The Wrath of Fantomas – Olivier Bocquet & Julie Rocheleau (Hard Case Crime)

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It would seem that I’m not quite as steeped in pulp mythology as I once believed as I was, as up until yesterday, the only Fantomas I’d heard of, or knew, was Mike Patton’s blitzkrieg ultra-core assault unit.  I had no inkling, or idea that Fantomas was actually the godfather of every pulp villain who followed in his wake, and was more insidious, single-minded and brutal than all of his literary ancestors combined. A man of a hundred faces, is real identity is unknown even to those closest to him, his motives rarely seem to stretch further than self-aggrandisement and the nefarious pursuit of wealth and while there is undoubtedly a method to his madness and a pattern to his grand plan, the only person aware of either, is Fantomas himself. He was the world’s first supervillain, a man devoid of mercy and compassion in whose wake chaos, anarchy and destruction follow and he was a master of the most artistic and gruesome grand guignol. And after spending an afternoon in his company, and thanks to Bocquet and Rocheleau, I’ve become something of a fan.

A man with no moral compass, Fantomas’ indiscriminate and wanton love affair with mayhem is let loose in Bocquet’s historic story of revenge, doomed love and obsession.  Having finally been caught by his long time nemeses, the man of a hundred faces, Fantomas is sentenced to death by guillotine, a sentence carried out in public that brings his long reign of terror to an end. But even death can’t stop Fantomas, who seemingly returns from the grave and in a blood soaked, lightning fast tale of vengeance, the grandest of larceny and murder, solidifies his reputation as France’s foremost and most famous arch criminal. While Bocquet’s narrative is involving, dark and inventive and drags the reader into the obsidian beating heart of the story, it’s Julie Rocheleau’s sumptuous, washed out and slightly faded art that allows the tale to breathe, gives it a sense of period and the space to find its identity. The background players in Rocheleau’s noir inspired nightmare Paris appear as indistinct caricatures whose sole function is to provide a flesh canvas for Fantomas to enact his terrible scheme upon, while the main protagonists are the exquisitely detailed pieces that Bocquets’ plot moves around the board in order to thwart Fantomas desire.  A brooding, muscle bound tragedy, The Wrath of Fantomas is best read with the lights left on, as you never know who might be lurking in the shadows. Fantomas is waiting…  Tim Cundle

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