Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale started as the story of a seemingly immortal femme fatale of the ‘40s style named Josephine who hasn’t aged from the age of Noir to the present day, jumping between time periods as it tells her bizarre story. What we don’t know, however, is exactly what Josephine really is.
In my last review for Fatale, covering issue #14, I revealed a tough-as-nails, yet still feminine character who bounded through her classic World War II story with thrills and chills and derring do, like a female Indiana Jones in her own Temple of Doom.
By Fatale #18, however, Josephine, now going by the name of “Jane Doe” since losing her memory, proves to be an entirely different animal. Don’t know what I’m talking about? That’s part of the joy and the pain of Fatale. This eighteenth issue is no solid “jumping on point” for new readers, as Fatale is a continuous building story that each reader must keep up with to comprehend. Jumping on to Fatale #18 would be like starting to watch Twin Peaks at episode nine. Sure, you might catch up, but you’ll always know you’ve missed something.
For one thing, the long-lived adventurer is in an entirely different time of the post-grunge era, hanging out in the declining mansion of a once-promising rock band (think Driveshaft from Lost). When she’s not walking around completely naked wondering where and who she is Josephine/ Jane is inspiring the band in ways they haven’t experienced in years (if ever). As the eighteenth issue begins we find “Jane” in an impossible situation with only her new beau Lance and the band to protect her.
Still, the question remains… what the hell is Josephine in any era? She’s incredibly long-lived and strikingly beautiful but what is the power that she has that keeps her young and what is this influence she has over other people? As the issues progress, the story becomes increasingly clearer that there may truly be no resolution or easy answer to these questions.
On one hand, she is still the tough chick we saw in the 1940s. On the other, she’s the helpless frail who can’t face whatever reality she has found herself in now.On one hand she is innocent and spritely with an energy that boosts off the page, due to the combination of Brubaker’s words, Phillips’ art and even Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors. On the other hand, she gleefully engages in terrible things and brings out the basest of emotions in everyone she meets… sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Brubaker is not one for a single story thread that any reader can follow easily. Fatale has many threads that braids together into a very solid, if oft-inaccessible story that every reader must follow every step of to really “get”. To this end, the artist formerly known as Josephine is being pursued by people from her past, whether significant players in her story or mere lives that she’s bumped against and unwittingly influenced. The entire story, when meshed into a whole is disturbing, terrifying and impossible to look away from, even in its most depraved and bloody.
Of course these scenes would be nothing without the skilled pencil and ink of Sean Phillips. When Brubaker’s characters describe the tender and enthralling beauty of Josephine, you believe it when you see the way Phillips renders her. Phillips has a talent for drawing a beautiful woman (clothed or not) with the same precision that he gives to a gory scene of violence or the face of a monster. His skill with light and shadow (enhanced by the skilled colors of Breitweiser) reminds the reader that no matter what era the story takes place within, this is, in fact, a story still adhered to the Noir genre of fiction.
Such is the greatness of Fatale. Ed Brubaker has the writing skills to tell a story that the reader may well find difficult and unpleasant, but completely irresistible and impossible to look away from and the combined visual effects of Phillips and Breitweiser bring Brubaker’s story to a deadly kind of life that is both beautiful and grotesque. The greatness of Fatale is found in its intricacies. Those intricacies are a treat for the reader who has kept up with the issues leading up to #18, but will almost certainly be baffling to new readers attempting to plumb the murky depths of Fatale #18‘s evolved story. This may well be a story of (currently) inexplicable madness, but the involved reader will easily see that there is a method to this madness.