Ruth Mayer holds the Chair of American Studies at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany. Her most recent book publication is Serial Fu Manchu: The Chinese Super-Villain and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology (Temple University Press, 2014). She is a member of the research unit "Popular Seriality: Aesthetics and Practice" (Berlin-Hannover-Göttingen), where she is currently directing a project on the cultural productivity of film serials from 1910 to 1940.
When Fantômas, the futuristic master criminal and terrorist, first enters the stage of modern mass culture in 1911, he complies with the associations raised by his name and does not really take shape. Phantomlike, he gives evidence of his existence through his actions rather than personal appearances. Like other famous creatures appearing on the mass cultural scene of the day—Dracula comes to mind—Fantômas proceeds through dispersal, diffusion, and distraction, figuring forth a flickering presence, not yet here and already gone.