YOU SHALL DIE BY YOUR OWN EVIL CREATION !
Or maybe shan’t. Since the version of Fantomah we’re covering here isn’t the original by Hank Fletcher. But the 1942-44 version by a pseudonymous author.
Still, this article assumes that you’ve read the character profile for the original, 1940 Fantomah.
It’s a jungle out there
One staple of 1930s and 1940s pulps and comics was expiesFictional character heavily based on another character.. Once a character became successful, other writers had to line up a knockoff version PDQ.
E.R. Burroughs’ Tarzan (1912) in particular was a big, lasting hit. By the 1940s and 1950s the whole “jungle adventures” industry was still running full steam. That included Fiction House’s Jungle Comics, where both versions of Fantomah appeared.
In 1937 was born a subgenre with Fiction House’s Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Who was very much a “OK, we’ll do a Tarzan-like strip for you, but *our* Tarzan will be… (dramatic music swells) A GIRL ! (gasps from the audience)” move.
Jungle queen characters had both the appeal of the “jungle adventure” genre, *and* a pin-up drawing in any panel featuring the heroine ! Therefore, this type of stories also endured for a few decades.
However, it — and most “exotic adventures” subgenres — suffered when the colonial empires crumbled.
Tales of “the jungle” were now harder to frame as an immaterial, out-of-time fantasy laced with imperialist and racist themes.
Marvel had a jungle queen character — Shanna the She-Devil — still active during the 1970s. But “exotic adventure” characters mostly survived if they could cling to a different hook. Such as Ka-Zar becoming more of a dinosaurs guy, or Bob Morane pivoting more toward sci-fi and thrillers.
(Fantomah could have clung. In that she has a whole other angle than colonialism – she’s a wizard.)
Another small jungle queen resurgence would take place in the 2000s, by doubling down on the pin-up art aspect.
The most marvelous woman ever known
I’d crudely distinguish three versions of Fantomah :
- The early 1940 original, by distinctive author Hank Fletcher.
- The features by other authors that followed in Jungle Comics. Which I haven’t read yet because I’m not made of time, Patsy.
- The 1942-44 rebranding as “Fantomah, Daughter of the Pharaohs”. Which we’re going to cover here. We could also call her the “Hovious Fantomah”, after the writer’s pseudonym.
There doesn’t seem to be continuity between Fantomah v3 and Fantomah v1. So I guess she can be considered a rebooted version.
(There were also modern appearances, Fantomah now being in the public domain. First Devil’s Due (2010), then Eric Larsen’s Savage Dragon #209, then Dynamite in 2016 have added stories about her. She even popped up in two Pathfinder: Worldscape comic books).
The article being comprehensive, it is slightly above our “comfortably readable in one sitting” limit.
It therefore comes in two parts. The second half is there.
- Real Name: Unrevealed, possibly Fantomah.
- Known Relatives: El Hamid the wise (father, deceased). Fantomah is descended from an unspecified pharaonic dynasty, but only King Amun el Bab is mentioned.
- Group Affiliation: Ruler of Khefra.
- Base of Operations: Khefra.
- Height: 5’4″ (1.62m). Weight: 110 lbs. (50 Kg.).
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: White, then red, then sometimes black.
Powers & Abilities
Fantomah is presumably skilled at jungle survival, and seems to be in great shape.
The Daughter of the Pharaohs might have powers of intuition, especially when it comes to Ancient Egyptian divine magic. But it’s extremely vague.
She is a charismatic ruler, projecting regalness and legitimacy.
Fantomah has an unusual rapport with big cats.
One caption assures us that she possesses “sinous strength”, because captions are bad at spelling.
Stabbing opponents in the heart is her signature move. She therefore tends to win fights in one blow, unless her opponents have Hero PointsDC Heroes RPG concept expressing narrative importance/immunity..
Fantomah is usually armed with a dagger. It’s sharp, and Fantomah excels both at fast-draws and at using it in self-defence.
Issue #32 reveals that Fantomah is trained in jiu jitsu. If you ask me, all the best Ancient Egyptian queens are. And she can throw a mean punch, though her dagger is more efficient.
Fantomah is often accompanied by her black panther, Fury. The beast is a capable bodyguard – especially since he’s a very light sleeper.
Fury can also reliably and quickly track down Fantomah by scent. For instance, when she goes missing.
This panther’s apparent size varies a fair bit. As a loose average, I’d suggest 75kg (165 lbs.). An above-average specimen, but not huge either.
