Author : Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Genre : Mystery Graphic Novel
Publisher : Image
THE term “femme fatale” literally means “fatal woman” in French, and apparently means “a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations”.
Well, Josephine, the femme fatale in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ ongoing Fatale series, certainly fits that description. Blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with eternal life, she has the power to ensnare any man in her charms and make him powerless to resist her.
As one of the characters in the book describes her: “Men will lie, cheat and steal for her; they will kill and die for her, without ever knowing why”.
Told mostly from the perspective of the men Josephine meets and gets intimate with, Fatale is an intriguing look at the stereotypical femme fatale character so common in film noir stories. You know, the mysterious, sexy woman who walks into a private investigator’s office to offer him a case at the beginning of the story, and with whom the PI usually ends up falling in love, even though she drags him into more trouble than he has ever been in.
Brubaker takes this common cliché and turns it on its head – what if the woman in question is not just some random broad, but someone who is cursed with that sort of power, to seduce men into doing anything?
But how did she get this power? This is where Brubaker’s story excels. Fatale is more than just another crime noir comic book, it’s a horror crime noir, in which he mixes the familiar noir elements with an intriguing web of the occult and supernatural, with a range of villains ranging from the usual hard-boiled gangsters to tentacled demon things that make life difficult for Josephine and her numerous, hapless suitors.
Brubaker is no stranger to these mean streets, of course – he has built a career on great comic crime fiction, co-writing the stellar, criminally underrated Gotham Central, as well as the fabulous Batman: Gotham Noiramong others. In Fatale, his grasp of the genre is solid enough that even when he gets into the more supernatural elements, it doesn’t interrupt the overall flow of the story.
Sean Philips’ artwork and Dave Stewart’s colouring also work in tandem to give the book a very noir-ish feeling, which combined with the supernatural elements making Fatale somewhat surreal to read.
My brain wanted to think that I was reading a proper crime noir story, but it kept getting distracted by the tentacle-faced demons wearing 1930s gangster suits. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it does make for a somewhat odd reading experience.
The series was initially going to be a 12-issue miniseries, but proved to be so popular that Image made it an ongoing series. It has been collected into three volumes, the first of which is set in the 1930s, and the second in the 1970s.
The third volume is probably the most intriguing one, and expands Brubaker’s mythology beyond Josephine. You see, there is a long history of “fatales” stretching all the way back to 13th-century France and the Old West, and this third volume collects four standalone stories, two of which feature fatales from the past and two others about Josephine that are set before the first and second story arcs.
It’s a testament to the quality of the series that Fatale has been nominated for so many Eisner Awards this year. The series is in the running for Best Ongoing Series and Best New Series, Best Writer for Brubaker, as well as Best Penciller/Inker and Best Cover Artist for Phillips.
Stewart is also nominated for Best Colouring based on his work on the title (as well as on other titles likeBatwoman, BPRD, Conan The Barbarian, Hellboy In Hell, Lobster Johnson, and The Massive).
Overall, this is a brilliantly written, beautifully drawn piece of storytelling, and should appeal not just to fans of crime noir, but of horror as well.
Fatale Volumes 1-3 are available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.