Review by C.J. Bunce
Much like Hergé and his Tintin and Christin and Mézières’ Valerian and Laureline, another story read by millions of Europeans in the 20th century but overlooked by the masses in America is finally making its way overseas. This time its the villain Fantômas who is coming to America, the star of a series of some 43 novels and 15 films, a popular crime novel readers in Europe have flocked to read about beginning in 1911 with Marcel Allain and Pierre Souverstre‘s team-written novel Fantômas, followed by a succession of comics and other adaptations. Writer Olivier Bocquet and artist Julie Rocheleau pulled ideas from the original novel series for their award-winning 2013 work, The Wrath of Fantômas, which is being released in an English translation for the first time tomorrow.
First previewed by Titan Comics at the Diamond Retailer Lunch at San Diego Comic-Con last year, The Wrath of Fantômas is steeped in literary history. The masked, black-gloved Fantômas has been said to have inspired the 1930s comic strip character The Phantom (1936), who in turn inspired Batman (1939), but Fantômas isn’t the first superhero character. That designation traditionally goes to the title hero of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, created a few years earlier in 1905, who inspired, in turn, Zorro in 1919. But it won’t take long for readers to pick up the same disdain for corrupted governments and leaders throughout the 19th and 20th centuries from the vantages of Fantômas, Sir Percy Blakeney, and others, that continued to spread across the world, reflected well into the 20th century with anti-heroes like the Guy Fawkes-masked V in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.
Fantômas is pursued by the fiercely zealous and savvy Inspector Juve, a character that critic and author Kim Newman has cited as the inspiration for Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series. Juve is as determined as Javert, and Victor Hugo’s chief antagonist from 1862’s Les Misérables was no doubt an inspiration for Juve–he’s Javert seen as noble and loyal, but also just, heroic, and good. His nemesis Fantômas is merciless toward his targets and in his methods, killing for vengeance, and seemingly for no reason, and no woman or child or man is out-of-bounds for his fury.
Here is a preview:
Bocquet and Rocheleau’s adaptation is both violent in its gruesome murder coverage and the villain’s treatment as a superhero archetype whose jiggery-pokery methods are stylistically brilliant in their depravity and ruthlessness. Rochelau’s layouts, color choices, and style recalls the retro imagery of Francesco Francavilla, especially in his book The Black Beetle.
The most intriguing aspect of Fantômas is his “Man of a Hundred Faces” persona. This characteristic makes Fantômas ideal for the comic book medium. He can appear as any of the characters in the book at any time, without the storyteller’s need to trick the audience with exacting make-ups, hair, and prosthetics–The Saint meets Ethan Hunt, but all bad guy.
For mature audiences (for some sex and violence), the historical adaptation The Wrath of Fantômas arrives tomorrow, February 13, 2019, in an attractive hardcover edition. Order your copy from Elite Comics, your neighborhood comic book store, or find it here at Amazon where it’s available for pre-order.