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Glossary and Character Taxonomy  Breakdown by Country of Origin   Bibliography   Table of Contents    The Best of the Encyclopedia

Fantômas. Fantômas was created by the French authors Pierre Souvestre (Mareuil) and Marcel Allain (Commissaire Boulard, David Dare, Fatalà, Férocias, Mareuil, Miss Téria, Tigris (II)) and appeared in forty-three novels from 1911 to 1963, beginning with “Fantômas” (Arthème Fayard, Feb. 1911).

Fantômas is a master criminal modeled on Zigomar (I). Fantômas is the most powerful crime boss in Paris in the years before, during, and after World War One. He is in charge of a vast army of "apaches" (street thugs) and has spies and hirelings everywhere. He himself is a master of disguise and carries out burglaries and murders with abandon and aplomb. His crimes are appalling but are carried out with imagination and verve. Fantômas, ruthless and merciless though he is, has a certain audacity and an outrageous style that sets him apart from most other villains. He crashes passenger trains and blows up steamships, all to eliminate a single witness. He sends a cab hurtling through the Paris streets, its coachman a wide-eyed corpse. He puts a rebellious henchman in a large bell in place of its clapper, and when the time comes to ring the hour the man's blood, along with his stolen gems, rains down on the public. Fantômas' masked henchmen crash a city bus into a bank in order to gain access to the vault. Fantômas replaces the perfume in the dispensers of a department store with sulfuric acid; he releases plague-carrying rats onto a passenger liner; he places a victim face-up in a guillotine, so that the man can watch his own execution. Fantômas poisons a man so that Fantômas can take up with his wife. Fantômas wages war on bourgeois French society, but the reader gets the feeling that he commits these horrible deeds for the sheer joy of it.

Fantômas is stalked by two men: Inspector Juve of the Sûreté, who is the only policeman who even suspects the extent of Fantômas' power and who is monomaniacal in his pursuit of Fantômas; and Jérôme Fandor, a journalist who may be Fantômas' son. Fantômas is aided by Hélène, his daughter, an opium-smoker who dresses in men's clothing and bears a death's-head tattoo.

* I'm including Fantômas in the Best of the Encyclopedia category because...well, because he's Fantômas. The novels he appears in were historically important, both in French crime fiction history and in providing writers around the world with an archetypal arch-villain, the supreme supervillain of his age and perhaps any age, to model their own characters on. Zigomar (I) came first, of course, but Fantômas did it better for far longer and to a much, much larger audience. And the Souvestre & Allain novels, while undoubtedly fun, have a dreamlike quality that quickly becomes ever-so-slightly nightmarish. One can argue that Fantômas is a character of his time and place, and certainly they had much to do with his creation, but the universal appeal of the character and his novels, and the fact that over a century later his name still has a cachet, speak to an element of the Fantômas novels which will always be modern and contemporary, and always speak to our fears--of cities, of "master" criminals, of modernity itself. Fantômas doesn't just loom over Paris, knife in hand; he looms over our imaginations. 

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