Fatale Volume 1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
Image Comics

A mysterious woman winds her way into the lives of several men, with the typical results of jealousy and betrayal.  Except this time ancient and unspeakable evils are tied to our lovely lady as her story plays out in a backdrop of crime, corruption, and murder in this first trade of the horror noir comic Fatale.

It wasn't hard to get me interested in this series, which features two of my favorite genres being produced by two of my favorite creators who've already shown their ability to write noir-style stories mixed with other topics.  I wasn't disappointed by what I found, which is a comic that has a lot of world-building and setup, but just enough action to keep the plot moving.  Brubaker's tales might take time, but that doesn't mean they're decompressed, leaving the reader wondering where the rest of the story they paid $2.99 for is located.  Even while we're lead carefully into this story that crosses generations, with the horror and brutality creeping in slowly at the edges and given great revelation panels/pages by Sean Phillips, Brubaker makes sure that there is plenty to watch and observe as the mystery builds to its climax.  At no point in time were readers of the single issues left wanting anything other than the next issue as soon as possible.  In trade, learning the secrets will just be a turn of the page away.

What I love best about Brubaker when he's writing in his own worlds is that there's nothing to conflict with the story he wishes to tell.  I thought the first half of his Cap run was great writing--but not as a Cap story, as he made one of the most aware heroes in all of Marvel look clueless in order to set up his plot.  Here I have no history behind the characters--they are purely his/Phillips', and so anything they do makes sense within their character.  If a cop is crooked, I accept that without question.  If the girl is lying to save her life, I assume we'll keep seeing that as long as we see her.  I know others mourn when writers like Brubaker move entirely into creator-owned territory, but I think it's better for them.  The freedom it gives makes their comics sing in a way that even their best corporate scripts cannot.

Fatale is a perfect example of this, as was Sleeper.  Brubaker effortlessly engrosses us in a noir world, using all the right touches.  He gets that the best noir stories, as I've said before in other reviews, recognize that everyone is tainted and everyone has an agenda.  Whether it's the pair of cops who look rather like familiar faces from Law and Order, Hank's descent into the insanity, or Josephine's using of her male lovers, each character will do whatever it takes to get what they want.  When they step outside of those goals, it always makes you as the reader wonder why, and there are a few cases that have me stumped right now that I expect we'll see the reason for in future trades.

Over the course of these five issues, Brubaker shows why he's one of the best at getting the feel just right.  I mentioned in the single-issue reviews I did of this series that his dialogue fits the characters perfectly, meshing well with Phillips' dark, restrained style.  Each major player has their own voice, and I love when the ordinary humans delve into the demoninc world that lurks just underneath the surface of this world.  There's a sense of danger and being overmatched that treads a fine line with being able to carry the day, and in the end, Brubaker makes it quite clear that things are far from over.

Fatale's a great story, but I'm very glad it's in the hands of Sean Phillips, who by this time is arguably Brubaker's best collaborator.  His work has a shadowy quality that fits in with the noir setting quite well, yet he's able (as we saw with Marvel Zombies) to switch into horror as easily as he can make a reader linger on the frowning face of a police chief stuck in the middle of things he cannot possibly understand.  I love his general sense of understatement, which makes the scenes of gore really pop out (aided in part by a strong coloring scheme by Dave Stewart).  The story flows in Phillips' hands, and my only complaint is that here and there I had trouble telling which of the male protagonists we were following on first reading.  That might partially be my fault or the digital copies I was reading.

When reading a prose story, a lot is said by the reaction of the characters.  In comics, that's the job of the artist, and Philips is a master here.  He'll raise an eyebrow or widen an eye just at the right moment.  In other cases, we as the reader will be intrigued more by what's hiding in the shadows instead of what we can see in the light.  There's a lot going on in the little details, and you can tell that Philips practices regularly to get the look and feel of the book just right.

I recommended Fatale when it was in single issues.  If you were waiting for the trade, now is the time.  This gets my highest recommendation for crime/horror fans, and I look forward to book two beginning soon (I hope!).