Fletcher Hanks: I shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
The amazing thing about Fletcher Hanks' stories is how they are at the same time repetitive and unique. Fantomah and Stardust are essentially the same vengeful god figure in different trappings, Stardust the science hero fighting organised crime, Fantomah the jungle goddess with magic powers. In almost every story some villain has big plans, and often a private army to carry them out.
And yet even though they may claim to be guarding or protecting the planet/jungle it is not until after the villain has caused great devestation and loss of life that the hero steps in, utterly destroying the villain in bizarre and peculiar ways. The biggest difference between Stardust and Fantomah is that Fantomah often warns the villain that the path he is taking will not be tolerated. Not that anyone ever pays attention to the flying girl (often just a disembodied head), and by the time those long blonde curls are framing a skull it's too late to say sorry.
But it is within the basic formula that Hanks' genius comes alive. Villains seek domination using invisible vacuum tubes or giants, invisible except for their flaming purple hands, or by pausing the rotation of the Earth to cause the entire population to be flung out into space. New York is a favourite target and gets bombed three times in this collection, as well as being attacked by a giant artificial tidal wave and a whirlwind, and in a Fantomah story, overrun by giant panthers.
If there is one thing that marks the storytelling out as being from the earliest days of the artform it is the lack of conflict. Hank's heroes are always so much more powerful than their enemies that the question is not so much "will our hero triumph?" as "what peculiar and ultimately terminal punishment will our hero hand out today once they have utterly crushed the villains' plans?"
And the punishment is often a big feature of the story. In some cases inflicting strange and unusual punishment on the villain takes up as much as half the pages.
It's a collection of strange and unusual ideas wrapped up in formulaic storylines.
But I still like Fantomah best.
Stardust and Fantoma behave like God- vast powers which are only used to punish, not to save. Basil Wolverton did a great Book of Revelation comic, but Fletcher would have been a natural.
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