, quick with a pun, and a little lazy, but he always steps up when he’s needed — a quality I hope I embody myself. Danny Phantom is, as the theme song says, here to fight for me and you. And that’s awfully comforting for someone who’s supposedly too old for that stuff.
It’s nice that my first significant male crush still stands because many of them no longer pass muster, but I can still watch Danny fight ghosts and hang out with his friends and feel fond instead of embarrassed. I feel proud that he manages to do so much with only his two best friends and his sister. The us-against-the-world mentality is one so many of us feel in our lives and I for one wouldn’t mind if more fictional allegories of this came with ghosts.
Danny Phantom holds up just as well at 21 as he did at 8, despite all the growing up I’ve done in between. Hell, we even have the same haircut.
Who was your first fictional crush? Do you want to write about them for Rogues Portal? Email pitches to Samantha! (Submissions are unpaid at this time.)