by Ed Brubaker (writing), Sean Phillips (art), and Dave Stewart (colors)
The Story: Mysterious assassins in bowler hats! Exploding airplanes! Cultists! Nazis!
The Review: Breathe a sigh of relief: Fatale is just as good as you were hoping it might be and only further substantiates the fact that the team of Brubaker and Phillips can do no wrong.
However, Fatale is a very different beast from Criminal, Incognito, or Sleeper. While, by Brubaker’s own admission, all of these series were meant to be distillations of everything he and Phillips love about comics, nowhere does this feel truer than Fatale. This is clearly a book where Brubaker and Phillips have thrown together all the stuff they enjoy and the result is a book that feels exciting.
This is particularly the case when it comes to the books genre. At different points, it’s a noir/crime comic, a mystery, a horror, and a pulpy action/spy comic. Really, in one issue, Brubaker touch upon so many different sorts of pulp fiction that it’s actually mind-boggling that this actually coheres. But cohere it does, and what we get is one very unique and compelling kind of beast. It’s a hybrid of all these genres with all of their various strengths. The horror elements are gruesome, the action/spy stuff is exciting, and the crime/mystery elements tantalize.
And really, what all this leads to is a comic where you never know what to expect. You’re never sure when and where the high-spots will come. As such, Fatale is a book that keeps you riveted and keeps you reading. On one page, you get a thrilling car chase reminiscent of the famous airplane sequence in North by Northwest, at other points you get that psychological, moody narration fans of Criminal will be familiar with, and then, flip the page, and you’ve got gruesome Satanic rituals and hints of the paranormal, and mysterious Nazi flashbacks. Fatale is truly a book that is full of turbulence, constantly throwing you for a loop yet always keeping you anchored to its world and it’s developing story. Not only do you not know what to expect, but Brubaker leaves us with so many fascinating questions. In many ways, it’s a crime and noir comic where the presence of the paranormal makes anything possible.
Then there’s the artwork and really, together with Dave Stewart, this is an outstanding performance by Phillips, even by his lofty standards. From the layouts, to the positioning in the panels, to the tone of the artwork itself, this is more than the dark, bluesy stuff from Criminal or the pulp sci-fi exuberance of Incognito. Fatale has a very different, very subtle feel all its one. There’s a constant sense of paranoia and desperation to Phillips’ artwork that will keep you nailed to your seat as much as Brubaker’s script will.
I think some readers may wish that there weren’t so many mysteries or unanswered questions or that Brubaker advanced the plot a little more or made it a little more clear where we’re going or what exactly that plot is. While I can understand this, it doesn’t refute how much you get here. Few comics can so effectively balance smart, psychological character-work, replete with the Criminal-styled heart-straining, desperate, pained romantic narration, with such a healthy slab of the batshit crazy. Action, horror, and mystery/crime come together here in a way that’s simply exciting and bubbling over with creative potential.
Conclusion: It’s an appetizer, certainly, but Fatale is most definitely a book to be excited about. This isn’t one to trade-wait, let alone miss.