With “Fatale” #3, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ new epic, I feel like as a reader this is the issue where I’m locked in for the duration. The first two issues were quite good, but this is the moment of no return, where we’ve now seen enough that you can’t stop reading.
It helps that “Fatale” #3 has Brubaker start shifting between two time periods again. While I appreciated the extended shift into the 1950s last month as we learned more about Hank Raines, seeing Nicolas Lash’s story in modern times starting to move forward again helped me feel like we’re reading something big in “Fatale.” It’s a reminder this isn’t just a story about Josephine destroying Hank’s life in the past, but that Josephine exists in the present too without having aged a minute and she is an extremely dangerous and enigmatic woman.
Nicolas’ confusion over what happened with Josephine and his deceased godfather is a strong story hook; he’s playing detective in a way that draws us in, in part because he’s in over his head and in part because the past is needed to understand what’s happening in the present day. Brubaker has a strong narrative voice for Nicolas, too; when he says, “the ghost of my leg is dragging what’s left of me away, as fast as I can go” you get an almost instant feel for him as a character. Watching Nicolas try and piece together the mystery of Hank’s life is almost as entertaining as seeing it actually unfold.
I said almost, though, because Hank’s story returns for the second half of the issue and it’s getting remarkably creepy. Up until now, the strange events of the first two issues felt explainable, justifiable. Here, as we see Josephine in a chilling encounter with a mysterious bearded man, it’s hard to ignore her unnatural presence. Brubaker serves up bits and pieces of Josephine’s past and as the supernatural elements begin to crawl onto the edges of the story, everything has gotten much more dangerous. It’s been a great slow reveal and by the time the dust has settled in “Fatale” #3, I’ve found myself utterly hooked with Brubaker’s script.
Phillips is also serving up increasingly strong art and I say this as someone who’s enjoyed his comics work for quite a long time. From the mundane nature of the trashed Raines manor, to the glimpses of flames and tentacles, everything is drawn in a way to get your attention. Phillips works well with colorist Dave Stewart here; muting the tones to set the appropriate mood but not being afraid to suddenly infuse a panel or two with a brighter color to give you a visual jolt. Even something as simple as Nicolas in an undershirt and boxers in his bedroom reading a manuscript carries a strong visual impact, setting the tone as a homey and safe place, even as your instincts are lulled into a false sense of security.
“Fatale” #3 is an excellent comic and reading in the back that it’s been extended up to 15 issues makes me extra-pleased. I’ve loved “Criminal” and “Incognito,” but right now it’s “Fatale” that has me the most excited that I can remember about a Brubaker and Phillips collaboration. If you aren’t reading their comics yet, there really is no time to waste. Start with “Fatale” and you won’t be sorry.