Look, we like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips here at read/RANT. Throw in Dave Stewart, perhaps my favorite colorist currently working, and you’ve got yourselves a winner – as evinced by naming Criminal: The Last of the Innocent the best graphic novel of 2011. So you can imagine how excited I was to see the team reunite so soon after the most recent chapter of Criminal concluded. I went in to Fatale pretty much completely blind, having missed the preview that came out during my fairly relaxed holiday season. And while it wasn’t at all what I was expecting, Brubaker and Phillips have come up with a satisfying blend of crime, pulp, and straight-up horror.
Nicolas Lash was living a fairly normal life. When his godfather, Dominic Raines, dies, Nicolas winds up being executor of the late author’s estate. Going through his possessions, Nicolas finds an old manuscript, a book written by Raines three years before the writer’s first published work – and that’s when his life goes crazy. Assaulted by mysterious, shotgun toting men with seemingly limitless resources, Nicolas is saved by a mysterious woman he met at the funeral. After an accident during the escape costs him a leg and the woman disappears, Nicolas opens the book he found before it all went awry.
And we flash back to 1956, a year before the book was written. The woman, Josephine, appears to still be alive. Raines is a married reporter living in San Francisco and investigating a corrupt cop. And things are starting to get very, very weird.
Though it’s obvious that this is just a small chunk of a much larger story, Brubaker and Phillips provide a lot to be excited about – this is a book that’s designed to be dissected by fans eagerly awaiting the next offbeat, unpredictable chapter. Cultists in the 1950s, Nazi mystics and immortal femme fatales give Brubaker’s standard story of corrupt cops and slightly less corrupt heroes a fascinating, queasy tilt, but the book is grounded in human emotions and
This isn’t either creators strongest work. Phillips, a staggeringly gifted artist when it comes to the darker side of humanity, isn’t given much to do here, though his character designs are memorable and distinctive, while Brubaker is focused primarily on setting up pieces in the larger narrative. But the pair never loses focus on the story. The set-up is intriguing, pulling from disparate elements that have all been an influence on Brubaker’s work, and Phillips’ art is undeniably solid, grounding the mystic in the mundane.
At 24 glossy pages of gorgeous full-color content and an intriguing two page essay on H.P. Lovecraft and the idea of unseen, cosmic horror – which suggests a very possible, intriguing direction for the series to take – the book is a fantastic value, and Brubaker and Phillips have become one of the most reliably excellent partnerships in comics. Though the opening issue is at times frustratingly vague, it never feels half-formed or ill-considered. It’s a confident, enjoyable issue of comics from a superstar creative team trying something new. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.