“Fatale #12”

(w) Ed Brubaker
(a) Sean Phillips
Image Comics, $3.50

Brubaker and Philips have delivered thus far a funky little series that is a mash up of their trademark style in the Criminal books with occult and mystery. I have actually been relieved by this, as I felt like Criminal and Brubaker’s Marvel work were getting too much into a zone of comfort food. I like comfort food, it is why I read comics, but there comes a point when you would like to see those who do something well stretch outside of that comfort zone, and Fatale has done that admirably, so much so Brubaker is now devoting much more time to writing the series.

Issue #12 takes the reader back to 1286 A.D., a time of superstition and unease in the developing world. I have always felt that this period of history is most unsettling, as it is hard for me to imagine that the human race even survived with so much disease, struggling attempts at building communities, and somehow grasping at understanding about existence (mostly disseminated during this time period by blind faith, ignorance, and fear). With the Enlightenment still far off, this is a perfect time period to unfold a part of the mystery of Fatale, it is after all about the dark and strange that no one may ever really understand, the intangibles of magic and all the mysterious forces of nature. In this issue we meet Mathilda, and she seems to suffer from the same problem that Josephine suffers from—a supernatural ability to not only hold influence over men but to be immortal (“seems” as there is a large question at the end of the issue I won’t spoil for you). Within the story questions about the role of the supernatural as it ties to the natural world are addressed, the motivations of a religious sect are still danced around, but the main point seems to be to show that what I can ascertain is some sort of magical feud has been going on for quite some time, and Josephine may not be the first (nor the last) of her kind.

Series artist Sean Phillips gets to stretch in this issue for the first time since The Last of the Innocent Archie-style segments. I acknowledge he has mastered a style that depicts the grimy cityscapes and dark places of a more modern era. So it is nice to see in issue #12 that he showcases his work on forests, strange happenings, and a few creatures; in fact one of his forest manifestations is one of my favorite creepy visualizations of the last few weeks. Some people have deemed the artwork of Fatale as supernatural noir. I’m not sure how having a command of light and shadow instantly categories that, but I like to think that this issue shows that Phillips is going for straight ahead dark fantasy, and I for one welcome it.

Fatale as a series is well crafted, and its accolades are deserved, as it has two comics veterans putting together an entertaining vision and story. Does this issue, however, make me excited for more? Yes, but I don’t know if it is a gateway issue for others necessarily. If I was to bring anyone into this series I would first have them go back and read the first trade and make a decision from there. Whether the issue is an absolute for fans of the series has yet to be determined in my opinion, as issue #12 may be an important piece of the puzzle.