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The character of Fantomas is a curious example of Adaptation Expansion; originally, he starred in a series of turn-of-the-(20th)-century French novels, as a masked Diabolical Mastermind; created in 1911 by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. These novels were later adapted into movies. Somehow, however, the character also ended up as the star of a Latino American comic book series during the 1970s, still technically a criminal, but now presented as a masked hero. Within the comic series the focus of the adventures changed over the years, going from a typical Gentleman Thief, to heavily James Bond-inspired adventures, to outright Science Fiction.
Fantomas was also the name of a villain in three films starring Louis de Funès and Jean Marais. This version also was a criminal mastermind and wore a blue rubber mask. There are also rumors of a 2011 remake of the story with Vincent Cassel and Jean Reno.
In the original version, Fantomas - the name comes from the French word "fantome" meaning "ghost"- was an anarchist whose crimes were (supposedly) a result of his disdain for modern civilization; he was chased by a police detective named Juve and a journalist, Charles Rambert/Jerome Fandor, but in spite of a few close calls, he was never caught.
The Latino American version was a thief, whose crimes were done for the thrill of it, but there was also a rebelling-against-conformity subtext to it, though more socialistic than chaotic, and never cruel. He wore a skintight white mask that he never took off - not even when showering - apparently as his personal sign of rebellion, though he was a master of disguise as well (he would wear disguises over his signature mask!). His true identity was never revealed, even to his allies. He started by wearing the full Gentleman Thief regalia - even the cape and cane, which you'd think would be inconvenient during second-story jobs - but eventually abandoned it for a more practical look. He too had his own French Detective on his case, Inspector Gerard, who however was far below Fantomas' level of competency and served more as Comic Relief. As the series got wilder, he appeared less often.
During its "James Bond" phase, Fantomas was revealed to have a *whole* organization working for him, with agents that scouted his targets and occasionally assisted him; the most notable of these were the Zodiac Girls, 12 beautiful women of various nationalities, whose loyalty for Fantomas was almost on the level of worship; each was named after a sign of the Zodiac. His adventures went from simply stealing from Acceptable Targets to battling international criminals. He even had a supervillain, Doctor Niebla (Dr. Fog), a costumed Mad Scientist with the power to turn into actual fog, who was obsessed with destroying Fantomas, to the point of using such farfetched plans as turning the Zodiac Girls into a coven of witches.
With the addition of the character of Professor Semo to the series, it became even more fantastic. Semo was a Reed Richards-level scientist, who lived in an invisible artificial island of his own creation and who provided Fantomas with his most advanced equipment, apparently just for the fun of it (though Fantomas still enjoyed hands-on thefts.) Semo also had a comical partner in his creation, the robot C-19, who provided humor with his bumbling personality.
The comic was extremely popular, and lasted well into the 1980s; most people in Latino America from that generation are familiar with at least the character's name, though most probably don't even know about the original French version.
Novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre
The first few novels were co-written by Pierre Souvestre (1874-1914), and Marcel Allain (1885-1969). The early death of Souvestre resulted in subsequent novels written by Allain alone. The literal translations of the original French titles are based on the list of Jean-Marc Lofficier.
- Fantomas (1911)
- Juve vs. Fantomas (1911)
- The Dead Man Who Kills (1911), also known as The Vengeance Of Fantomas
- The Secret Agent (1911), also known as A Ruse Of Fantomas
- A King Prisoner Of Fantomas (1911)
- The Apache Policeman (1911), also known as Fantomas Policeman
- The Hanged Man Of London (1911), also known as In The Hands Of Fantomas
- The Daughter Of Fantomas (1911)
- The Night Hansom Cab (1911), also known as The Hansom Cab Of Fantomas
- The Severed Hand (1911), also known as Fantomas In Monaco
- The Capture Of Fantomas (1911)
- The Burglar Judge (1912), also known as Judge Fantomas
- The Livery Of Crime (1912), also known as [The Livery Of Fantomas
- The Death Of Juve (1912), also known as Fantomas Kills Juve
- The Escapee From Saint-Lazare (1912), also known as Fantomas, King Of Crime
- The Disappearance Of Fandor (1912), also known as Fandor vs. Fantomas
- The Wedding Of Fantomas (1912)
- The Assassin Of Lady Beltham (1912), also known as The Loves Of Fantomas
- The Red Wasp (1912), also known as The Challenge Of Fantomas
- The Dead Man's Shoes (1912), also known as Fantomas Prowls
- The Lost Train (1912), also known as The Train Of Fantomas
- The Love Of A Prince (1912), also known as Fantomas Has Fun
- The Tragic Bouquet (1912), also known as The Bouquet Of Fantomas
- The Masked Jockey (1913), also known as Fantomas, King Of The Turf
- The Empty Coffin (1913), also known as The Coffin Of Fantomas
- The Queen Maker (1913), also known as Fantomas vs. Love
- The Giant Corpse (1913), also known as The Spectre Of Fantomas
- The Gold Thief (1913), also known as Prisoners Of Fantomas!
