ADVANCE REVIEW: “Fatale #23” Sexy Space Noir

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Sean Phillips

Color: Elizabeth Breitweiser

Publisher: Image Comics

Throughout Fatale’s now twenty-three issue run, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have pretty tastefully navigated the sexual aspects of a book ostensibly about the prettiest woman in the world. Our titular Fatale is the complete opposite of the objectified negative stereotype often associated with superhero comics gone wild. Josephine is powerful, assertive, and almost always in control of the action. In fact, through semi-mysterious supernatural powers Jo is literally able to command men to perform her every wish. While Jo leads a free and active sex life within these pages, Fatale has been far removed from a bit of sensory pleasure and is instead a clever noir-mystery rooted in a supernatural, demonically possessed world.

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Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Sean Philips Color: Elizabeth Breitweiser

All of which makes “Fatale #23” a bit of an odd left turn. The penultimate issue of the Image Comics series is basically one long, extended sex scene, with Jo taking our one-legged narrator, Nick, and straight up sexing him into space. Not like “he’s seeing stars because the sex is so good,” but more like Nick and Jo literally wind up on a floating space rock in the midst of their love-making. If in the midst of your most passionate, intimate moments you’ve wondered what it would be like to suddenly transport inside a Steve Ditko Dr. Strange dimension, then you understand “Fatale #23” pretty well. If not, you’re going to be scratching your head as much as I was.

So what do we achieve with space sex? The love connection is largely used to 1) finally bring Jo and Nick together so their stories fully intertwine and 2) reveal some crucial elements of Josephine’s back-story. I won’t spoil the particulars, but given her immensely long life and the bits of history we’ve already seen from her, the background provided in “Fatale #23” feels deeply underwhelming. I believe the big reveal for why Jo has become the woman she is today is supposed to be shocking, or at least drive home the cruel human reality of the impact Jo’s power has on those she loves. Ultimately, though, it feels strangely familiar (and familial) for a back-story. Fatale has been a comic driven by fascinating mystery and intrigue from the first issue but as more answers are revealed, I can’t help but feel all the thrill was in the chase. Much like Lost, the moment you start to see some of the answers, the excitement of an endless imagination wears thin.

It is entirely to the credit of Sean Phillips’s art that Jo remains beautiful and gorgeous and somehow not exploited throughout this issue. Jo is full frontal nude for a clean 90% of her scenes in issue #23 and in the hands of another artist, this could have very quickly turned into auditions for America’s Next Top Cleavage. Phillips has an uncanny ability to draw Jo without ever crossing the line into distasteful or disrespectful renditions. This might seem crazy seeing as Jo is a Brubaker and Phillips creation, but the respect they show towards Jo as a woman and character is outstanding.

“Fatale #23” also goes a long way towards explaining precisely the power Jo has over men. While we’ve seen a handful of reaction’s to Jo through the perspective of her lovers (or is that victims?), few have been as lucid as our humble narrator’s. In many ways, Nick should despise her as he’s been through absolute hell since she entered his life. As Jo puts it, breaking down in a rare moment of vulnerability, “I’m sorry about this… I mutilated you.” Nick has seen prison, lost a leg, and now faces one more excruciating threat all in the name of Jo. All it takes is one look at her, to feel her kiss, for Nick to come to the conclusion: “It was worth it. It was so worth it.”

Verdict: 6.2 out of 10

The space sex in “Fatale #23” is a pretty weird turn, and this is easily the most sexualized issue of the series, although I don’t think I’d define it as “sexy.” More importantly, the supernatural elements of the Fatale world greatly outshine the characterization in a way that feels detrimental to the story. I’ve loved the Fatale ride to date, and am hoping for a strong conclusion in issue #24. The final pages of issue #23 seem to course correct and set us up for a strong finale, so if you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously going to want to finish the ride. Nonetheless, “Fatale #23” was a bit of a letdown for a superb series.