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Fatale, Book 1: Death Chases Me Paperback – July 10, 2012
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The top-notch team of Brubaker and Phillips (known for their collaborations on Criminal and Sleeper) launch another series that gives familiar tropes an entertaining tweak. In present time, Nicolas Lash, executor of author Dominic Raines’ estate, discovers an unpublished manuscript mere moments before shotgun-toting bad guys pull up out front. Then Jo, a woman he met at the funeral, appears out of nowhere to rescue him. Jump back to San Francisco, 1956, and we’re witnessing events from Raines’ book, starting with a young reporter trying to get a scoop from a beautiful woman about her corrupt-cop boyfriend. But any resemblance to standard detective fare ends there, as the creators mix in magic, cults, human sacrifice, and the possibility of eternal life to create a potent cocktail with any number of twists. Brubaker doesn’t write a word more than necessary, and Phillips’ scenery has all the right angles, evoking a film-noir feel without slavish imitation. If the words “last call” make you think of “The Call of Cthulu,” this is your kind of hard-boiled tale. --Keir Graff
Fatale: Book One (Death Chases Me)
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Image (Diamond, dist.), $14.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-60706-563-0
The minute Nicolas Lash encounters Jo, femme fatale extraordinaire with more dark secrets than Faust, things go from bad to worse in this captivating noir. Occult forces and gut-wrenching horror collide in 1950s San Francisco, as a corrupt cop and a smitten reporter go toe-to-toe over Jo, an ageless beauty with the looks of a Vargas girl and the heart of a rattle snake, who is desperate to escape the grasp of a satanic cult and their demonic, shape-shifting leader. Graced with a suspenseful plot that has more twists and turns than an alpine road, and deliberately understated artwork, Fatale boasts both intrigue and an atmosphere that feels as densely bleak as a San Francisco mist at the tip of Fisherman's Wharf at dawn. Colorist Dave Stewart deserves special mention for his subtle, highly evocative use of neutral tones and earthy shades. This is a universe of darkness and gray shadows, and the palette perfectly fits the angst-ridden, desolate, catch-22 world of supernatural horror the protagonists must face-off against. Immortality may be a double-edged sword, but it's one the intoxicating Jo wields with a boundless grace in this addictive page-turner. (July)
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Top Customer Reviews
What bothers me about the book that is apparent in this first volume but becomes a more looming problem as the book goes on: are we suppose to really sympathize with Josephine and the men who become obsess with her? The reasons why are never completely fleshed out, and while we see Josephine in multiple times at the same age in the book, there is no payoff for this in a complete and satisfying way either in this volume or the series as a whole.
While this grabbed me, and while I was interested in the characters, it didn't feel like the balance between noir, where Brubaker and Philips are obviously the most comfortable, and Lovecraftian horror really even mixed well and this let to a strange tone where I can't tell if we are suppose to read the heroes and heroine as sympathetic. I don't mind unsympathetic or even ambiguous protagonists, but I do have a hard time if I don't know if it is supposed to be ambiguous.
Still the concepts in the book are interesting, the art is amazing, and the dialogue is strong and appropriately pulpy. It's a very adult book, but doesn't feel extremely exploitative. I suppose it just feels like it could be more.
The tale in the present with one of our protagonists, Nicolas Lash, going to the funeral of his godfather Dominic Raines, a not-entirely-successful detective novelist. At the funeral, he meets a beautiful and mysterious woman named Josephine. He is immediately taken with her. He later goes to his godfather's old broken-down estate that was left to him and he finds an unpublished manuscript that puts his life in immediate danger. Lash is saved by the unexpected appearance of Josephine, but this is just the beginning of the danger for them. The unpublished manuscript is a hard-boiled crime novel that takes us back to the 1950's. It's about a crusading reporter, the two crooked cops he's trying to expose, bizarre and deadly cult murders, and a mysterious and beautiful woman that not only has a hold on one of the corrupt cops, but on the reporter as well.
Of course, the mysterious woman in the novel is Josephine, at the same age as she is in the present. She is presented as someone wounded and hounded, but who is predatory herself. She seems to avail herself to men with her own purposes and desires using not just her feminine wiles, but something not quite natural. And the men who love her will kill for her and will die for her.
One of the common complaints about FATALE is that people believe it isn't quite as advertised. A lot of people go into this book thinking that the horror aspects of the book are going to be there almost constantly, and this is a mistake. It was never promised to be a book that was going to be full-time horror noir. Is there horror? Absolutely, but it's not relentless, and that's one of the greatest things about this book. As the mystery of the comic unfolds, true horror seems always on the verge of being released, but is held back so that when it IS unleashed, it's unleashed for maximum impact, both on a visceral and emotional level, and that's something that all of the horror greats know how to do. What Brubaker and Phillips have given us with Josephine is truly the ultimate femme fatale; a woman that fits all of the attributes worthy of that title, but with a supernatural twist to it.
From a storytelling standpoint, it just doesn't get much better than this. Brubaker and Phillips have done some of the preeminent work in comics over the last decade or so. With titles like SLEEPER, CRIMINAL (in all its various story arcs), INCOGNITO, and now with FATALE, they prove that they devour crime and pulp tales and then twist them to make an original and utterly fantastic read. Artistically, Sean Phillips has always been the best art partner that Brubaker has ever had when it comes to the work that they do. It's moody, highly stylized, and extremely evocative. Also not to be left out is the magical work on colors by Dave Stewart. He's one of the best in the business, and it shows through and through on this book. As far as this volume is concerned, this collects the first five issues of FATALE and I'm deliriously happy that this will be a continuing series because when it comes to Brubaker, Phillips and great comics, it's never enough.
When all is said and done, it would be a "fatal" mistake for lovers of great comics to not be getting FATALE.
The artwork has a noir feel, nicely tinted in blues and purples except for the splashes of blood red when the story turns to gore. Characters are drawn realistically but they're stylized at the same time -- which is a pretty good trick. The art consistently held my attention even when the story seemed to be searching for an identity. Perhaps subsequent issues will bring the characters into sharper focus.