By Arpad Okay. If you’re an impassioned comics history nerd, you might recognize the name “Fantomah.” She was the first comic book superheroine. Imbued with magical powers. Ghastly changer of form. Straight out of 1940. But that’s not quite who we’re talking about in this Chapterhouse debut. Ray Fawkes and Soo Lee have reimagined Fantomah, and though some things have stayed the same… superhero? She sure doesn’t feel like it.
Hair of ice. Antifreeze veins visible through translucent flesh. Screaming cobalt skull. She kills criminals. She defends the powerless. But this, this isn’t Batman. This is a nightmare. It feels disarming, and the suffering its heroine undergoes is all too plausible… until the story is swallowed by the supernatural and the impossible comes to pass.
The new Fantomah feels more like magical realism than anything else.
There’s no definite moment when you’ve passed from the real to the paranormal, no midnight strike of the clock or another obvious omen. But something more than murder has happened to Paz Gallegos. Once the line is crossed, the floodgates are broken. Murders happen, and they occur with quantity, in earnest.
Paz is having a rough day — a terrible one. Her father can’t be found. She can’t catch a break. Microaggressions at work. Creepy catcallers rolling though the neighborhood. Strange visions of the bleak and fabulous. Her younger sisters, precocious twins, go missing. She becomes a vessel for cold-blooded revenge. La Llorona through the looking glass.
The unrelenting atmosphere of doom lays comfortably coiled in Soo Lee’s artwork. Her indie linework is expressive and professional, electric. Her color choices are unique and powerful. They are the jewel tones of an overcast sky, not the magic hour beauty of dusk found in many contemporary cool tone palettes. Lee captures the falling darkness.
The colors, the screentone textures underneath that obscure purity of negative space, the ashy smudges and blotchy black spots that lay on top as if the pages were handled by burnt fingers, all of it makes for vibes rich and foreboding. The religious iconography throughout the issue, nuns, crosses, memorial altars, they too serve as dark messengers of mortality. On the bridge, the black car follows. It’s unnerving. It’s effective, affecting.
Fantomah in 2017 is no superhero comic. Nor is it a straight horror title. What awaits you in this read is the origin story of a dark avenger, a mystery that begs to be explored.
Written by Ray Fawkes.
Art by Soo Lee.
Letters by Andrew Thomas.
8 out of 10