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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Fantomas versus
the Multinational Vampires

Julio Cortázar

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires

Title: Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires
Author: Julio Cortázar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1975 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 87 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires - US
Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales - US
Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires - UK
Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires - Canada
Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires - India
Fantômas contre les vampires des multinationales - France
Fantomas gegen die multinationalen Vampire - Deutschland
Fantomas contro i vampiri multinazionali - Italia
Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales - España
  • An Attainable Utopia
  • Spanish title: Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales
  • Translated and with an Afterword by David Kurnick

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Our Assessment:

A : brilliant small piece of meta-literary political fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 18/8/2014 .
World Lit. Today . 5-8/2015 Michael A. Morrison

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though fairly short, the volume is ceaselessly interesting, alternating between comic book pages (taken from an actual Fantomas comic story), drawings, photographs, and traditional text, and showcasing the late author's penchant for surrealism and experimentation. Simultaneously funny and damning (...) the novella is a quick, engaging read, sure to please the author's many fans." - Publishers Weekly

  • "But the tone of the later work is nothing like the playfulness of Fantomas and the Multinational Vampires." - Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Fantômas, the creation of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre (in their 1911 novel and then dozens of sequels), was appropriated and re-imagined in the Mexican comic-books series, Fantomas, la amenaza elegante. Issue 201 of the comic book-series, La inteligencia en llamas, finds Fantomas battling a plot to destroy all the books in the world -- Operation 'Gabriel's Sword'. Part of the story has Fantomas calling on leading intellectual lights of the day -- Susan Sontag, Alberto Moravia, Octavio Paz, and Julio Cortázar -- as he tries to figure out what's going on and what can be done about it. Cortázar was given the comic by a friend, and inspired to write this short novel, integrating the comic-story into his own (as several pages and panels from the comic are used as illustrations -- and, indeed, part of the story -- in Cortázar's novel).
       Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires finds 'the narrator' (as Cortázar consistently refers to himself -- he doesn't present the story in the first person) picking up a copy of the comic at a newsstand as he rushes to catch the train back to Paris from Brussels, where he had been participating in the 1975 Second Russell Tribunal, on Repression in Brazil, Chile, and Latin America (the book includes an Appendix with the Tribunal-findings0. He's embarrassed to be seen reading a comic book in the train, but this story of bibliocide -- the large-scale destruction and disappearance of books everywhere -- makes for a decent plot; still, distracted by the attractive , high-heeled woman opposite him, he only gets so far in the story before they arrive in Paris. He soon finds out the comic is more true-to-life than seems possible, getting a call from Susan Sontag when he arrives home -- amusingly getting ahead of himself, as he hasn't quite gotten to that point in the comic-book story; Sontag tells him to go on reading until he's caught up and then call her back.
       Here then the narrator finds himself -- the 'great Argentine writer' Julio Cortázar (though mistakenly here described as a Barcelona-resident) -- figuring in the comic-story, which then overlaps with real life, as he discusses what is going on with fellow characters Sontag, Moravia, and Paz, and is visited by Fantomas (who has a thing for grand and messy entrances and exits). It's a wonderfully done meta-narrative, with pages from the comic interspersed with the narrator's own account, the story weaving back and forth across both.
       From an angry Sontag, laid up in hospital with two broken legs (as she is in the comic-story) to Moravia bemoaning the loss of all his books -- "Porca madonna, my books !!" ("At least all the bad ones have disappeared, too", the narrator consoles him ...) -- Cortázar has good fun with his colleagues. But the book-destruction plot of the comic is only half the story here, as Cortázar takes it as a starting point and goes on from there. As he has Sontag tells the narrator:

Now he and many more are realizing that the destruction of the libraries was just a prologue. It's too bad I'm no good at drawing -- if I were I'd hurry up and prepare the second part of the story, the real story. It'll be less attractive to readers without the pictures.
       While he has no more comic-book-panels to offer, Cortázar does intersperse the rest of the text -- to good and often funny effect -- with other illustrations.
       As the narrator learned from the testimony at the Russell Tribunal, the powers that be (ab)use the political and financial might they have globally, in a conspiracy not aimed at ridding the world of books but of a different sort of consolidation and domination. A bit simply summing up, the narrator tells Fantomas: "If you want a summary, I can give it to you in one word: multinationals" -- and he refers him to the Appendix, with the conclusions of the Tribunal providing amble evidence of the widespread wrong-doing.
       Sontag notes that it's about much more than books:
What are books compared to those who read them, Julio ? What are whole libraries worth if they're only available to a few ? This is a trap for us intellectuals, too. We get more upset about the loss of a single book than about hunger in Ethiopia -- it's logical and understandable and monstrous at the same time.
       Even the comic book hero -- despite the support of a large community -- is stymied by the forces he faces once he takes on the bigger foe: "Days and days of international action and it looks like things are hardly changing at all". But Cortázar is genuinely optimistic, and he nicely ties up his story, convinced utopias are, in fact, attainable.
       Cortázar's use of the source material (and the circumstances) is brilliant, but Cortázar's creation also goes beyond that. While written with a deep sense of conviction, Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires isn't insistently preachy; Cortázar doesn't need to get into too many specifics, because the specifics are so clear (and many are listed, also, in the Appendix, in the disturbing summary-findings of the Tribunal). And while he does lead readers through the issues, Cortázar also offers a bizarrely, gloriously entertaining mini-adventure story -- which is also often very funny.
       Early on the narrator considers. once again:
just how difficult it was to achieve that equilibrium in which life ceases being a representation of itself and is just itself through and through.
       Faced with a representation of himself -- as a comic book character -- Cortázar offers up another, presenting himself as protagonist (but not in the first person ...). Trying to process the harrowing testimony he had just heard at the Tribunal, as well as the greater awful reality of 1975 global politics, Cortázar examines life as representation, and tries to get to life: "just itself through and through". It's beautifully done, the result: a work of meta-fiction that doesn't try to do too much and yet accomplishes far more than most pieces of writing and that is, on its own small level, practically perfect.
       Its small size, and subject-specificity, make Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires only a minor classic, but it is both a fascinating oddity and a true masterpiece.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 September 2014

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Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires: Reviews: Fantômas: Julio Cortázar: Other books by Julio Cortázar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) was born in Brussels, and lived in France from 1951 onwards. He is the author of numerous acclaimed experimental works.

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© 2014-2015 the complete review

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