By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)
The Story: It’s not a good idea to sneak into a Nazi camp armed with just a pretty face.
The Review: The one nice thing about striking a bunch of titles from your pull list is that it frees up some funds to try out new ones. For me, I’d heard a great deal about Fatale, nearly all of it good, so after having recently Dropped Constantine, Demon Knights, and Katana, it seemed like a prime opportunity to pick up the series. Besides, I’m a real sucker for the supernatural and classic pulp, and Fatale seems to promise both in great abundance.
My timing couldn’t have been better. As it turns out, this issue is something of a transition chapter, a flashback to Josephine’s earlier days. In many ways, it could have very well served as a debut issue, as it quickly introduces you to our lead, the series’ premise, and some of its most important mysteries. On the same note, however, if you’re a long-time reader of Fatale, it’s entirely possible the developments in this issue will be redundant to you.
Still, I can’t imagine Brubaker would give such a clean introduction of Walt Booker, American sergeant stationed in Romania during WWII, unless he was new to all readers. In the grand scheme of things, Walt is an important figure in the story, but not really a compelling character in himself. He exists entirely to be of use to Josephine, and the story essentially confirms that by allowing him to find a map which compels him to her at a moment of crisis. The fact that he’s a somewhat extraordinary person himself is minimized; it merely allows himself to be of more capable assistance to Jo, nothing more.
This is really a pity because I’d appreciate any bit of material that’ll give me a better handle on how the paranormal forces in this series work. The monsters and golems are easy enough to grasp, but not so much the actual magic—although Brubaker is very careful never to call it as such in the issue. Instead, he applies strict use of metaphor and euphemism to give us an outline of this secret world that only certain people can see: “Like she saw more colors in it…and shadows that came alive and cast darker shadows of their own,” “There was a small glow that her, like a vapor trail,” “Symbols that would keep her hidden… Words that would help her see the gears of the universe.”
By doing so, Brubaker indicates that this world beneath the world is, even to the relative experts, a poorly understood thing. Mirela, the old woman who mentors Jo, admits, “I can see the unseen world…but I don’t know its reasons.” The ones who know more, the Thule Society, Hitler’s “mystic priests,” seem to come by their knowledge by losing their humanity altogether—or they never had any to begin with, if the genital-less creatures rising from a steaming cesspool in an underground cavern show anything.
So this seems to leave Jo in a strange, in-between sort of state. Her general appearance, mentality, and vulnerability are all that of a typical human, regardless of the abilities she gains from her “curse.” Yet her immortality and unnatural beauty—Walt suffers physically from looking at her (“It hits him in the throat first…and then the chest… He almost feels like he’s going to throw up…”)—hints that she’s something else entirely, something “blasphemous” even to a monstrous creature.
Phillips falls in the same dark, spidery style as Eduardo Risso. Even though the linework looks a bit loose in some areas, it still delivers a functional, evocative image in the style of the impressionists. In fact, certain panels, like Jo and Mirela walking across a bridge in Romania, look almost like a setting drawn by Manet, which adds to the European flavor of the issue. But in sequences like Jo’s imprisonment in an underground temple, Phillips shows that he’s clearly rooted in the pulp tradition, especially with Breitweiser’s warm, earthy, sensual coloring.
Conclusion: If you’re new to the title, like me, then this issue offers a perfect jumping-on point with plenty of good information to chew on. For the veterans, I suspect this issue will be diverting, but not necessarily revelatory.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Brubaker, you’re a great writer, but this overuse of ellipses is killing me, man.
– I appreciate the references to “spears of destiny and hammers of gods” in the Nazis’ arcane pursuits. It goes to show that the Nazis really did like to have all their bases covered.