By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)
The Story: Doomed by a beautiful woman’s kiss…
The Review: I’m kind of surprised to see the end come so soon, but I suppose allowances can’t be made just because I caught on to the series late. [Speaking of late, these reviews are late because I’ve been traveling—post-Bar relief, you know. More on that later.] Anyway, I have a feeling Brubaker realized that he was quickly reaching that limit when trying to plumb anything more from Fatale would just bum us out.
As you can probably expect, things don’t end very well for anybody in this series. In fact, they don’t end well at all. The more accurate evaluation of the situation is that things don’t end as badly as they could have for a couple people. [Spoiler alert!] While Nick and Jo do manage to survive the tribulations of the issue, there are scars. For Jo, all the years of her unnaturally long life finally catch up to her; Nick is left catatonic in an asylum, with Jo his sole visitor (and not for much longer, by her estimation). For all that, Jo reflects that “she’s the lucky one, not Nick. Because she got to escape.”
The implication, of course, is that Nick did not. Indeed, she expresses her regret to Otto about having ruined Nick’s life from the start, and ultimately, he gives up life, mind, and body almost strictly for her benefit, even as she planned. She may not have intended for Nick to die, but she was clearly using him anyway. Brubaker doesn’t bother trying to defend her much, other than to remind us she didn’t ask for any of this and only wants to end it. Ultimately, Jo’s the only one who gets what she wants; everyone else ends up dead (Otto), stupefied (Nick), or worse (Nelson). It’s not a satisfying ending, nor an easy one, but it is a complete resolution, albeit a hard one, which makes it respectable.
If Jo’s release from her curse fails to satisfy, consider that Nick’s actions saved a lot more than just one woman from irresistibility; he saved humanity from a man who would have sacrificed multitudes to his masters for no reason other than to affirm their existence. That’s the point of the issue’s opening fable, isn’t it? The king purposely awakens “dragons,” causing them to rampage and cause much grief among his people. When a visiting knight asks why, naturally curious as to the king’s motivations for such pointless trauma, the king replies patronizingly, “Because the dragons are the truth, and we simply live in their shadow. I will not deny the truth, good knight, and my people would not love me if I did.”
The knight responds, “…but they are not the only truth[.]” Life is also true, fleeting as it is, and it is (presumably) not natural for people to end up in the masters’ grasp when their lives end. The “truth” the king and Sommerset want to reveal is one that doesn’t have to be revealed. Perhaps the masters must exist (“Everyone knows you can’t kill dragons.”), but that doesn’t mean people have to deal with them. Perhaps that’s why Brubaker leaves their nature and motivation a mystery; we really don’t need to know.
Phillips is clearly the perfect fit for Fatale because he knows how to make even the simplest images look creepy. I’m talking about the owl with a human face from the opening pages, obviously. It only gets worse from there. The horror of Sommerset’s true form is the least of it; it’s the brutal violence the characters suffer, the anguish and fear on their faces, that haunt you. Jo is rendered beautifully, especially when naked, but Phillips always contrasts that with a visual that emphasizes how disturbing her beauty is: the revolving sharks in the water as she skinny-dips, for example. And the fact that Breitweiser manages to convey a range of color through the thick nighttime inks of Phillips work is phenomenal. This is a dark series, and her colors underline that fact every issue.
Conclusion: Not a conclusion to cheer or smile over, nor a particularly conclusive one, but it’s still quite powerful, and there’s definitely nothing like it out there.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Sommerset’s kiss on Nelson’s forehead—that gave you the crawls, too, right?