SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Fatale #2 (of 12)A comic review article by: Shawn Hill, Nick Boisson, Jason Sacks
Shawn: What I'm finding most interesting about this series (aside from the beautiful art and the near perfect coloring) is the agency provided Josephine. Though apparently a kind of immortal succubus who can cloud men's minds, she's not getting the more stereotypical treatment of femme fatales from actual film noirs. Usually those are at the very least chronic liars, or murderous sociopaths or canny manipulators acting out of greed (i.e., prostitutes). Rarely understood, they are more often beguiling enigmas that lead the male characters to their dooms.
Ed Brubaker isn't letting us see Josephine that way, despite showing us what happens to both a long-time accomplice of hers and to her new recruit. We're also, unusually, getting inside her head a little, hearing her thoughts as she takes actions that she feels forced to take (for her own survival) but that she regrets. She's getting to be a character in her own story, and that's probably the most modern part of this otherwise old-fashioned noir. I believe her when she says she's sorry for what's become of the old man, even as she rifles through his belongings looking for a hidden artifact.
Nick: It seems like Brubaker and Phillips are going for something a bit different than what they're used to and what we all expect from them. A noirish tale of crime and dames? Yes. They've done it. We've seen it. And if they were doing it again, we'd probably be reading it. But, a noirish tale of crime with dames that live indefinitely, causing men to bend their lives to her will and Lovecraftian monsters that hide on the fringes of society, causing men to kill one another and themselves all for the sake of evil? Not exactly something we've seen yet.
Josephine is the living archetype of the "femme fatale." She could very well be the one that started it all. But what is great about this issue -- Chapter 2 of a 12-part series -- is that we get a glimpse of who she is and how she feels about what she is. Femme fatales have always gotten their men to do unspeakable things for them. What makes Josephine and Fatale, as a series, interesting is why she is doing it all: survival.
Shawn: It makes her sort of like that fictional analog that is simultaneous to the femme fatale, I guess, but predates the noir genre: the vampire. Don't we always end up sympathizing with those devils, just a little bit, from Camilla to Dracula to his Daughter right on up to Lestat, Jean-Claude and Edward? For all their arcane power, they're also all too human with their thwarted desires and needs and their numerous vulnerabilities.
Jason: Josephine is a true vamp, both in the sense of a femme fatale who uses sex to advance her own ambitions, and as a supernatural bloodsucker. I guess that metaphor is implicit in the term vamp, but this might be the first time I can remember seeing the term vamp being used literally. Josephine is a fascinating mix of vulnerability and confidence, intelligence and manipulation; you buy her as the kind of woman who might drive a man to leave his pregnant wife or another man to trust her in a high-speed chase between a car and an airplane in Issue #1.
Shawn: As Nick says, it's mixing that sort of supernatural spin with the noir setting that is making this series read so fresh; usually in these Hollywood tales of corruption, if the supernatural does appear, it's a ruse and fakeout or an evidence of Manson-ish delusion. Not so for this tale, where demons fight with cops.
Nick: Yeah. In most noirs, the demons tend to be the cops. We get those, sure. But, as the narrator says, we also get a "real monster" to worry about.
Jason: Especially since we're all so used to Brubaker and Phillips creating noir works that are very much grounded in reality. Even their great Sleeper, which put superheroes in a noir environment, played down the powers and played up the noir. That series was about as real as it can be. So we're primed to expect this creative team to downplay the horror elements of a story like this.
So when we get moments like Booker's visit with Bishop in the park, and there's talk about extending life and implicit deals with the devil, we know that Brubaker is being literal and not metaphorical. This gives a line like "It was his sacrifice that brought us together. But don't worry, he was one of ours… not yours." A much more eerie feel than a much more frightening aspect than would be the case in a book like Criminal. And of course, it makes the final page of this issue really intense and fraught with peril.
Nick: It's interesting that you bring up a line like that, Jason. One thing that you notice while reading this comic is how loaded many of the lines are. Whether in dialogue or narration, so much more is being shared than what is actually said. Brubaker can pack a lot into a single line.
But what truly compliments Brubaker's script is Sean Phillips' art. This is far from their first rodeo, but these two put some fantastic things on paper! What I have always loved about Phillips' work is how he manages to capture whatever time period the book is set in. Honestly, the pages here look like they were ripped right out of a 1950s pulp book. Josephine herself looks both like every girl you've seen on the cover of a pulp magazine and like no girl you've ever seen before.
And the use of chiaroscuro by Phillips and colorist, Dave Stewart, make for some of the best panels I've seen out of a comic in years. The one where Josephine is zipping up her dress. Or the one where we see the monster's eye and tongue come out on Bishop's face. Or the one with Hank walking the San Francisco city street at night. Oh, I could go on and on! I won't... but I damn well could.
Jason: One thing that's always been true of the Brubaker/Phillips collaboration is a tremendous level of professionalism and craftsmanship. Everything in their stories is in that story for a purpose. Every line of text reinforces a point that Brubaker wants to make, every line that Phillips adds to his art is there for a reason. And now with Dave Stewart present on the coloring, the coloring just adds to that impression.
I totally agree with the list that you present above, Nick, but I think my favorite is on Page 20 of Issue #2. Notice how Bishop's eyes seem to just have a tiny touch of redness to them? There's so much implied by those red eyes, and that small implication will have resonance, I'm sure, as this story unfolds.
We know from reading previous comics by this team that they'll bring this story to a strong and interesting conclusion. We can guess where it will go, and how the modern story will intersect with the flashback. It feels like there's a lot of foreshadowing here -- with an emphasis on the shadows.
Shawn: Oh, I think they've got a complete world in mind. This is clearly not a "making it up as we go along" sort of story. Everyone, from Joe to the Bishop to the crazy cultists is a part of a larger tapestry. And she's the sort of rich character, I can even see flashbacks through the centuries, visits to the far future, there's a lot one can do once all the players and their tendencies are established. We've already covered 50 years, two issues in, with none of the mysteries even close to solved. Few of the characters are all that likable, maybe poor Mrs. Raines … but we know what happens to nice people in film noirs.
Nick: I am looking forward to seeing how this story unfolds. With Josephine being immortal, the story is ripe with possibilities. When this arc ends, where will the story go from there? Back to Nicolas Lash and the consequences of his meeting Jo? Over to World War II, when Josephine and Walter Booker meet for the first time? Another time, maybe when Josephine first became the femme fatale? And we still don't know what this "heirloom" of hers is and why it is so important. Is it what is keeping her perpetually young? The source of her power, as it were? Ugh, so many questions! Where is Issue #3?
Fatale is looking like it'll run longer than even Criminal (and hopefully more frequently) and, at this point, I know I'll be around until the very end. Especially if it continues to stay as consistently fantastic as it is right now. But, given their track record, I am not too worried about that.
Jason: Fatale really shows the promise of being part of a much larger tapestry with lots more stories to come. The only concern for me is that working on this series will take away from their work on Criminal, which I love.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at @nitroslick.
Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.