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Comic Book / Fantômas

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Translation: "Fantomas, The Elegant Menace. The hero of a thousand feats, now in a biweekly magazine!"

Fantomas is a Mexican comic book series from the 1970s, adapted from the French novel character Fantômas. Contrasting with the original Diabolical Mastermind, while still technically a criminal, he is 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 (not unlike the French Fantômas films of The '60s), to outright Science Fiction.

Fantomas is a thief, whose crimes are done for the thrill of it, but there is also a rebelling-against-conformity subtext to it, though more socialistic than chaotic, and never cruel. He wears a skintight white mask that he never takes off — not even when showering — apparently as his personal sign of rebellion, though he is a master of disguise as well (he would wear disguises over his signature mask!). His true identity is never revealed, even to his allies. He starts 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 abandons it for a more practical look. He too has his own French Detective on his case, Inspector Gérard, who however is far below Fantomas' level of competency and served more as Plucky Comic Relief. As the series got wilder, he appeared less often.

During its "James Bond" phase, Fantomas is revealed to have a whole organization working for him, with agents that scout his targets and occasionally assist him; the most notable of these are the Zodiac Girls, 12 beautiful women of various nationalities, whose loyalty for Fantomas is almost on the level of worship; each is named after a sign of the Zodiac. His adventures went from simply stealing from acceptable targets to battling international criminals. He even has a supervillain, Doctor Niebla (Dr. Fog), a costumed Mad Scientist with the power to turn into actual fog, who is 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 is a Reed Richards-level scientist, who lives in an invisible artificial island of his own creation and who provides Fantomas with his most advanced equipment, apparently just for the fun of it (though Fantomas still enjoys hands-on thefts.) Semo also has a comical partner in his creation, the robot C-19, who provides 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.

Fantomas provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: The Zodiac girls.
  • Anti-Hero: Fantomas, unlike the original Villain Protagonist.
  • Author Tract: The writers of the comic often used the character for social commentary.
  • Bizarro 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.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask
  • 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
  • Gorn: A few issues featured this. One of the most famous 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' skin, hair, fat and ground bones were used to make clothes, furniture, fertilizer, etc. Brrr.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Fog and Semo (though Semo was more of an eccentric scientist).
  • Master of Disguise: Fantomas
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Semo resembles Karl Marx, very likely not a coincidence.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Worthy Opponent: Bumbling or not, Inspector Gerard's courage and unbreakeable will to defend justice has earned him Fantomas' undying respect, at the point that Fantomas never would do anything that could result on Gerard losing (too much) face or being removed from his job. As Fantomas himself said, he doesn't like the idea of Gerard being fired and replaced by a mediocre hack without Gerard's intelligence or humor sense, plus Fantomas admits that the Inspector Gerard is the only cop capable to give him a good challenge and without him, life would be unbearably dull and boring for him.