Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Phantom in real life?

After watching 'Iron man' lately (awesome movie), and most recently running into a torrent containing all the old phantom comics I used to read when I was in school, I happen to recall myself back in the old days when I used to dream of being a masked crime fighter myself. I am referring to all those masked marvels who, unlike Superman and Spiderman, don't have any superpowers. Their only means of achieving their ends is their desire to do so. I never quite appreciated those superheroes, who go snooping around some radioactive stuff, and have theirs DNA altered to fly and grow webs out of their cavities, and neither did I credit any alien samples like superman, for the obvious reason, it never looks quite entertaining when you know for sure that its more likely you'd more often come across polar bears playing beach volleyball in Bahamas, rather than people shooting lasers out of their eyes. The idea of a guy with a normal DNA structure, mastering all the arts of combat and engagement, and roaming around in shadows at night, beating the shit out of deadly criminals and having successful sex with women having equally normal DNA structure, sound more pragmatic.

These masked marvels now have their own legacy. They have their own ideology. They have their own history and they have their own world of fantasy. But I realized that even if it is possible that such a phantom can exist, just because he is a regular guy who masters death by sheer physical training, it really doesn't mean he will, and that such and idea even if physically possible is still a fantasy. Could any man ever aspire to be a masked marvel in his life, rather than everything else people usually aspire to be? Why would anyne want to fight crime wearing a stupid costume in the first place? In order to help answer this question, let us therefore try to answer a easier question, which is "Did there ever exist such a man in human history who was a masked crime fighter ?"

To answer this question let us look into the history of such characters. Now there are many masked comic characters in the world. But we will consider four of the most popular characters which are :

The Phantom : 'The ghost who walks' as called by the pygmies, is a man who is dreaded by every pirate. His descendants take on his responsibility after his death, culminating a popular belief among his enemies that he cannot die. Kit Walker, is the 21st phantom in the Dynasty.

El Zorro (meaning 'the fox' in Spanish) : Diego is a son of an aristocrat who takes takes on
the Spanish government in Mexico to protect the oppressed.

Ironman : You should really watch the movie.

Batman : Billionare Bruce Wayne turns into a crimefighter after his parents are killed by a hijacker.

The most noticeable similarity between them all is that they are masked, and fight crime for fun. But this is not really going to help us. Let us take another careful look into their other aspects. They have two peculiar similarities, which can help our cause.

1. They are ridiculously wealthy:
Kit Walker (phantom) has treasure worth billions of dollars in his skull cave. Bruce Wayne (batman) and Johnny Stark (ironman), are industrialists, while Diego (zorro) is a Spanish aristocrat.

2. They all have a close servant or friend who knows their secret:
The Phantom has Guran as his servant; Batman has Alfred the butler; Ironman has actress Gwyneth Paltrow as his page; and finally Zorro has his little brother Bernard.

Taking in account these attributes, if we look among all the famous tales published in history, we can conclude that all these crimefighters are inspired from Baroness Orczy's classic, 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. Although the Scarlet Pimpernel doesn't wear a mask he is somewhat similar, in a sense that he is feared by all french police, and is resourceful and ingenious in planning. He is immensely rich and has a private valet called Frank who shares his secret. However, this really doesn't help us because the 'Scarlet Pimpernel' himself is a fantasy.

Now looking back at classics published before 'The Scarlet Pimpernel', we can see that the idea used by Baroness Orczy about a rich man with a loyal servant plotting against evildoers, is inspired from 'The Count of Monte Cristo' by Alexandre Dumas.

The Count of Monte Cristo is a young sailor named Edmond Dantes, who when engaged to a beautiful lady, becomes a victim of a conspiracy hatched by a jealous friend and three other rivals together, and is arrested for treason by the French government. He goes to prison, and meets a priest who teaches him the art of combat and bequeaths him a hidden treasure before dying. Soon Edmond escapes from the prison, retrieves the treasure, and thus becoming filthy rich enjoys his revenge in a hideous and deceptive manner masterminded in a cunning way against all those four men who robbed his life from him, and he eventually has them killed.

This story gentlemen, is no fantasy. Surely Dumas wouldn't be able to imagine such a bizarre plot all by himself without being inspired by a true story of similar manner, for it is always in real life that the most bizarre events happen rather than in stories. Dumas' novel is based on a story he retrieved from French police archives.

The novel is based on the life of Pierre Picaud. Picaud was a shoemaker in Nimes. He was engaged to marry a rich damsel, and could have actually married her if not for his three jealous friends who proved him to be a British spy. Picaud was sent to prison without knowing why he was arrested. In prison, he eventually found out the reason for his sentence. Jsut as in the novel, Picaud managed to dig a tunnel from his cell to another, and there he got acquainted with va priest called Father Torri. Torri died in prison, leaving Picaud with the knowledge of his wealth hidden in Milan. Picaud was eventually released from prison, and he went on to collect the treasure and return to France with a false identity. He then succesfully plotted his revenge against all the three friends in a highly brutal manner. There was a fourth friend calle Allut who did not play any part in Picaud's arrest, although he was aware of Picaud's innocence and didn't help. According to the records, this story was dictated to the police by the fourth friend, who later kidnapped Picaud and had him killed. It is not exactly known how Allut found out about Picaud's exploits in prison, because in the archives it is mentioned that, Father Torri's ghost told Allut about that. However this was not to be believed as Allut was on his deathbed while telling the police about this. Historians believe Picaud himself told Allut about his time in prison while he was in abduction. Except for the dodgy ghost mystery, the rest of story about Picaud's life is true.

Pierre Picaud wasn't exactly a crimefighter. Nevertheless many historians today believe that all the masked crimefighting stuff is indirectly inspired by him. I doubt Picaud might have realised he could have been more popular had he spent all that treasure from Milan into making a brand new Phantom costume for himself. But nevertheless his experience isn't an ordinary one, and he surely is the leading candidate for our real life Phantom.

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