The creators of the best miniseries of 2011 — seriously, I cannot stress how amazing ‘Last of the Innocent’ is — reach the conclusion of their new ongoing’s second arc. Some of the great debut comics of the year have faded into the dark as they progress; is “Fatale” doomed to the same fate?
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
FATALE’s second arc comes to its brutal conclusion!
Secrets are revealed and new mysteries are born, as our Femme Fatale star goes from victim to hero! And remember each issue of FATALE contains extra content, articles and artwork that are not available anywhere but the printed single issues.
Like many series, “Fatale” is centered on a mystery: just who is our mysterious protagonist, Josephine? Ed Brubaker handles this question with a grace that many other creators who make a single mystery the focal point of their story lack. To some, an obscured history like Josephine’s is something to wave around, hollering for attention like that kid you knew in elementary school who claimed to have seen something amazing but wouldn’t tell you what it is because — surprise — it didn’t exist. Nearly everything that happens in this issue happens because Josephine’s past is catching up to her (or, at least, it seems that way), and yet Brubaker does not seem like he’s at all trying to ooo and aah us. When you live a life like Josephine has, this is what happens. You don’t know what kind of life that is? Well, we’ll get to it later — what’s happening right now is more important. Miles has his page and a half of revelation, which is more to move the story along than to tease, and that’s it — from there on out the comic is 22 and half pages of Things Happening. At this point Brubaker knows that our interest is already piqued enough in terms of Josephine’s history; references to things that have happened off-panel and information presented like something we should know even though we don’t are far more effective than any scene that attempts to exaggerate how supposedly “mysterious” a character is. This hitch can particularly cripple a horror story, removing any edge, but Brubaker succeeds in makine #10 of this now-ongoing series somehow simultaneously be all about how shadowy our titular fatale’s roots are, while somehow avoiding making a big fuss about it.
One of the most interesting writing elements of “Fatale” is Brubaker’s use of narrative captions. Third-person narration is often considered a hokey by-product of the past, the kind of thing that we love old comics for ironically, but Brubaker has proven naysayers wrong with his use of the technique in this ongoing. The captions never crowd, like in some comics of old — when third person narration and dialogue occur in the same panel in this issue, they dance off of each other, the ones and threes versus the twos and fours of the comic’s rhthym. At other points, they help enahnce moments where the action slows down, making sure we don’t fly through the faster moments in order to get to the “good stuff,” resulting in a more balanced read. With this issue we switch back to the series’s original first-person narrative in the epilogue, which allows us to see just how well Brubaker has kept his original tone; the transition is not the slightest bit jarring or disorienting, eliciting maybe an “Oh, it’s back to first-person” — or perhaps you won’t even notice, because it’s so smooth.
Perhaps the most prominent indicator of Sean Phillips’s talent is simultaneously the most subtle — his pages prominently display his ability as an illustrator without being flashy. His panels are almost always quadralaterals, and his pages are just as frequently in three tiers (I say almost always only because I’d hate to say “always” and be wrong, but I’m pretty sure it’s always). That’s because he doesn’t need to make his panel layouts fancy or complex to prove his worth; Phillips has panel-by-panel motion down to a science. Every figure is angled just right, allowing the reader to acheive closure between panels without it being eye-rollingly obvious in their guidance. The sequence of Miles dropping two goons is an excellent example: this is a moment that would, in action, occur almost instantaneously to our adrenaline-laden minds, and Phillips manages to capture that feeling while still separating it into individual moments. The panels-that-make-a-panel trick is commonly used these days for almost any kind of scene, but Phillips avoids using it like a gimmick and more like how such a moment actually feels — that strange blip of time that seems like everything is happening at once, even though that is logically impossible.
Of course, this is hardly Phillips only great quality; even when he parses down the detail in order to enable more fluid movement, his artwork displays one of the firmest grasps on the human figure in the comic industry, and his use of light is second to none. Even though his artwork uses heavy shadows for stylistic effect, he doesn’t throw them around haphazardly, instead double-checking that they “make sense,” so to speak. Phillips has been one of the most technically proficient artists in the business for years, and, as we see through the varied poses and sources of light used in this issue, he is constantly trying to keep himself at the top of his game.
With the year reaching its end, you are going to see “Fatale” on a lot of “Best of 2012″ lists, and #10 is a great example why. This isn’t just a cool blend of horror and noir — it’s solid comic book-ing by a duo who are so in sync you could be forgiven for thinking this was the work of a writer/artist. If you aren’t reading “Fatale,” unless you have maybe an aversion to violence, I don’t know what to tell you.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – Buy it!