Comics

Call of the Cthulhu Nazis: "Fatale #14"

J. C. Maçek III

“She should never have come to Romania... Damn me for a Fool...”


Fatale #14

Publisher: Image
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-07
Amazon

Image Comics began with the X-odus, so named because so many of its founders worked on Marvel's X titles before defecting to form their own company. Over the years the company has gone from a struggling shared universe to a collection of imprints to a remarkably well-respected company, championing creator-owned series and taking chances on strange new series.

These strange and unexpected series, each in their own continuity, range from Westerns to Fantasies to Science Fiction to Horror to oddball combinations thereof... and just about everything else in between. Jeff Smith's Bone went from independent to corporate under Image. Matt Wagner's Mage has had a successful run since the closing of Comico. Recent new and impressive offerings like East of West, the Dream Merchant, and the subject of this review, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' title Fatale (now a quarter into its second year), Image may be poised to be something more akin to the next Vertigo.

Fatale is the story of a seemingly immortal femme fatale of the 1940s 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. Issue #14's story “Just a Glance Away” kicks off a new story arc that sets Josephine in Nazi-occupied Romania in 1943. Phillips' detailed artwork (amplified by Elizabeth Breiteiser's darkly beautiful color schemes) is incredible to witness in these pages. Phillips is as adept at drawing the jagged destruction, rubble and smoking shells of buildings in war-torn Europe as he is at capturing the delicate and eye-catching beauty of Josephine's face.

Told with as many shifts in time as Reservoir Dogs, Brubaker's story begins with the point of view of dejected American soldier Walter Booker. His war-hardened grim visage seems to have seen it all until a murdered soldier from his unit points the way to a subset of Nazis who are literally are monsters. Yes, monstrous jaws, nazi helmets and Cthulhu tentacles are all in the villains' makeup like something straight out of the first story-arc from Hellboy.

Phillips' artwork and Breitweiser's colors, rife with negative space and 2-D imagery, both aid the comparison to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola's work. However, the similarity is an echo in an original, not derivative book. Brubaker brings in elements that would have fit well in Raiders of the Lost Ark with its arcane rituals and mystical Nazi quests, along with an underground cave chase straight out of The Temple of Doom. However, Josephine, for whatever she is, is neither Hellboy nor Doctor Indiana Jones. Josephine proves to be a daring, if flawed, heroine of her own story, hungrily on the trail of whatever arrows these weird Nazis have hidden in their quivers, even, and especially, if something about this quest leads to more answers to who or what this Fatale might be.

Josephine is far too tough and adventurous a woman to play the “damsel in distress”, but when circumstances dictate a need for rescue, Brubaker is not afraid to set the proper dominos up to realistically show that Jo may be immortal, but she's hardly infallible.

Where the story and art meet, Fatale #14 firmly cements itself in the Noir genre. Even amid the monstrous and warlike surroundings, the tough-as-nails gumshoe-style narration, told in the omniscient narrator's voice, but from Walt Booker's point of view, actually outnumbers the word balloons in every frame. Brubaker's storytelling is beautifully complemented by Phillips' command of light effects, primarily with his excellent use of shadow. This coupled with Breitweisers often monochromatic coloring, give many of these pages' single frames a stark and electrifying, creepy look, like something from the original run of Eerie, Tales from the Crypt or even Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula.

The beauty of Fatale #14 goes beyond the classic “horror comic” look of its art and extends to the narrative itself. For the past few decades, the trend in comics has been to maximize profits by extending story lines over multiple issues and giving the reader only small amounts of the story in each twenty-odd pages of each issue. Fatale may be doing the same thing, considering that even a long, detailed adventure within the life of Josephine, is still just a tiny part of her story. However, the point is that with Fatale, Brubaker and company are giving us a long, detailed adventure, all within the pages of the fourteenth issue. In this way, they are reaching back to past trends to give the reader a complete and thrilling story in one issue. Interestingly enough, this maximalist approach to single-issue storytelling is even more enticing to the reader to force the pick up of the next issue.

Much like a 1940s serial, Fatale #14 is packed with thrills, chills and derring do, with the added ingredient of some terrifying paranormal mysteries. Brubaker remains one step ahead of the audience at every twist and turn and manages to deliver a very surprising and sexy horror adventure tale with classic artwork and very modern storytelling. This may be part of a bigger trend with Image and Dark Horse, to give uncommon (and even throwback) sagas a chance at the comic rack, but that doesn't mean that there is any stagnant sameness to these titles. There isn't really another title like Fatale on the racks today and while Josephine stands with her less common brethren, Fatale is not following other trends, but is a part of its own.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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