"Fatale: The Deluxe Edition – Volume One" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Originally published as Fatale #1 - #10
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
2012, 315 Pages
Graphic novel released on March 18th, 2014
The femme fatale is often painted in a harsh light in film and novels. She's conniving, manipulative, and always out for herself. She is willing to use anyone to suit her needs and she's ready to break any man to do it. But what about her story? What if she can't help it? What if there's something dark lurking within her that is causing this? Fatale, a recent collaboration between writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, puts the female in the center of the story with an intriguing result. Josephine (aka Jo) is a tortured yet seemingly immortal soul. She has a mysterious effect on the men she encounters, where they'll do anything to be with her, including murder and basically ruining their lives altogether. She's been doing this for years and never aging. This effect is so potent that she often has to live in exclusion, staying away from almost all human contact for fear of what might happen should a man's eyes catch hers.
There's something far more sinister at work within Fatale though. Jo is the victim, trying to escape from a yet to be seen event in her past. She can't help the things that happen around her when she's out and about, but she is also doing what she has to do to survive. If getting a man to cheat on his pregnant wife with her gets her closer to freedom from the dark forces chasing her, then so be it. And boy are they dark. Lurking in the shadows is a cult-like group searching for Josephine by using methods like human sacrifice and communicating with ancient gods, one of which may or may not be Cthulhu.
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This deluxe hardcover includes the first two story arcs of Fatale, previously published as two trade paperbacks. The first arc, “Death Chases Me,” finds Nicolas Lash at the funeral of his godfather Dominic Raines. He meets Josephine and discovers a lost manuscript written by Raines that seems insane. Lash goes down a rabbit hole that leads to him losing a leg and ultimately searching into Raines' past in 1956 and for clues to Jo's whereabouts. Lash's story is told in interludes with the main tale seen in flashback as you watch Raines' life fall apart after he gets involved with Jo. Chapter by chapter he becomes more and more unhinged, willing to do increasingly dangerous activities that lead to bloodshed.
The second story, “The Devil's Business,” picks up in 1978 with a C-level actor names Miles, who gets caught up in some rough business from the Method Church once he finds a bizarre sex film. They want it and they're willing to kill for it. He runs into Josephine – now living in seclusion in a large house in the hills – while on the run, and falls under her spell. She uses him to get something back from the Church and leaves a lot of dead bodies in her wake. There are some tidbits of Jo's past that are revealed, but she's still cloaked in mystery.
Brubaker fills Fatale with perfect dialogue and narration that could be taken from a classic film noir. “Just thinking her name was like a punch in the guts,” describes how Raines feels when he first gets pulled into Jo's life. Then you've got pieces like, “She'd feel the cold tendrils of the universe touch what was left of her heart then,” when Jo is looking for an important item that might set her free. How can you not love that?
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The beauty of a comic like Fatale is that it pulls you in so subtly that you don't even notice it. Much like Josephine's powers, you'll start to read this collection only to look up after finishing it and notice that two hours have gone by. Brubaker reveals pieces of Jo's background slowly. Although there are definitely more questions than answers in these first ten issues, the story is riveting and impossible to turn away from.
While Brubaker's writing is enough to keep you entertained, it's Sean Phillips' artwork that amplifies the entire Fatale experience. He'll make you nostalgic for a time period you never lived in. Phillips' pencils are reminiscent of the film noir era with tough-as-nails men and gorgeous and powerful women. There's a comfort level that comes from his art that makes the supernatural elements all the more shocking. Suddenly seeing a man with a squid-like face pop up wielding a machine gun is startling. You can understand why people in Lovecraft stories go insane after seeing something like that. It's unnatural and doesn't belong in this kind of world, so your mind can't process it.
Phillips also turned in some amazing covers for each of the issues collected here. There's a full cover gallery included at the tail end of the book. Each is worthy of framing and hanging on a wall. He manages to include the mystery of the main character with a hint of the supernatural sometimes literally creeping in around her. My favorite is the cover for issue #9, which features Jo against a hedge with what looks like an Elvis impersonator trying to kiss her. The hedge shows the shadows of tentacles looming nearby.
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This collection also includes two essays by Jess Nevins, previously only available in the single issue releases. The first is about H.P. Lovecraft and the second about Edgar Allan Poe. Each essay is accompanied by a beautiful image by Phillips. While only two of the ten essays are featured, all ten of Phillips' images are included. There's also a pretty cool Fatale “trailer”, which is basically a movie trailer in comic book form that Brubaker and Phillips put together to tease the book. Finally, there's some sketches from Phillips as well as discussion about the creative process.
Fatale is an incredible comic. It's gripping and filled with intrigue. There's horror creeping in around the edges of this world that makes it all the more scary. Jo's alluring effect on men works on the reader as well. You can't help but get wrapped up in her life and want to know more. While her actions have consequences, she's still very much the victim and you want to do anything you can to help her. Or maybe that's just what she wants you to think.