Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Masked Avenger

Some Heroes are primarily inspired by their desire to seek Vengeance on those who have wronged them or theirs. One common pattern involves the hero donning a Mask and assuming a new identify to pursue evildoers; nonfantasy examples include The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Green Hornet, Zorro and The Lone Ranger; an MA with fantasy overtones is the Comic-strip hero The Phantom. But the MA has also veered into pure fantasy, first with The Shadow – a crimefighter without supernatural powers in his pulp Magazine, but granted the hypnotic power to "cloud men's minds" in his popular radio series – and then Batman.

In one version of the pattern, the hero is literally murdered but returns to life in a new identity: the Sunday-supplement comics hero The Spirit (> Will Eisner) gains a new identity but no new powers from his Resurrection, but the comic-book hero The Spectre is returned to Earth by God with virtually unlimited magical powers to fight crime; when revived in the 1970s, the character became a truly grim avenger, usually killing evildoers. Other examples are the 1960s comic-book hero Deadman, a murdered circus acrobat who takes over other people's bodies, and the comic-book and movie hero of The Crow (1994).

Alternatively, the hero is not killed but horribly disfigured, the disfigurement being in effect a mask. The early comic-book figure The Heap, created by writer Harry Stein and artist Mort Leav in Hillman's Air Fighters #3 (1942), was one such. His more famous descendant was the comic-book and movie hero Swamp Thing; also relevant is the hero of the movie Darkman (1990). A prominent avenger who is both deformed and masked is, of course, Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. In such incarnations the MA resembles the divided Jekyll and Hyde figure, as observed most clearly, perhaps, in the comic-book and tv hero The Incredible Hulk.

The MA offers rich possibilities for exploration, since he essentially is a good character created by evil circumstances – a point driven home in the climactic confrontation between Batman and The Joker in Batman (1989; > Batman Movies). His obsessive drive for vengeance can make such a hero seem more like an Antihero, or even a Villain; the idea arises that a fight against Evil pursued with excessive zeal might itself become evil. [GW]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.