On this date in 1911 was born the greatest evil the literary world has ever known. A creature so cunning, so malevolent, that to speak his name is to invite death and destruction. Created on the eve of World War I by writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, the monster has had a long life, moving through a number of books, movies, television serials and comic books.
So, to celebrate, here’s an essay I wrote about this ferocious individual for the now sadly defunct Smiling, Damned site. Enjoy!
“What did you say?”
“I said: Fantomas.”
“And what does that mean?”
“But what is it?”
“No one…And yet, it is someone!”
“And what does this someone do?”
Fantomas, the Lord of Terror, the Genius of Evil. Whatever his name, he (or she) is the ultimate archetype of villainy. No crime is too small, no act too depraved for Fantomas to contemplate, to undertake, to accomplish. He made it his mission to destroy the fabric of society for no other reason than that he could.
Put simply, Fantomas is the first super-villain. Born at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, on the eve of the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, Fantomas sprang fully formed into a world teetering on the edge of madness. To say that he did his best to push it over said edge is an understatement.
“He is totally ruthless, gives no mercy, and is loyal to none, not even his own children. He is a master of disguise, always appearing under an assumed identity, often that of a person whom he has murdered. Fantômas makes use of bizarre and improbable techniques in his crimes, such as plague-infested rats, giant snakes, and rooms that fill with sand.”
Criminals like Professor Moriarty or Fu Manchu dominated the previous century, spinning Byzantine schemes and matching wits opponents of equal determination, if not skill. Fantomas’ opponents could only scramble to keep up. His schemes were chaotic things, not the precision instruments of his antecedents, but rather a form of madness only recognizable after the fact.
His crimes were outrageous, daring and avant-garde…plague-infested rats released on an ocean liner, sulphuric acid hidden in the perfume dispensers of a famous Parisian department store, or the stripping of the gilded gold from the roof of the Invalides Dome each evening; a man hung by his feet inside a cathedral bell like a human clapper, raining blood, brains and bone down on the masses below, and forcing a judge to witness his own execution by placing him face-up in a guillotine.
Fantomas was everyone and no-one, everywhere and nowhere. A man, a woman, a devil…a phantom. He wielded an army of street-apaches, spies and saboteurs in a calculated effort to spread fear and terror across Europe and the world. There was no purpose to this, save that it was Fantomas’ will that it be done. He was a satanic hurricane, a typhoon of terror, a nightmare without end.
In his wake came a host of imitators and disciples…Satanik, Diabolik, Kriminal, Demoniak, Sadik among others, though none would ever rival the first and most mysterious master of menace…FANTOMAS.