Ed Brubaker enjoys history. The writer spent years exploring the history of Marvel’s star-spangled Avenger during his award-winning run on “Captain America,” and now he’s exploring the seedier side of decades gone by in “Fatale,” his noir-tinted horror title from Image Comics.
Illustrated by co-creator and longtime artistic collaborator Sean Philips, “Fatale” tells the tale of a mysterious, un-aging woman named Josephine. After opening in the modern day, the series quickly jumped back to the 1950s for the first arc, leaped forward to the ’70s for the second and then began a series of one-off issues documenting Josephine’s life, as well as some other femme fatales. The last of the single-issue stories, “Fatale #14, hits stores on May 15. Set against the backdrop of World War II, the issue reveals the secret history between Josephine and the book’s main villain Mr. Bishop (later known as Hansel).
With issue #15, an all new “Fatale” arc set completely in the present kicks off, finding initial series protagonist Nicolas Lash in jail, wrongly accused of murdering the woman who stole a mysterious manuscript from him in an earlier arc. Nicolas will soon learn more about himself, Josephine, the demonic Mr. Bishop/Hansel and how “The Losing Side of Eternity” got turned into a published work so quickly.
CBR News spoke with Brubaker about his plans for the upcoming issues, officially making “Fatale” an ongoing and digging deeper into Josephine’s past.
CBR News: It looks like readers might be getting some answers about Josephine’s past and maybe more information as to what she truly is in #14. Is that the case?
Ed Brubaker: In some ways, yes — but I hesitate to spoil anything that’s in the issue. This whole arc has been about the secrets of the “curse” of the femme fatale, if you get what I mean. You just have to pay close attention to pick them up, because each issue is a complete story outside those reveals.
Last we saw Nicolas, he was in jail awaiting trial for supposedly killing the woman who stole Dominic’s manuscript. Where is he when #15 picks up?
We pick up with him a few months later, as he’s about to go to trial. And then some craziness ensues, because he’s deep into Josephine’s vortex at this point. And, we’ll find out more about the missing book that was published.
Will the publication of “The Losing Side of Eternity” lead to any changes for Nicolas?
Well, who published it is the question, right? Who killed that girl and took that manuscript? That’s a big question in the next arc. It’s certainly going to mess with Nicolas’ head, since he’s been obsessed with interpreting the secrets of that manuscript. But Nic has bigger problems to worry about, since he’s about to go on trial for murder, and the people who are after Jo can easily get to him when he’s in a prison cell.Â
The act of writing is a big theme of the book: Dominic was a writer, Nicolas spends a lot of time trying to find and protect “The Losing Side of Eternity,” Jo writes about the men she’s destroyed, Alfred Ravencroft wrote for the pulps and Mathilda seemingly turns into a book. Why is the written word so important to “Fatale?”
The book at the end of issue #12 is the book of fairy tales Ganix reads to Mathilda from, actually. She definitely doesn’t turn into a book.
But the act of writing and collection of sacred texts is an underlying thing from the beginning of “Fatale.” Part of it, I guess, has to do with the idea of the Femme Fatale as a muse, like Jo provided the inspiration to Hank to become a novelist, just as she was Ravenscroft’s new inspiration, after he met her, getting him back to writing a story for the first time in years.
Part of the story is about people’s quests for hidden knowledge, that’s at the heart of a lot of horror. And hidden knowledge is about writing.
Mr. Bishop/Hansen has all kinds of hidden knowledge himself, but is it harder for he and his kind to operate in the modern world?
Well, the next time we see Hansel he’ll have a different name and be in a different position in the world. He changes with the times, and the next time we see him is in the 1990s, in the next arc. And even with all his physical maladies, from the first two arcs, he’s thriving in that era.
So far, every one-off issue has included a special essay. What kind of extras, if any, can readers look forward to in the coming issues?
Oh, man, I never know what I’m going to have until a few weeks beforehand, usually. I’ve got to bug Jess Nevins for more essays, but he’s gotten so busy with actual paying work, like the “Fables Encyclopedia” he did for Vertigo. I’m just about to start bugging my friends for more articles. I’m hoping to get a piece about the dark side of Seattle in the ’90s, which is where most of the next arc takes place.
