Written by Ed Brubaker, art by Sean Phillips – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have collaborated on a number of noir-ish comic series. Brubaker also co-wrote the police procedural Gotham Central with thriller writer Greg Rucka, and is considered one of the best crime writers in comics. Certainly he’s no slouch at writing superheroes either, with long runs writing both Batman and Captain America. Is he better at crime or superheroes? It’s hard to say but it’s certain that his crime work is only heightened by Sean Phillips’ superlative art.
Their most recent series is Fatale, and the first five issues have been collected in Fatale: Death Chases Me. As the title of the series implies, Fatale draws heavily on noir conventions. More than just imitation, however, Brubaker and Phillips provide us with a tantalising femme fatale. Josephine appears to be irresistible to men in both 1956 and 2011 – and she looks exactly the same in both eras.
Nicolas Lash meets Jo in the present day at a funeral. His dad’s friend died, and his institutionalised father couldn’t make the funeral. Nicolas finds himself executing the estate of Dominic ‘Hank’ Raines, who had his own interactions with Josephine in the mid-50s. Hank was married, but that never stops a poor noir sap from getting sucked into the embrace of another woman.
Jo was tangled up in a web of unsavory characters, and Hank soon finds himself facing corrupt cops and a bizarre cult. Hank’s wife paid for his infidelities, but that didn’t dissuade his infatuation with Josephine. She was as irresistible to Hank’s rivals as to him, however. What’s more, Jo’s allure made Hank forget questions and doubts that should have warned him away from her.
You’ll certainly have questions as you read Fatale: Death Chases Me, but don’t be warned off. Brubaker expertly switches between Nicolas and Hank, dropping clues and drawing us deeper into both men’s stories. More questions will be asked than answered. The writer is clearly setting up a prodigious noir saga.
Fatale’s first five issues prove full of suspense, though that heightens enjoyment, rather than dampening it. There are hints of horror in the plot, but it is unclear why Josephine hasn’t aged in over 50 years or who the ghastly cult leader is. It is clear, however, that Sean Phillips’ art is beautifully paired with Brubaker’s noir sensibilities. The source of Fatale’s horror isn’t revealed here, but Phillips nonetheless depicts that horror with unflinching clarity.
The artwork switches between the separate decades as adeptly as the writing, but the period detail in the 1950s storyline is especially good. It portrays hardboiled realism and mystifying grotesquerie with equal skill. Dave Stewart’s colours lend Phillips’ line work even more atmosphere.
Fatale is an ongoing series, and the first five issues found in Death Chases Me will whet your appetite. This collection is brilliantly done, but will leave you hungry for more. The brooding noir, the inscrutable femme fatale and the glimmers of horror merely begin to tell a story. This is no reason not to read Fatale: Death Chases Me. But readers will likely want the next issue long before it is collected into Volume 2.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars