From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fantômas is one of the most popular fictional arch-villains and master criminals in the history of French crime fiction. He is the creation of Marcel Allain (1885-1970) and Pierre Souvestre (1874-1914), a team of French writers. Fantômas was created in 1911 and appeared in a total of 32 volumes written by the two collaborators, then a subsequent 11 volumes written by Allain alone after Souvestre's death. The character was also the basis of various film, television, and comic books adaptations. His importance to the genre cannot be underestimated, as he represents the transition from the old-fashioned Gothic novel villains to modern-day serial killers. Blaise Cendrars called the Fantômas “the modern Aeneid”).
Fantômas is first and foremost a sociopath who enjoys killing in a sadistic fashion. He is totally ruthless, gives no mercy, and is loyal to none, not even his own children. He is a master of disguise, always appearing under an assumed identity, often that of a person whom he has murdered. Fantômas makes use of bizarre and improbable techniques in his crimes, such as plague-infested rats, giant snakes, and rooms that fill with sand.
Fantômas's background remains vague. He might be of British and/or French ancestry. Jean-Marc Lofficier has theorized that Fantômas may be the son of Rocambole and his lover and enemy, Ellen Palmure.  Fantômas appears to have been born in 1867. Later, it was revealed that his nemesis, Juve, is his twin brother.
In the books, it is established that c. 1892, the man who later became Fantômas called himself Archduke Juan North and operated in the German Principality of Heisse-Weimar. There he fathered a child, Vladimir, with an unidentified noblewoman. In circumstances unrevealed, he was arrested and sent to prison.
C. 1895, Fantômas was in India. There, an unidentified European woman gave birth to a baby girl, Hélène, whose father might be Fantômas, or an Indian Prince who was Fantômas' acolyte. The girl was raised in South Africa.
In 1899, he fought in the Second Boer War in South Africa under the name of Gurn. He fought in the Transvaal as an artillery sergeant under the command of Lord Roberts. He became aide-de-camp to Lord Edward Beltham of Scottwell Hill and fell in love with his younger wife, Lady Maud Beltham.
Upon their return to Europe, soon before the first novel begins (c. 1900), Gurn and Lady Beltham were surprised in their Paris love nest, Rue Levert, by her husband. Lord Beltham was about to shoot Maud when Gurn hit him with a hammer then strangled him.
Fantômas then impersonated Etienne Rambert and framed his son, Charles, for a murder he had committed. His adversary, the determined French police detective Juve, truly obsessed with his capture, exposed Fantômas and turned young Charles Rambert into a journalist, Jerôme Fandor, now working for La Capitale.
Lady Beltham remained constantly torn between her passion for the villain and her horror at his criminal schemes. She eventually committed suicide in 1910 after killing the son of one of Fantômas' earlier victims who was seeking revenge.
Fandor fell in love with Hélène and, despite Fantômas repeated attempts to break them up, married her.
Fantômas' evil son, Vladimir, reappeared in 1911. Vladimir's girl-friend was murdered by Fantômas and Vladimir himself was eventually shot by Juve.
Both Fantômas and Juve are reputed to have died aboard the Titanic in 1912.
By Allain & Souvestre
- 1. Fantômas (1911; transl. 1915; retransl. 1986)
- 2. Juve contre Fantômas (1911; transl. 1916; retransl. 1987)
- 3. Le Mort qui Tue (1911; transl. 1917)
- 4. L'Agent Secret (1911; transl. 1917)
- 5. Un Roi Prisonnier de Fantômas (1911; transl. 1919)
- 6. Le Policier Apache (1911; transl. 1924 by Alfred Allinson as The Long Arm of Fantômas)
- 7. Le Pendu de Londres (1911; transl. 1920)
- 8. La Fille de Fantômas (1911; transl. 2006 as The Daughter of Fantomas) (ISBN 1932983562)
- 9. Le Fiacre de Nuit (1911)
- 10. La Main Coupée (1911; transl. 1924 by Alfred Allinson as A Limb of Satan)
- 11. L'Arrestation de Fantômas (1912)
- 12. Le Magistrat Cambrioleur (1912)
- 13. La Livrée du Crime (1912)
- 14. La Mort de Juve (1912)
- 15. L'Evadée de Saint-Lazare (1912)
- 16. La Disparition de Fandor (1912)
- 17. Le Mariage de Fantômas (1912)
- 18. L'Assassin de Lady Beltham (1912)
- 19. La Guêpe Rouge (1912)
- 20. Les Souliers du Mort (1912)
- 21. Le Train Perdu (1912)
- 22. Les Amours d'un Prince (1912)
- 23. Le Bouquet Tragique (1912)
- 24. Le Jockey Masqué (1913)
- 25. Le Cercueil Vide (1913)
- 26. Le Faiseur de Reines (1913)
- 27. Le Cadavre Géant (1913)
- 28. Le Voleur d'Or (1913)
- 29. La Série Rouge (1913)
- 30. L'Hôtel du Crime (1913)
- 31. La Cravate de Chanvre (1913; transl 2010 by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier as The Death of Fantomas)
- 32. La Fin de Fantômas (1913; transl 2010 by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier as The Death of Fantomas)
By Marcel Allain
- 33. Fantômas est-il ressuscité? (1925; transl. 1925 by Alfred Allinson as The Lord of Terror)
- 34. Fantômas, Roi des Recéleurs (1926; transl. 1925 by Alfred Allinson as Juve in the Dock)
- 35. Fantômas en Danger (1926; transl. 1926 by Alfred Allinson as Fantômas Captured)
- 36. Fantômas prend sa Revanche (1926; transl. 1927 by Alfred Allinson as The Revenge of Fantômas)
- 37. Fantômas Attaque Fandor (1926; transl. 1928 by Alfred Allinson as Bulldog and Rats)
- 38. Si c'était Fantômas? (1933)
- 39. Oui, c'est Fantômas! (1934)
- 40. Fantômas Joue et Gagne (1935)
- 41. Fantômas Rencontre l'Amour (1946)
- 42. Fantômas Vole des Blondes (1948)
- 43. Fantômas Mène le Bal (1963)
- The original covers by Gino Starace are often considered works of lurid genius in themselves and may be seen at the Fantômas Lives site. The first Fantômas book cover, showing a contemplative masked man dressed in a dinner jacket and holding a dagger, boldly stepping over Paris, is so well known that it has become a visual cliché.
- The novel The Fantômas of Berlin aka The Yellow Document by Marcel Allain (1919) despite its title is not a Fantômas novel.
- The last novel written by Allain was published as a newspaper serial but never appeared in book form.
- During the 1980s, the first two novels of the series were published in revised English translations: Fantômas appeared in 1986 with an introduction by the American poet John Ashbery, and Juve contre Fantômas appeared in 1987 under the title The Silent Executioner with an introduction by the American artist Edward Gorey.
- In 2006, Mark P. Steele translated La Fille de Fantômas for American publisher Black Coat Press.