- The Red Series (1913), also known as Fantomas Escapes
- Crime Hotel (1913), also known as Fantomas Accuses!
- The Hemp Necktie (1913), also known as The Servant Of Fantomas
- The End Of Fantomas (1913), also known as Is Fantomas Dead?
- Is Fantomas Resurrected? (1925)
- Fantomas, King Of The Fences (1926)
- Fantomas In Danger (1926)
- Fantomas Takes His Revenge (1926)
- Fantomas Attacks Fandor (1926)
- If It Was Fantomas? (1933)
- Yes, It Is Fantomas! (1934)
- Fantomas Plays And Wins (1935)
- Fantomas Meets Love (1946)
- Fantomas Steals From The Blondes (1948)
- Fantomas Leads The Dance (1963)
Tropes (from either version):
- Camp: The French movie has not aged well: De Fuines is over the top, Fantomas looks silly in his greenish blue mask and the fight scenes are quite bad. To be fair the film is noted for being intentionally much lighter than the books.
- Captain Ersatz - Fantomex, an X-Men character, is based on Fantomas and Diabolik (mostly the later).
- Coat, Hat, Mask
- Gorn: A few issues featured this, one of the most famous ones was an automated human disposal factory created by Nazis where the machines quickly reduced a human body to shreds... and then, we got to see how the corpses's skin, hair, fat and grinded bones were used to make clothes, furniture, fertilizer, etc. Brrr.
- Inner Monologue: Used as exposition very often. Fantomas would also often "talk" to his cat to express his feelings. (The cat would sometimes be shown thinking, although this was a metafictional device; it was not shown to actually be intelligent.)
- Karma Houdini- the original Fantomas.
- Legacy Character: The Venture Brothers created Fantomas's grandson, Phantom Limb, as a major villain, and includes cameos from the original Fantomas.
- Master of Disguise
- Nietzsche Wannabe- The original Fantomas.
- Non-Human Sidekick: Fantomas's fine breed cat. Very intelligent and loyal, she used to think and ponder things about the current story that only the reader could read. She displayed such a high intelligence (for a cat) that Fantomas often pondered if she could understand the things he said and did, to what the cat answered "Yes I can. It's YOU the one who doesn't understand ME, boss."
- Usually followed by the cat turning her head and blinking to the reader.
- Supervillain Lair: In the comic, outside Paris.
- In the second movie - a proper lair inside a faded vulcan.
- Villain Protagonist- though the second version barely qualifies as a villain.
Tropes (from the French version):
- Action Girl: Hélène, Fantomas' daughter has her moments.
- The Bad Guy Wins: In A King Prisoner Of Fantomas, Fantomas convinces the world at large that inspector Juve is just another of his own identities. Resulting in Juve facing prison time, and Fandor becoming a runaway fugitive. The situation is maintained in at least part of The Apache Policeman.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Fandor and Hélène have the hots for each other. They are respectively Fantomas' alleged son and daughter. Making them half-siblings. Fantomas may have a reason for keeping them apart.
- Cross Dresser: Hélène, Fantomas' daughter wears masculine clothes, and frequently poses as a man. Though whether she is a villainous, or sympathetic character depends on the novel.
- Daddy's Little Villain: Toyed with in the person of Hélène, Fantomas' daughter. Hélène has her own criminal activities, though nominally loyal to her father. She spend many stories trying to equally avoid her possessive father, and the long arm of the law. Though her mutual attraction with Fandor, further complicates things. The writers made an effort to portray her as a bad girl. With her skull-shaped tattoo, habit of smoking opium, and cross-dressing tendencies.
- Detective Mole: In The Hanged Man Of London (1911), Fantomas himself has infiltrated the Scotland Yard and serves as one of its top detectives.
- Escape Artist: Both Fantomas, and Hélène escape arrest and/or death numerous times.
- Everyone Is a Suspect: Fantomas himself, his daughter Hélène, and his main lover Lady Maud Beltham change disguises and identities with particular ease. Meaning that every character could be one of them in disguise. Fantomas was at some point revealed to maintain an identity as a top detective for the Scotland Yard, Beltham an identity as Mother Superior of a Monastery. And Fandor was shocked to learn that his athletic friend Teddy, was actually Hélène in disguise.
- Faking the Dead: Fantomas has faked the demise on one or more of his identities at various times. Most notably when faking the death of Etienne Rambert. He boards (or appears to be boarding) the trans-Atlantic passenger liner Lancaster. Then arranges for the ship to sink in mid-voyage. Rambert is reported dead, among many other victims of the disaster.
- Flaying Alive: Scalping variation. In The Escapee From Saint-Lazare (1912), Fantomas decides to kill Blanche Perrier, mistress of one of previous victims. She has beautiful long hair. He catches said hair in a machine and scalps her.
- Fright Deathtrap: Toyed with in The Severed Hand (1911). Fantomas captures aristocrat Isabelle de Guerray. He keeps her blindfolded, and threatens to kill her, if she doesn't offer information on the safety measures protecting her fortune. At some point Isabelle feels a knife blade touching her arm and warm liquid, apparently her own blood, flowing down. She is literally scared to death. Juve later discovers that there is not a scratch on her body. The knife never really cut her, the warm liquid was mere water.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: the movie trilogy was particularly liked in the Soviet Union.
