Review: Fatale #1 by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Fatale #1
Book One – Death Chases Me

By: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Colored by:
Dave Stewart

Published by: Image
Cover Price: $2.99 (print copy seems to have a cover price of $3.50)

Note : This review is for the digital version of the comic available from Comixology

Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!

There are just some creative team combinations that you can put on any book, and I will check it out every time.  Ever since Sleeper, Brubaker and Phillips have been one of those teams for me. Sleeper and Criminal were both outstanding books. When I heard about Fatale, saw the creative team and that it had a bit of a horror twist to it, it was really hard to pass up.

So, what’s Fatale about? The creators have been a little closed mouth, just dropping hints. From Comic Book Resources:

While many fans are familiar with Brubaker and Phillips’ crime comics — “Criminal” and the super villain-inspired “Sleeper” and “Incognito” — “Fatale” gives readers a twist on the usual Brubaker/Phillips formula, adding elements of horror, H.P. Lovecraft and demon mobsters to the mix.

“I had been wanting to do a suspense or horror thing for a long time — I just couldn’t figure out a way to make it feel like me,” Brubaker said, who spoke with CBR during his “Fatale” book signing at the House Of Secrets comic book shop in Burbank California. Explaining that he wanted to examine the concept of “immortality,” Brubaker told CBR his initial attempts at writing about this theme were radically different from “Fatale,” and equally unsatisfying, both for himself and Phillips.

“It ended up too much like me trying to be like Neil Gaiman or something, so we put it aside and we came up with the idea to do ‘Criminal’ instead,” Brubaker said. However, the writer could not let go of the idea of immortality, or of writing a horror/crime mash-up.

“At some point in the last few year,s I realized if I did this weird mix of James M. Cain and H.P. Lovecraft, that’s more my voice. So, that was where the idea sprang from,” Brubaker said.

Summary (contains spoilers): Fatale starts in modern days, with a prolouge set at the funeral of a Dominic Raines. Raines seems to have been a writer of awful detective novels. The story is being narrated by Nicholas Lash, the son of Dominic’s only real friend…and the narrator informs us that Dad’s been in a institution for over a decade. That never bodes well.

At the funeral, Lash is approached by a woman, Jo, who wants to talk about the strange symbols on Raine’s tombstone:

I believe that’s the symbol for the Deathly Hallows. Clearly Raines was a wizard…Harry Potter reference for the win!

Jo says that her grandmother had the same symbol on her grave too, and that they were in love once. The symbols mark something private between them, some part of the past they just couldn’t let go of.

Later, Lash is going through Raine’s home (which he has inherited) and stumbles across an unpublished manuscript from before Raine’s first published novel:

Before, he can look at the manuscript, shadowy thugs arrive. Lash tries to run, but Jo bursts in and shoots the thugs. She claims she went there looking for something that belonged to her grandmother. Jo and Lash drive off, and it’s clear Jo knows more about what’s going on then she’s letting on. The thugs seem to have help, as an airplane is pursuing them. In one of the best examples of overkill ever, the plane dive bombs the car.

Lash wakes up in a hospital, with the manuscript and missing a leg. He finds a picture of a much younger Raines with Jo (who looks the same as she does know) tucked into the manuscript.

This brings us to Chapter 1, set in San Fransisco – 1956. Jo (she went by Josephine back then) is in a bar, waiting for a reporter named Hank Raines. The reporter is trying to track down information on a corrupt cop named Walter Booker, who seems to be one bad dude and has some kind of hold over Jo.

The scenes shifts to show Booker and his partner investigating a pretty gory murder scene.  There are decapitated bodies and occult symbology all over the place. Booker pockets a business card from the scene. He says that this place reminds him of his time in World War II, and we get a quick flashback showing that he first met Josephine during the War. We also see a quick glance of a demonic character in German military gear:

We find out that Raines has a pregnant wife at home, but he’s haunted by thoughts of Jo and Booker. He feels a drive to rescue her from whatever hold Booker has over her.

The card Booker stole from the crime scene has leads him to an opium den. We find out that Booker is dying of cancer and wants some of the magic Jo has which keeps her young.  Booker encounters the shadowy goons we saw during the prologue, and tells them that “I want to meet your boss and make a deal.”

Review: We only get a few teases in this issue about what is going on, which is definitely the right way to go.   Brubaker is a talented writer who can do a wide variety of styles, but his noir work is definitely my favorite.

Actually, this comic reminded me of why I like Bendis’s work so much on books like Jinx and Powers, and not as much on Avengers. Quick rapid fire panels, that provide sharp dialouge and lots of it on each page. Everything is about setting the right mood, and the writing and art work together brilliantly to pull that off.

Phillips is exactly the right artist for this book, giving the whole book a very dark edge to it. Even without anything real supernatural happening on panel (until we get to the World War II flashback(, you get the sense that there are evil things hiding just beneath the surface of what you are seeing. You wanna poke into the dark corners and see what’s there, even though you know it’s likely to be something pretty disturbing.

There is just a tremendous amount of foreboding as you read Fatale, and keep waiting to see where Brubaker and Phillips will be taking you next.

To be honest, it’s kind of tricky to give this book a fair review or final score. So much of it was lead up, and we don’t quite know how all the pieces fit together. We get hints, like a cursed manuscript, shadowy henchmen and a femme fatale who haven’t aged in 50 years, a quick glimpse of a demon fighting in World War II, and some hints about a “boss” who can grant immortality at a price.  But we just don’t know if this will all tie together in any kind of satisfying manner.

This issue was more about setting the stage and the mood of the book than giving any answers. I enjoyed it, a lot actually, but couldn’t really point my finger at any one particular element that I thought made it outstanding.

In my experience, books like this read a little better as trades. Locke & Key is one of my favorite books when I read it in trade, but issue by issue, I sort of feel like “That was it?”  Fatale was sort of leaning that way. I really wanted to see how things all fit together, and it was over before I really could see how things were shaping up.  I did end up reading it twice before I felt comfortable saying I could write a review for it.

That said, it was still a very good comic, with the potential to be something unique and great. I will be following this series on a monthly basis, but also will be rereading it in short chunks (probably 4 or 5 issues) at a time to see how it fits together. I suspect that this already very good book will be absolutely perfect when read that way. Highly recommended!

Final Score: 9.0 – I might be ranking this book too high, I am giving a lot of credit to the creative team’s past record and the potential of this series. That said, I still loved this first issue and want to see where this is going.

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