Monday, January 07, 2013

Death in Texas

Fatale #11, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

This begins with a policeman sitting in a bar drinking on his own when he suddenly realises that the woman who left him there will not be coming back for him. It then flashes back to how he found himself in this situation. Some days previously he and his partner arrested a woman at a murder scene, a beautiful woman he was then unable to get out of his mind. He then busted her out of the holding cell, killing his partner in the process, and with her went driving across Texas as she went looking for a writer she said she needed to contact for some reason.

Although this is #11 of a series, that introduction tells you almost all you need to know to start reading this. The woman is Josephine, or Jo, and by this point the reader has picked up a number of things about her. She is very beautiful, but beyond that she seems to have a supernatural ability to make men fall in love with her and to do the most irrational things for her benefit. She also seems not to age (previous instalments have shown her in the 1920s, 1960s, and 2000s all looking pretty much the same). And she is being hunted (the hunters show up later in this issue). The why and how of all this have yet to be explained. They seem also to be somewhat irrelevant, as the point of the title is to watch Jo as she destroys the lives of the men she attracts into her orbit.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done a number of titles together now, typically about crime and brazenly wearing influences from the worlds of noir, pulp, and the hard-boiled. In this one they add horror (tacitly Lovecraftian horror) to the mix. They also make the interesting choice of playing to one of their weaknesses. In such previous titles of theirs as Criminal or Incognito, it was always noticeable that the world they wrote about was a man's world, with men as the agents and arbiters of their fate (often through the terrible mistakes they made). Women tended not to appear, and if they did they usually were victims or else identikit noir shady ladies to leading the heroes astray. One might say that in so doing they were reflecting the conventions of the fictions to which they were paying homage, though that would be to ignore the subtlety and depth of character often exhibited by women characters in noir films.

In Fatale Brubaker and Phillips have taken an identikit noir shady lady and turned her up to 11. Josephine becomes a supernatural force of destruction. She is not malevolent as such, but she will use and destroy men to get herself out of trouble and advance her goals. She may then feel a bit sad about it, but so be it. She reminds somewhat of the tragic figures you get in the more emo vampire film - implacable and amoral, yet lonely and sad with it.

For all that she is central to the plot, Josephine always seems less vivid than the men in the story, probably because an immortal femme fatale is hard to identify with. In this one the police officer led astray by Josephine has a convincing air of terrible tragedy, with Sean Phillips' art playing a big role here - he captures well the facial expression of one who has been doomed by unwise choices he was powerless not to make. And then there is the writer Josephine goes to meet, who appears to be modelled on Robert E. Howard. In a nice meta-fictional touch, he is the hack writer of the kind of lurid pulp fiction Fatale is referencing, but Josephine spots something in his horror stories suggesting that he is not just writing from his imagination. Her intervention proves as fatal for him as it does for everyone else who crosses her path.

So there you go. If this sounds interesting, you could probably jump aboard with #11 and go back later to read what has gone before. Or you could check out the two trade paperbacks collecting earlier issues - Death Chases Me & The Devil's Business.

Fatale #11 cover image source (and another review of this issue)

Samples of interior art

My review of the first Criminal book by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

My review of the first issue of the second series of Brubaker and Phillips' Incognito

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