Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Jim's Comic Reviews: Fatale (collected trades, Book One: Death Chases Me and Book 2: The Devil's Business)

Many reading this are already familiar with Ed Brubaker's work at the big two publishing houses, and were dismayed (perhaps only momentarily) by his announcement mid-year to part ways with Marvel.  His iconic runs on Captain America and Winter Soldier stand out in recent memory, the latter of which continued until just last month.  Rumors surrounded various possible creative paths Brubaker could take, but comics fans were assuaged in November, when he announced his intention to turn Image Comics' Fatale into an ongoing series The title,  another collaborative effort between Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, was originally intended for three parts in perhaps fourteen issues.  

I'm late to the party on this title, but here to review the first two trades:  Book One:  Death Chases Me, and Book 2:  The Devil's Business, collecting issues 1-5 and 6-10, respectively.

Book One introduces us to the character of Josephine, central figure of the story and a woman of some mystery.  It's gradually revealed that she's been around this world longer than your average human is entitled, and sinister supernatural forces are both her strength and her nemeses.  She exhibits an almost hypnotic power over men, who are drawn to her like moths to a flame.  Three such men, Nick, Dominick, and Walter, form chapters in her long life, each coming to know her romantically, finding himself in her thrall, and falling prey in some way to the strange and evil figures who pursue her through the decades.  Book Two delves further into Josephine's history, giving snippets and clues as to her nature and that of her pursuers, a midst a more urgent tone.

Brubaker's storytelling, at the onset, seems eerily disjointed.  As the plot thickens, however, the episodic and out-of-sync narrative falls into a skittish rhythm that lends to the air of noir and mystery.  It's absolutely thick with inter-twining fates and plot threads spanning the years, and paced expertly to deliver in every chapter.  Part of the richness is delivered through the settings, from the 50's detective noir that dominates Book One, to a drug-centric, post-hippie view of the 70's in Book Two. It's in Book Two, particularly, where I took note of just how much the period was in evidence in the tale. Here, the cult-spawning pop culture fascination with figures like the Manson family, and the drug-fueled orgies that belie the cultural innocence lost in the previous decade, are the backdrop for something even more sinister.  It's amazing how the tone of the story is tweaked carefully from one decade to the next, and how Brubaker's conscious use of verbal idioms and other indicators in the dialogue and character actions plant the story firmly in those periods.

Phillips' art lends well to this story.  Although I wouldn't like him for some of the more flashy super-hero types, I think he's well suited for period pieces, horror and noir, with his thick shadows, carefully selected essential details, and expressive faces, all telling no more and no less than that which is useful to story and mood.  This guy moves faces masterfully, and each simple line is crafted to belie tone, emotion, ethnicity, lighting, and even the uncanny madness of the Lovecraftian villains.  He's got that indispensable skill of an artist that allows you to almost see the photo-realism he imagined beneath the simple, stylized lines he delivers.  Panel sizes are small and lean towards a more dense narrative than most modern comics.  At times I wished for more novel layouts, but when the story is this thick, the art must follow.

Finally, the careful, often muted color tones delivered by Dave Stewart are perfect for this story.  There were one or two instances where I wished I was seeing more widely ranged use of color, but I'd hesitate to recommend him anything in that regard lest the story suffer for more detail than is necessary.  The eye is drawn to the right places, and the color composition all lends to story flow, and, well, it's just wonderful.

Lest I gush further, let me just say that I'm thoroughly loving this tale: It has the best elements of a pulp novel mixed in with some awesome imagery and epic plot.  I'm hopeful for any way the work might continue into at least another year, as I feel the story has the legs (no pun intended) to do it.  It's a definite recommended read from me.            


  1. I've got the first story arc stock-piled (along with some many others). Seems like it's time for me to dig it out, check it out, and decide if I'm going to follow this book. Your review makes a convincing case for doing so.

  2. @pghead You won't be disappointed...Brubaker's running circles around most writers in the industry, imho, and having a title and characters unbound by reams of continuity, where he can craft it from the ground up and stretch his storytelling legs, is showcasing what he can do.