Fantomas

Notes from Friends of Fantômas

Manuel Camacho writes: To my amazement I didn't know Fantômas was that old and so refinedly evil (with all the French fascination for bloody terror, mystery and...guillotines!). The Fantomas I knew about thirty years ago growing up in a third world Latinoamerican country was the one portrayed in the Mexican comics (white cape, skinned-tight white mask that covers not only the face but the head as well, wearing fancy rich suits and hats and always with white gloves on: kind of a Mexican answer to the character of Batman—Fantomas also has a loyal butler and a palace). In that part of the world the kids sort of despised the American super-heroes for being too simple-minded, quite self-righteous and an accesory of the political power structure.

Comics that set out to maintain the "goodness" of the "ever-good-saintly" government, weren't of much appeal for children able to read comics amid a very convulsive social and political situation in countries where the governments were most of the time dictatorships or quasi-dictatorships that were only looking out for their reactionary elites and also outright killing generations of youth that were opposing their policies and breaking through against the establishment.

It's in this context (the inability of American super-heroes to capture, I would say, Iberoamerican kids' imaginations and the rebellious, anarchist and anti-establishment attitude of these latter toward their criminal governments) that Fantomas made his entry onto the scene: The elegant, aristocratic nobleman distant from the other wealthies and enforcement institutions (police, detectives, etc.) that were always opposing corruption and solving all the cases on behalf of the average Joe...then disappearing without any trace.

Either way (the original French version and the Mexican comics) he's been portrayed, Fantomas definitely is the man!

Fantômas seems to have become a sort of Robin Hood in Latin America, an aspect that's definitely absent in the French character. The Argentian novelist Julio Cortázar wrote a novella picking up on this aspect of the Latin-American Fantomas. In Fantômas contra los vampiros multinacionales (Fantomas vs. the multinational vampires) Cortázar invokes the aid of Fantomas to help track down the nefarious conspiracy that is destroying the libraries of the world—and which, it turns out, is also responsible for the "convulsive political situation" in Latin America: the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, the murderous attacks on the student movement in Mexico City, etc. You can find the complete text of Cortázar's novella at Literatura Argentina Contemporánea.

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