As time passes, Fury is drawn increasingly larger and stronger. Eventually, he enters the weight class of an adult lioness.
Over time, Fury also starts displaying “wonder dog” level acumen. For instance, roaring and charging to panic enemy camels, then using the chaos to bite through ropes to free captured allied soldiers.
Spelling it out
Fantomah can cast magic spells by invoking Ancient Egyptian gods. And brandishing a crook, if she has one. So I guess that in AD&D terms she’s a cleric.
The formula is that she only uses one spell per (short) story, to suddenly turn the tables. So most of the time she operates with her jungle queen skills, and her magic is the one-shot, “I win” ace up her figurative sleeve.
Examples of spells include :
- Turning falling boulders into dense clouds. Then back into boulders after she had them slowly rise.
- Summoning deadly packs of sacred dogs… from the jungle ! Oddly, these look like English greyhounds. But cursory research leads to mentions of comparable breeds in the prehistoric Middle East, so I guess it’s OK.
- Turning a score of warriors into dust and bones.
- Turning four warriors into sacred vultures serving the goddess Nekhbet.
There is an unstated theme of Fantomah’s magic following the law of sympathy.
- The rocks can become clouds, because they’re in the air.
- The dogs can be summoned, because it’s to avenge the death of a sacred dog.
- The warriors can be turned into dust, because they are disguised as mummies.
- Other warriors can be turned into/possessed by sacred vultures, because they serve a priestess who betrayed vulture-headed Nekhbet.
Then Fantomah just stops using magic. I’d imagine that the writer behind the “W.B. Hovious” pen name changed at that point.
Spells are thus only part of her early career. After that she never casts a single spell, even when in deadly peril.
Interview with the empire
Everybody in the setting speaks the same language. That’s not surprising given the time and genre of the stories.
But as a gesture toward suspension of disbelief, we’ll assume in the game stats that it’s something that Fantomah does using low-key magic. Even after she stops using visible spells.
This also greatly helps with a scene where Fantomah recognises and speaks an ancient version of the language, from 10,000 years in the past. Over such a vast span, any language would be utterly unrecognisable. Even to Hoshi Sato.
Let’s go with a early 1940s sound. Something American, since Fantomah’s “African” setting is but a papier-mâché décor.
Formulaically that’d be big band music. So let’s go with a big-time rendition of “(I’ve got a gal in) Kalamazoo” by Glenn Miller and orchestra. Plus then-high-profile guests, such as the flash-dancing Nicholas Brothers .
Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games
As with the original Fantomah, the adventures of the Hovious Fantomah take place in an ill-defined “jungle”.
It’s vaguely African, but it’s a mish-mash of just about everything jungle-y. Including India.
There’s a certain attention toward the Ancient Egyptian aspects of the story. Presumably, the writers and artists had 1930s Egyptology books.
But almost nothing else is anchored in actual geography. In typical early XXth Century fashion, “the Colonies” are an indistinct Elsewhere populated by savages. And mostly known through propaganda and adverts by colonial powers and companies.
Most characters in Fantomah are White.
There are Black politiesGeneral term for an organised group (a tribe, a democracy, a theocracy…)., but it feels like they’re a minority population in Darkest Africa™. Furthermore, they are by essence hostile toward the White characters, unless they have been vanquished and cowed.
(We do glimpse a few Black characters in Fantomah’s city, but they seem to be enslaved – or at least servants. One possible exception is the royal scribe. In later stories there are more Black folks, which might be because Khefra’s territory expands.)
The jungle in these Fantomah stories is near an Ancient Egyptian burg called “Khefra”. Which evokes Kufra in Southern Libya.
But in any case, we have the issue of a decided lack of jungles anywhere near Egypt, due to the Sahara thing (no relation).
Perhaps Khefra was a lost, secret Ancient Egyptian colony in central Ethiopia. This area has both some lush tropical forests, and one of the few populations of black panthers (okay, “melanistic leopards”) outside of Southern Asia.
The Ethiopian hypothesis is chiefly useful if you want to anchor the Fantomah tales in an actually-existing area. It’s not well-supported by the material, as the material supports little.
Khefra has an “Hollywood Ancient Egyptian” population, regalia and architecture. The gods of Ancient Egypt are worshipped there.
