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

The Story: Nick and Jo engage in a little…what’s the opposite of sexual healing?

The Review: Even though I’m a self-confessed romantic, there’s one thing about modern-day romance that never fails to irritate me: when someone decides to set aside a perfectly functional, stable, loving relationship just because they’re not “feeling it.” And that doesn’t even compare to the outright dismay I feel when that same person decides they feel it a lot more with someone who practically lives in a city of red flags. Call me a downer, but that doesn’t sound much like love to me.

That’s pretty much the situation Nick finds himself in now with Jo. He claims that what he feels for her renders all past dalliances as pathetic imitations, that it’s enough to make all the pain she’s made him go through, even to the point of mutilation, worth it. I’m inclined to be skeptical, but once the two finally get it on, the experience is so mind-blowingly fantastic, so sublime and ethereal, that even I’m halfway convinced that they’re not just having sex, but making love.

Phillips and Breitweiser’s astronomic visuals for the sequence have much to do with that—more on this later—but Brubaker actually changes the nature of his writing to reinforce the perfect ecstasy Nick feels. The words themselves become hyperbolic, gushing with imagery, but it’s the shuddering, persistent rhythm of the text, riddled with Dickinsonian dashes, that suggests intercourse. It’s more poetry than anything else, which is ideal for the experience Brubaker tries to capture:

“Time skips like a needle on a record– Every moment—every touch—echoing before and after – A million times over—Her soft laughter—reverberating from every corner of the universe – As we entwine ourselves through its heart—”

Amazing as this sounds, in the end it still ends up being an act of self-preservation, if not outright manipulation, on Jo’s part. Given what Jo is, she really doesn’t need to give up her body to anyone to make them do what she wants; she has foreplay for that. When she decides to have sex with anyone, it’s usually an act of pity or grief, a way to forget her own troubles, exorcise someone else’s, or, as with Nick, to reward her loves for the use she makes of them.

It sounds cruel, and it is, but as the glimpses into her life here and in prior issues demonstrate, Jo never asked for any of this. Her life (if you can call it that) as a femme fatale began only because she, too, fell for the wrong guy,* and it’s only gotten progressively worse since. The loss of her husband—Nick’s uncle, apparently—was just the start of beginning of the many broken hearts she’d nurse over the years, but the tragedy that drives her to despair is the realization that no one, not even her own son, is spared from her corrupting nature.

Yet even death is no escape. Supposing she finally manages to actually die, what awaits her afterward is possibly even worse than the horrors she’s experienced in life. Perhaps these are the “masters” Sommerset mentioned last issue, the ones alleged to create the never-ending, painful alternative to the oblivion one usually experiences upon death? Even so, Jo is willing to do whatever it takes to end, not win this cycle, though it’s unclear if even she fully grasps what will happen if she loses.

Phillips’ celestial depiction of Nick and Jo’s intercourse is certainly raw and transcendent at the same time, taking them to the edge of the universe and out of their bodies and back. But Phillips also proves that he has greater affinity with the grotesque than the beautiful; by far the most striking visual in the issue is the tear in Jo’s lovemaking space, through which the “masters” peer out with a multitude of eyes, tentacles, claws, and fangs. They have no definite shape; like the monster you used to imagine hiding in the dark corner of your room, but now lurk in your subconscious, they are a vague but oppressive entity that you only want to shield your eyes from. Breitweiser makes the most of her rare opportunity to liven up Fatale‘s usual darkness; her psychedelic colors during Nick and Jo’s lovemaking scene are positively orgasmic, radiating in a varicolored spectrum from a halo about their bodies.

Conclusion: The most complex portrayal of sex you’ll ever see, revealing its ecstatic heights and anguished depths.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Jo knows better now, I’m sure, but seriously—when a man calls you “Baby Cakes,” that’s a dealbreaker.