- I Have Many Names: The real name Of Fantomas is never revealed. But the readers learn that he has used many names over the years. Among them:
- Archduke Juan North. A name he used while active among the German nobility c. 1892.
- Sergeant Gurn. A name he used while serving as an artillery sergeant in the Second Boer War (1899-1902).
- Etienne Rambert. Name of a former business partner of his, who was also father to Charles Rambert/Jerome Fandor. He claimed the identity to further his own plots.
- Infant Immortality: Averted in The Hanged Man Of London (1911). Lady Beltham and prostitute Nini Guinon are having an intense argument over the fate of a baby. Nini seizes the slumbering baby and drives a "dagger into his chest. Before baby Daniel drew another breath, a torrent of bright blood spewed from his wound. Immediately his lips went pale."
- The Infiltration: Both Juve and Fandor at times pose as "apaches" (members of the Parisian underworld) to pass unnoticed among their numbers.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: A variation. In The End Of Fantomas, Fantomas reveals to Inspector Juve that they are twin brothers.
- Luke, I Might Be Your Father: One of the major twists of Fantomas (1911) is that Fantomas had been posing as Etienne Rambert. But the duration of the ruse is left uncertain. The real Rambert might have been out of the picture for decades. Jerome Fandor, supposed son of Rambert, may actually be a biological son of Fantomas. The series never gave a definite answer on the subject.
- Master of Disguise: Per discription: "Fantômas is nearly always disguised as someone else, often several people in the same novel episode."... "One master criminal with a thousand faces".
- Obfuscating Disability: In The Death Of Juve (1912), Juve spends months acting as if completely paralyzed, following an earlier encounter with his foe. When Fantomas finally pays him a visit, the villain is caught off-guard. Juve lunges from his bed, tackles him, and wrestles him to the ground. Juve had been exaggerating the extend of his injuries for quite some time.
- Off with His Head: The original novel apparently concludes with the decapitation of Fantomas at the guillotine. Until the Twist Ending reveals that the man executed was actually Valgrand, a theatrical actor who was playing Fantomas on stage. The real Fantomas had left an innocent man to die in his place.
- Overlord, Jr.: Vladimir, son of Fantomas. He is also a career criminal, and a ruthless murderer. But had little of his father's brilliance.
- Papa Wolf: Fantomas seems to genuinely care for Hélène, and goes out of his way to protect her when needed. Though his love is "jealous and possessive", and he tries to keep Hélène and Fandor apart.
- Red Baron: Fantomas has nicknames/titles such as Genius of Evil, Lord of Terror, Master of Crime.
- The Starscream: Toyed with in The Death Of Juve (1912). Juve manages to capture Fantomas and ties up the villain. He then summons the nearest police officer and goes seeking further help. Said "officer" is actually an agent of Fantomas, but is quite willing to betray his boss. But then a contingency plan of Fantomas pays off. A timed firebomb explodes elsewhere in the building. The double-crosser figures that Fantomas is the only one who could afely lead him out of the burtning building. He unties Fantomas... and is then quickly murdered by his irate boss.
Tropes (from the Mexican version):
- Action Girl- The Zodiac girls.
- Anti-Hero: The Mexican comic book ran on this.
- Author Tract- The writers of the comic often used the character for social commentary.
- BLAM Episode: A few, including an issue where a rare duck-billed dog turned out to be an alien, and one where a Christian monk actually managed to foil Fantomas' schemes with nothing more than his naivete and faith!
- To say nothing of the time the Zodiac girls became witches...
- Cerebus Syndrome- by its later years, the comic was featuring everything from Nazis to Time Travel. It was still quite cool, though.
- Fantastic Drug: Disgusted by the "art" that a famous painter created under the influence, Fantomas and Semo decided to attack the world's drug cartels by manufacturing their own drug at a very low price and flooding the market with it. The new drug is a colossal sucess indeed, the junkies and even little kids absolutely loved it and so, all drug lords were quickly put out from business. The "drug" was actually a powerful antitoxin that cleansed the junkie's bodies and minds from the poisons accumulated on them. The "high" they claimed to love so much was only them having recovered full control of their thoughts, after years of living on a daze. Non-junkie consumers also experienced improved concentration and clearer thoughts.
- Floating Continent - Semo's island.
- Expressive Mask - The comic's.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. Fog and Semo (though Semo was more of an eccentric scientist.)
- No Celebrities Were Harmed- Semo resembles Karl Marx, very likely not a coincidence.
- Running Gag- C-19 could never pronounce Semo's name right, a fact that irritated the old man.
- He purposely pronounced Semo's name as "Memo", which is Mexican slang for "Stupid".
- One issue has an alien impersonating C-19 being given away because he pronounced Semo's name correctly!
- Stripperific: The Zodiac girls would often wear only bikinis when in Fantomas' base!
- Themed Harem - The Zodiac girls, though Fantomas never seemed to regard them as love interests.