At first, Khefra seems to have but a light city guard. But it is later revealed that they also have an actual military, fielding the master weapon of Ancient Egypt — war chariots. Unexpectedly, many of the charioteers are women – but we only see them once.
Khefra is allied with at least two other Ancient-Egyptian-ish kingdoms :
- That of Thut-Ah-Mose, King of the Lower River. The ambassador from Thut’s realm has much darker skin than Khefrans, and his clothing looks Arabic.
- That of the Queen of Ghaz.
Blue moongates, red moongates
In the profile for Fantomah enemy Jebba, writeups.org suggests assuming a system of moongates (as in the older Ultima video games) for this setting.
These teleportation gates allow for handwaving away the geographical impossibilities. Including some huge ones, such as :
- Lal Maraj (a character from faux-India) living hours away from Khefra *and* from faux-Bedouin raiders.
- Khefra *also* being fairly close to a faux-Berber kingdom, and having a Mediterranean coast.
- Khefra having once occupied some faux-Chinese area.
- Fantomah being trained in jiu jitsu (specifically described as such).
The specifics aren’t important. We know that the setting has magic, we want to keep the story as intact as possible, so we postulate some off-panel magical travel means for persons with specific knowledge.
There are of course alternative approaches. Such as deciding that Fantomah’s adventures never took place on Earth in the first place. Or in a completely different timeline where Khefra covered most of North-Eastern Africa and the Middle East.
A question of time
There’s next to no chronological marker in Fantomah’s adventures.
But it seems to take place before black powder is introduced, and well before the “scramble for Africa” imperialistic surge of the late 1800s.
My guess would be that she’s active during the 1700s.
Fantomah is a jungle queen type. She runs around an unspecified jungle, with a pet panther, a knife and unobtrusive attire. It’s a lifestyle.
Her command of jiu jitsu might hint at her previous adventures.
We eventually learn that her father El Hamid the wise died when she was a baby. He was an adventurer until he was called to take his throne in Khefra. El Hamid presumably fathered Fantomah soon after, then died.
(“El hamid” does mean “the revered, the praiseworthy” in Arabic — ٱلْحَمِيدُ. It’s one of the 99 kenningsA metaphorical/poetic phrase used instead of a thing/person’s plain old name. for Allah, so you’ll usually encounter it as the name Abd El Hamid (“servant of the revered one, by which I mean God”).
Hark, a vagrant
One day, a mysterious hooded man locates Fantomah in the jungle. He gives her Ancient Egyptian attire. Then tells her that she’s the daughter of the pharaohs – and that her people in Khefra needs her.
Sensing that he’s telling the truth, Fantomah accepts the clothes and her destiny.
(The Khefran Empire reportedly fell 500 years prior, because of greed. It was then largely destroyed by expeditions from rival powers in India.)
However, the hooded man is then slain by N’Gulo – an enemy of Khefrans. Fantomah runs away, crossing strange mountains until she finds the Hidden Valley. Therein lies the Ancient Egyptian burg of Khefra.
The populace recognises her as Daughter of the Pharaohs. But an evil little twerp seeds doubt. Therefore, only a score of warriors — led by a suitably handsome bloke named Horus — agree to serve her.
Though this force would have been crushed, Fantomah’s magic brings victory. The Khefran populace is won over by this, and hails the Daughter of the Pharaohs as their Queen.
Téma la taille du Khéfra
However, Fantomah had other enemies within. She repeatedly foiled attempts at sedition by two priests – Wosret head priest of Anubis, and Ghazia head priestess of Nekhbet.
For details, see Ghazia’s character profile.
The daughter of the Pharaohs then clashes with another jungle queen, Jebba and her Congo “Mazaans” (amazons). For details, see Jebba’s character profile.
Khefra was then attacked by two of its enemies — S’Dunu’s tribe of headhunters, and Hassim and his bedouin bandits. Together, they were strong enough to take the Hidden Valley. However :
- The Mazaans had just decided to adopt Fantomah as their new Queen. And had little hesitation in wading into the battle.
- The “Hindoo chief” Lal Maraj and his cadre of Indian elephant riders also reinforced Khefran forces. This panicked Hassim’s cavalry, ensuring a Khefran victory.
Source of Character: 1940s Jungle Comics issues (#27-51) from Fiction House.
Helper(s): Quiof Thrul, Darci. And as always, a big thanks to those scanning public domain comic books such as Jungle Comics – it’s a lot of work.
Writeup completed on the 10th of October, 2021.