The Wrath Of Fantômas – The World’s First Supervillain
by Richard Bruton
Incredibly, despite the character first appearing in 1911 and entertaining millions of readers, viewers and listeners since then, particularly in the first half of the 20th Century, The Wrath of Fantômas is the first appearance of the famous character in comics. Now, in this new noir graphic novel by Bocquet & Rocheleau, the world’s first supervillain, the masked Master of Crime, iconic touchstone for so many costumed heroes and villains who came after him, is back to bring his villainy to the streets of Paris. And it’s a stunning artistic return, in a book that is quite breathtakingly beautiful but manages, sadly, to fail to deliver a story to match. This is a tale of my disappointment…
Oh, I was so looking forward to this, having seen the artwork, read the press releases, and that it failed to fire properly was a real let down, the disappointment merely amplified thanks to my expectations. Sad to say, The Wrath of Fantômas was a real frustration and a terrible disappointment.
In terms of artwork, it really is quite wonderful. Almost every page is a thing of beauty, whether it’s the light, delightful Art Nouveau styled line work of daylight Parisian life or the dark, rich tones of the villainy going on in the Parisian night. Take this, page one…
Or this, a few pages further on…
The expressive art, the delicate line, the beautiful colour palette, oh it all looks so spectacular and beautiful.
But it’s not the art that’s the frustration, it’s the narrative or, more specifically, the pacing and flow of Fantômas that caused me problems. Yes, there are, certainly, times it gets it right, delivers every bit the exciting, adrenaline-filled romp I wanted, with clever narrative touches, tension, plots, devilish villainy, and complete with the odd splash of, deliciously, dark humour. Just like this…
“Name. Surname. Position?”
“Narcisse. Lapeyrade. The floor.”
Sadly, all too often, the problem is simply that it’s frustratingly inconsistent.
A book like this should never leave you bored and Fantômas did, all too often. And that was what was so disappointing about it. I so wanted to love this, especially after seeing how gorgeous it all looked. I wanted to lose myself in a fabulous adventure, full of twists and turns, edge of my seat adventuring with a wonderful turn of the Century villainesque twist. And for a while, it did, but there were simply too many lulls in the enjoyment. What I was really hoping would be a fabulous romp turned into, at times, a bit of a slog. It could have been, it should have been, so much tighter and could easily have been 50 or more pages shorter. A real shame.
The basic deal in the book is that Fantômas, the Prince of Terror, the man of a thousand faces, criminal mastermind, has returned to Paris to wreak havoc. And, inside, across nearly 200 pages, we follow this villain as he escapes death and proceeds to terrorise Paris afresh with a plot to steal all of Paris’ gold. The cat and mouse game, between Fantômas and the authorities, plays out so wonderfully at times, which is what makes those dull, dragging sections all the worse.
And yes, he means ALL the gold in Paris, not just the stuff in the vaults, but even down to all the gold gilding on statues, gates, and buildings through the city. And, despite the best efforts of the judiciary, Fantomas always gets away with it. The frustration of the authorities, particularly the police inspector on the case, mount and mount through the tale. At every point, Fantômas confounds them, escapes once more to continue his campaign of violence, terror, and gathers more and more of the capitol’s gold…
When The Wrath of Fantômas is good, when it gets it right, such as the beautifully constructed sequence with Fantomas at his most devious, plotting to take the lead investigator out of the game, or the investigation into just how Fantomas is getting gold from the sealed bank vaults, it is a fabulously well done comic. But for every set-piece where things just work so well, there’s another that drags everything down once more.
But… even as I’m telling you how much of a disappointment it turns out to be in terms of thrilling narrative, I’m looking at it again putting this review together and falling in love once more with that stunning artwork. If only the story was a consistently wonderful, we’d have a book of the year on our hands. As it is, it’s a real missed opportunity, The Wrath of Fantômas goes down as one of those that should have been amazing.
The Wrath of Fantomas, inspired by the novels of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, written by Olivier Bocquet, art and colours by Julie Rocheleau.
Published by Titan Books.