It all depends on how you choose to view it:
Fatale is a crime comic. It features square-jawed tough guys making goo-goo eyes at beautiful dames with curling, jet-black tresses and fine suits and shotguns and embittered, trench-coat wearing cops and broad-shouldered goons.
Fatale is a horror comic. It features gorily murdered cult members and magic rituals and seemingly immortal beings and occultism and Nazis with Lovecraftian monster heads.
Writer Ed Brubaker, in his afterword to this debut issue of this new ongoing comic, describes Fatale as his long-gestating attempt at a horror comic, a “series that would blend mythology and history and horror and magic.” He initially couldn’t make it work. He felt like he was trying to be somebody else, faking at being some other writer. Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips had to really work their way into this book, smuggle the ideas above into their style, their “voice.” And this idea of voice here is the key – Fatale is very much a product of the team that brought us Sleeper, Criminal and Incognito, it looks and reads like a Brubaker/Phillips production. So it is, in other words, a very smooth mash-up of genres and ideas.
Opening with a line straight out of a classic noir, “So here’s how my life went off the tracks one day,” the debut issue of Fatale packs in a lot of story and a good dollop of intrigue. On the first page we meet Nicholas Lash at the funeral of his godfather, pulp writer and atheist Dominic Raines. There, Lash (complete with a white streak through his hair – a wink in the direction of Jack Kirby’s Jason Blood perhaps?) meets Jo, granddaughter of Raines’ ex-lover. Lash is immediately besotted and “dumbstruck” in classic noir moron style. From here, we discover a “lost” Raines manuscript and bald, shotgun-toting thugs are hot on the duo’s heels. One insane car chase later and we move to 1956, where a woman named Josephine meets a reporter named Hank. Hank’s digging into some history involving Josephine and her lover, an ageing, bent cop named Walter. He falls for Josephine instantly. Josephine can see it in his eyes (and so can we thanks to the skillful penmanship of Sean Phillips – never has a lovestruck fool looked quite so dopey), and she thinks “Why are men such damned fools?” Presumably, Jo and Josephine are one in the same, and she has no control over her power to make men go weak-kneed.
That’s more than enough plot, I think, but there’s a lot more packed in to issue one to keep you guessing, don’t worry.
It’s obviously far too early to call this a classic work, but as much as I love the team’s Criminal, and I love it a lot, I occasionally find it a touch too self-conscious. Fatale, with its injection of Lovecraftian weirdness and over-the-top hijinks (the aforementioned car chase features a plane) to the duo’s formula, has helped to, at least in this first issue, sidestep my minor quibble.
Phillips is in fine form and clearly having a good time. We could debate endlessly his model for Jo/Josephine (Rita Hayworth? Jane Russell?); either way the character charms.
Brubaker’s script cleverly re-inserts the idea of the femme fatale into, what will be for many, the realm of relevance. Her charms are supernatural, she seemingly has no control over her appeal and the actions that the dummies that fall for her subsequently take. Whether or not Brubaker chooses to sidestep the manipulation that almost always comes with the character of the femme fatale remains to be seen, but Fatale comes at an interesting time critically, as there’s debate over the long-term worth of this archetype/stereotype (however you choose to view her) and whether or not we need a fatale-free crime fiction world. Personally, I love fatales, whether they be femme or homme, I care not. If you’ve never been made ridiculously hot under the collar by someone, if you’ve never done stupid things for someone, then I genuinely pity you. Going out and robbing banks for them or, in Fatale’s case, going up against immortal Nazi-monsters (or whatever they will turn out to be), is an obviously fictional extension of this idea, but genre fiction, at its best, is an examination of common motivations banging right up against other common motivations, just with the sex and violence heightened. Or, as in the pages of Fatale, with the sex, the violence, the Predator heads and ritual murders heightened.
Check it out. It’s a helluva debut issue and I’m curious how far through the Lovecraft Looking Glass of Love Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips will take us.
+Cameron Ashley lives and works in Brunswick, Australia. Aside from the local bar staff who know him too well, he toils away in obscurity on numerous pulpy projects, including Crime Factory. He lived in Japan from 2003-2006 and still works through his bizarre bi-polar love/hate (mainly love these days) for the place through his column at this site. Join him as he works it all out.