By: Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (art), and Dave Stewart (colors)

The Story: Battles rage in secret tunnels under the city with cultists and Cthulian squid-men aplenty.

The Review: One of the things that has made Fatale such an alluring series is the constant sense of horrible, unknown things lurking just beyond what we know or are aware of in the comic.  This month, in the final issue of the first storyarc, Brubaker lets us peek behind the curtain.  In other words, we actually get to see the cultist society in action, we get to see the secret tunnels that exist beneath the city, and we get to see Bishop’s true face.  Thus far, we’ve only really seen the surface levels with hints of Lovecraftian hoodoo below, but here, Brubaker lets us see what lurks beneath.  There’s a sense in which Brubaker is letting us see what he’s been hiding from us for the past few months, only ever letting us use our imaginations, and the result is immensely satisfying.

Moreover, this issue works so well because of the complete difference in pacing.  When the horrors beneath the surface of the city and the powers of Bishop were only ever hinted at, the series felled taut and controlled.  Now, however, that we’ve stepped behind, or rather below, the curtain, that control is completely lost.  Action and violence abound and what we get is 27-pages of non-stop thrills, twists, and excitement.  It’s an absolutely wild read completely juxtaposed to the past few issues.  The fascade of hints, dread, and control has been lifted and instead, Brubaker and Phillips immerse in a breathless frenzy of mayhem.

In letting us see the workings of the cultists and Bishop, Brubaker and Phillips again hammer home the perfect fusion of horror and noir that is Fatale.  Bishop and the cultists in particular have a creepy, but also pulpy feel.  In many cases, this is Phillips as usual, but it’s also Phillips expanding his range to draw a horror book which, in itself, never ceases to amaze and tantalize.  I also loved how Phillips drew Jo this month, which was a testament to just how crucial the artist is to the storytelling of a comic.  Phillips’ illustrations of Jo and her facial expressions alone work wonders in making her a human and sympathetic character, perhaps even more than Brubaker’s script manages.

Speaking of sympathetic characters, there’s also a HUGE twist regarding Booker.  As per usual, it’s a case of Brubaker refusing to give us a totally happy ending and also refusing to keep the story at all formulaic.  It’s a surprisingly human turn for the character and leads to an ending that is far more emotionally impactful and tragic than anything that could’ve resulted had Brubaker simply gone the expected route.

While this issue is one that has Brubaker letting us see the underside that he’s only hinted at thus far, there are still many mysteries in play, some of which are only freshly teased by this issue.  For instance, while we see Bishop for what he is, we get mentions of higher powers, things even more monstrous and massive.  Furthermore, while Jo’s effect on men is gone into a bit more, the question of what exactly she is and how she got that way looms large, with the ambiguous nature of the relic Booker delivers to her only heightening curiosity.  In other words, Brubaker doesn’t show us all his cards; hell, at best, he just showed us a hand so briefly, that we know a couple of cards are red.

Conclusion: Thrilling, page-turning, breathless, desperate, and ultimately, a punch to the gut.  In other words, it’s another great Brubaker/Phillips comic.

Grade: A

– Alex Evans