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

The Story: Flashing back to the 1930s, Jo goes out to the desert to meet a dying pulp writer whose creepy tales are a little too close for comfort.

The Review: Expanding beyond its initial maxi-series format,  Brubaker and Phillips make the absolute most of the done-in-one, making it tell a complete, self-contained story that nonetheless manages to have nice links to the rest of the series.

Much has been made of Fatale‘s Lovecraftian flavours, but this single issue feels by far the most Lovecraftian of all in its story-telling.  Not only does it hint at those lurking, greater evils that lurk just beneath the surface, only ever hinted at, but the pace and atmosphere also mirrors Lovecraft.  Namely, there’s an overarching dread to the comic; you’re always aware that there’s something really, really horrible just out of sight.  There’s one absolutely magical moment in the comic where I was actually afraid to turn the page, distressed at what would be revealed.  That is horror comics at its absolute finest.  It’s the sort of reading that grabs you by the throat and squeezes.

Furthering the Lovecraft feel is the sense of paranoid exoticism that also feeds into this book.  Brubaker does a great job of evoking the pulp horror trope of the evil paganism of exotic cultures, as well as the alienating spectacle of watching loved ones proceed to “go native.”  I realize that that theme has been rightfully pointed out as…not good…in our post-colonial world but in this case, it’s Brubaker calling back to a particular time and type of fiction and conjuring the uncomprehending dread that went along with it.

Another lovely thing that Brubaker and Phillips manage this month is that they leave things ambiguous in a manner that frustrates the reader…in a good way.  We want the truth, but we can’t get it because we require the characters to dig it up for us.  And when they are too overwhelmed by fear and strangeness to operate, they cannot deliver that for us.  Our tools are faulty and mysteries that are vital to us simply aren’t of the utmost importance to them.  Moreover, this ambiguity is a nice way of tucking things back behind the curtain after letting us have a quick look at what lurks behind it, thus keeping with the Lovecraftian mystery of the evils that lie below.  What results is that what we actually DO see ends up being utterly bewildering (for instance, the nature of that reveal I mentioned earlier).  It’s all so strange and so weird, and we’re not given any clear answers.  What the hell is up with the mother?  What was she and her cultish cohorts doing exactly in Mexico?  What was the nature of the cult-leaders’ powers and why was our main character immune to them?  We don’t know and in some ways, that’s for the best: it leaves us knowing that there’s a tapestry behind everything, linking everything together, but we just don’t know its exact colour and shape.  And frankly, the questions we’re left with are more rewarding than any answers we could have gotten: for instance, is it actually possible that there was once a MAN with Jo’s powers?

As you can probably tell from this review, this book is also delightfully meta.  Jo goes to confront a pulp writer about his horror stories and, locked in his house, not only is she told another pulp horror story by him, that so happens to be real, but by the issue’s end, she finds herself caught up in the “chiller” that his life has become.  She came to talk about stories, but ends up running from a house filled with inexplicable ghouls and monsters from a bad horror flick with its own gruesome, pulpy mythology, screaming down its steps at what she’s seen, much like a character in one of those classic pulp horror stories.

Conclusion: Fantastic stuff and quite possibly the most effective “horror” issue of Fatale yet.

Grade: A

-Alex Evans