By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)

The Story: Jo demonstrates her own brand of vigilante justice by kissing a serial murderer.

The Review: Coming on this title as late as I did, I never got much of a chance to see Jo as she presently stands, which is to say, at her most competent.  Not that being vulnerable has made her any less dangerous; if the fates of Amsterdam are anything to go by, Jo can definitely bring the “fatal” in “fatale.”  But that’s only made me even more interested in seeing how Jo handles herself when she has all her physical and mental faculties in order.

Unsurprisingly, she’s much more calculating.  From the outset, Brubaker reveals that Jo would have been fine with Nick languishing in jail until she was ready to use him: “She wasn’t supposed to be out here yet at all.  But when she heard about Nicholas Lash’s escape from custody, her carefully laid plans went right out the window.”  She rescues Nick not really out of true affection, but simply because she needs him for some other purpose.

This is a much colder Jo than the one I’ve seen in recent issues.  Indeed, there’s a direct contrast between the Jo who comforted the boy Wulf in #17 and the Jo who flings an even younger boy—in footie pajamas, no less—out of a car and drives off, despite his pleas for her to stay.  But this seeming act of cruelty is actually the sincerest kind of mercy Jo can give to any male in her life.  The uncontrollable nature of her powers means that no man is spared their maddening effects, and only by removing herself can Jo give these unfortunates a thin possibility of moving on.

Jo, however, has no such hope for herself.  Even though she’s made countless men suffer, she hasn’t been spared from suffering, either.  Indeed, she’s reached the bottom of despair many times, as her multiple suicides (seventeen, at the last count) attest.  Jo’s immortality is no gift; it hasn’t made her immune to the perils of life and in fact has sealed off what would be an ordinary human’s final escape route from pain and consequence.  Her suicides exemplify, in graphic detail, the horror described in detached, philosophical fashion by the issue’s opening quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science: the “eternal hourglass of existence.”

In many ways, the hourglass metaphor reflects the repetition that pervades this series.  Even a relative newcomer like me can quickly catch on to the typical Fatale scenario: Jo meets a man; he falls in lust with her; he dies/goes insane/is left desperate; Jo hardens her heart/weeps.  Written by almost anyone else, I’m sure I would’ve tired of this formula long ago, but somehow Brubaker manages to keep it a little fresh each time.  Lance’s torture of Nick is essentially a copy of what Wulf did to Lance, yet they still feel like different experiences, perhaps because Brubaker takes such care in crafting each man’s individuality.  Nonetheless, none of these guys have managed to overcome Jo’s influence to any significant degree, which means the narrative is at risk of getting too rote.  You’d like to think Nick’s suspicion of Jo’s plans for him signals more resistance to come, but if past trends are anything to go by, his questions will remain just that: questions he asks himself even as she leads him helplessly on.

If you ask me to describe the art of Fatale in one word, I’d immediately respond, “Noir.”  I say this even though Breitweiser’s coloring can often be bright and vivid, far from the grayscale monochromes we typically associate with the noir style.  There’s just something about the way Phillips works with light and dark that reminds you of the old-school crime thrillers.  Moreover, the darkness that perpetually stains the characters’ faces seems to visually represent the shadow Jo casts over them.  Notice that no darkness ever seems to fall on Jo herself.

Conclusion: Never has the darker side of fiction seemed so appealing as under Brubaker and Phillips’ creative prowess, even if it gets a touch predictable at times.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Hey, Jo, how about not wandering into random bars?  That way, you can avoid all those pawing hands and also not drive someone crazy.