"Fatale: Book One - Death Chases Me" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Originally published as Fatale #1 - #5
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
2012, 138 Pages
Trade Paperback released on June 27th, 2012
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have proven time and time again that they can make terrific comics together. They've done it with Sleeper, Criminal, and Incognito, and now the pair have turned their attention to the horror genre with Fatale. Similar to their previous books, Fatale is a work of pulp fiction, pulling in aspects of old dime novels and film noir to tell a brand new story.
The comic centers on the mysterious Josephine, an ageless woman with a strange effect on any man who sets eyes on her. The story is broken up between two time periods. In present day, Nicolas Lash buries his godfather Dominic Raines where he first encounters Jo. It turns out that she knew Dominic back in the 1950s when he was going by his middle name "Hank." Nicolas is thrown into a struggle for power with his godfather's lost manuscript in the middle of it all. What does this story mean? And what secrets does Josephine hold?
|Click images to enlarge|
Fatale bounces between the two time periods in a very fluid way. The focus is definitely on Hank in the past while Nicolas is uncovering this information piece by piece in the present. Hank's path is one of complete destruction. Brubaker takes the character apart. Hank starts out as an honest reporter looking to expose corruption in the San Francisco police force. He's transformed after he meets Jo. He'll do anything for her including killing a man and cheating on his pregnant wife. Josephine has her own goals though and while she feels for Hank, she has ulterior motives.
Josephine is a complete mystery. She's tapped into some dark forces to stay young and she’s destroyed men’s lives along the way. She has a strange power that turns guys into complete jelly. If she makes eye contact with a man, he falls instantly in love with her and he'd stop at nothing to be with her. Fights start up because she glances at someone else in a bar. Someone is after her though. Jo has managed to stay under the radar for the past twenty years but her past is catching up to her. She doesn't seem to want to break these men but it's like she can't help it. This is the consequence of living forever. She can never truly get close to anyone again. Walter, a corrupt cop dying of cancer, is currently holding something over her and she's struggling to break free.
This noir story of intrigue would be great on its own, but Sean Phillips steps in to deliver some fantastic artwork. His style is a perfect match for this time period and the plot as a whole. Josephine in particular stands out. She's absolutely gorgeous with a hint of mystery about her. You can tell that she's hiding something behind those eyes, but you just don't care. Whatever it is can't be enough to take you away from her. It's easy to see why these men are fawning over her.
|Click images to enlarge|
Periodically we'll get a peek into Jo's mind. She experiences a recurring dream of World War II when she first met Walter. The first time this happens is startling. It's a full page spread depicting soldiers, Nazi cultists with crooked blades, and a strange Nazi soldier with a squid-like head and sharp, pointed teeth. As if there wasn't enough to wonder about Josephine, this image alone adds about a dozen more questions.
The horror in Fatale starts out very subtly with images like the one mentioned above. It's a slow burn in that regard, but when Brubaker flips the switch, it's like a punch to the gut. There's an event towards the end of the book that is downright horrific. To make matters worse, it happens off panel, so you only have your imagination and the characters' reactions to go by. Anything that Phillips could have put on the page pales in comparison to the things that come to mind based on the disgusted faces of the men looking at the photos of the scene.
Fatale is a great comic. It's a critically acclaimed book with a fantastic creative team. It's also a comic that I have difficulty telling you why I like it. The story is good and the art draws you in, but if some random guy asked me what it was about I'd have trouble answering him. It's an immersive experience and one that gets better with multiple readings. Josephine's story is far from over and I honestly don't know if it will ever be fully told. Brubaker has left a lot of mystery surrounding the character to date. That's a great thing for storytelling, but as an obsessive fan, I want to know everything about her, especially her secret origin.