Four chapters into the fourth big storyline for “Fatale,” and at this point I’m just thankful that the book didn’t wrap up earlier, as originally planned. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comic about the ultimate femme fatale continues to surprise and delight, and every time you think you know where it’s going next, they’ve got something new up their sleeves.
“Fatale” #18 is continuing the story of Jo in mid-’90s Seattle, going by the name of Jane and having fallen in with a band that’s trying to make it big. If it were just about the band slowly falling apart as Jo’s strange abilities were unleashed, that would be good enough to want to keep reading. But as the cult obsessed with Jo starts to circle around her, Jo’s memories starting to resurface, and the strange power of Tom’s new song is unleashed, that’s where the book’s story shifts from good to great.
What’s important is that all of these pieces are fitting together perfectly. “Fatale” never feels like strange elements are shoehorned in. Instead, Brubaker has carefully crafted a world that is ours on the surface, but with dark and nasty horror elements bubbling up just underneath. Jo’s strange memories flashing back give us a direct concrete look at some of the horrors that are after her, and watching Sommerset and Wulf both react to Jo’s dance during the video shoot is that awful, horrible moment where you realize that every ounce of safety that’s left is about to come crashing down all around our characters. While the band members sometime blend together a bit, Brubaker is still able to bring to life a mixture of desperation and need in the way they react to not only Jo but the music industry in general. From robbing banks and dealing with a dead body, to trying to finally burst into fame with their video shoot, you can see what’s going on with them and how they’re trying to make everything work. At the same time, that precarious house of cards that they’re all inside is swaying and shifting so much, that it’s hard to not see the end just around the corner.
It goes without saying that Phillips continues to hold up his end of the bargain, too. There’s a lot here taken for granted; how well he draws the band members, for instance, or the rainy and gloomy scenes outside at night. Even little moments like the band reacting to Jon’s smacking the meat cleaver into Skip’s temple is great; you can practically see them jump both physically and mentally as he makes his point. But then there are the big two-page spreads, like Lance’s and Jo’s visions as the new song plays. The mix of innocence, gore and contentment in the panels within Lance’s vision is reassuring and horrifying as you move from one image to the next. The mixture of awful and happiness is striking, and then you turn the page and get Jo’s jagged and expanding panels of memory. As each panel gets larger, the images are more graphic and horrifying, and that visual build-up just explodes off the page and into the reader’s eyes. It’s the sort of storytelling that can only truly be pulled off in comics, and Brubaker and Phillips succeed yet again.
“Fatale” #18 is another strong issue in an extremely strong comic. If you aren’t reading “Fatale” yet, how many times do I have to tell you that you’re missing out on an incredible ride? Buy this book, buy this book, buy this book. Please.