OK, that sounds interesting. How deeply engrained is it in the grunge era?
It’s more set in the dying days of that era of Seattle, and a few parts of it are loosely based on real things that were going on there at the time — a few serial murderers, a cool gang of bank robbers that had the FBI running all over Seattle for a few years. We’ll be seeing a side of Jo and how she affects people in a way that we’ve never seen before.
It’s actually my favorite arc of “Fatale” so far. I have a lot of nostalgia for that time and place, because it’s where I met some of my best friends in the world and was part of a great community of artists and cartoonists. Now we’re all scattered all over the place. So writing about Seattle in the ’90s is a bit like going home.
Noir has a set of conventions and magic tends to have a series of rules. Has it been fun combining those two in your story and letting readers in on them as they read along?
Its been fun most of the time, and a struggle other times.Â My general rule to myself is if I have to choose which way to go on a scene, noir or horror, I’ll lean more on the noir, because to me the horror elements work best the less they’re shown, anyway.Â But I really feel those two genres blend incredibly well — I mean look at a film like “Angel Heart,” which is sort of like “Chinatown” with a horror twist. Even “Rosemary’s Baby” feels very noir, in some ways.Â I think them both coming out of the pulps must be some part of it.
Since the book was first announced, “Fatale” has grown in the number of issues it will ultimately run. Do you have a specific end date or issue in mind at this point?
I know how it ends. I don’t know what issue number that will be, but there is a planned ending. What happened was, when I started “Fatale,” I figured I could do it all in twelve issues.Â But then the story and the characters kept feeling cramped for space and I started thinking, “Okay, let’s add a few issues to give it room to breathe.”Â Then I needed to do an arc of short stories, because there were things I wanted to explore that didn’t fit into the structure of how the arcs were set-up.Â
I just stepped back and thought, “Why do I need to say how many issues this is?” It’s part of comics publishing that we always announce how many issues a story will run, and it suddenly felt archaic to do that. Since the book is at Image and not Marvel or DC, why not just say, it goes until it’s over?Â I decided that’s how all of my and Sean’s projects will be from now on — I’m just going to tell the story until it’s over, and that’s how many issues the series will be. It might be 10, it might be 25, it might be longer.Â It’ll all depend on the project.Â That makes me incredibly excited about the rest of “Fatale,” and for what we do after it.
The arcs really are full stories. Do you plot all five issues out at once in detail or go with more of an outline format?
I always do a general outline to get a sense of what I can fit in each issue, but I leave a lot open so when I get to them, I can change it freely. When I sit down to script each issue, I do a really detailed plot in my notebook, usually three or four pages, handwritten. I often spend a few pages just writing down scene ideas or asking myself questions I don’t have answers for yet, but need to see the question written down. Like, “Do we reveal the maid is a lesbian?” or, “What happens to the film canister?”
I’ve gotten a lot more detailed in my notebooks the past several years. I try to do as much preliminary thinking and kicking around ideas as I can before I start typing. It doesn’t always make it go any quicker, but it’s good to have that notebook there to flip around in and see some scene idea I forgot about, which will often spark something I needed, if I was stuck.
You and Sean have worked together on several projects. What is it about your working relationship that keeps you both coming back for more?
Yeah, it’s been 13 or 14 years of collaboration. I think we decided somewhere around the middle of “Sleeper” that we’d just keep working together forever. No teams really stick together that long in comics, and for me, I found an artist who draws the kind of thing I like to write — characters caught in shadows and bad decisions — and who just keeps getting better and better every year.Â I mean, the covers alone for “Fatale” are some of the best work Sean’s ever done.
Now that we’ve been around this long together, we’re pretty well known as a team. So when someone new discovers “Fatale,” I hear from them all the time that they’re so pleased to find out there’s a whole shelf of other books by us that they can read.Â
“Fatale” #14 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips is out on May 15. Issue #14 hits on June 12.