This post of Fatale by author Ed Brubaker, Illustrations Sean Phillips has been adapted from two previous posts. First is the spoiler free review followed by the spoiler full review and summary.
Spoiler Free Review
This was my introduction to the works of Brubaker and Phillips. And a solid one at that! I am excited to keep reading their dark noir graphic novels after this one.
Fatale is about a woman named Jo. She is mysterious, might be immortal, and definitely has a strong power over any man she meets. She also has ties to a monstrous cult that does all the classic sacrifices and blood pacts.
The series moves back and forth along a time line that is longer than Jo’s youthful appearance would suggest. We get to see Jo’s present, past, and ultimately what happens to her.
There are twists and turns, revelations, myths, and lots of sex and violence. There is absolutely no shortage of entertainment on these pages. If you are expecting to read this casually, reconsider. There is a ton packed on these pages.
Jo is an incredibly complex female protagonist. Yes, she is sexy, but she is so much more. She’s haunted, powerful yet vulnerable, brave yet tired, and above all else she just wants to find a way out.
Fatale is a disturbing mystery that takes the reader across at least three generations as well as locations both grounded and mystical.
The art is absolutely stunning. Phillips really matches Brubaker’s prose in both mood and intensity. They compliment each other seamlessly.
The main issue with this book is that it could be a little confusing at times. Particularly at the beginning when you still have no idea about the mythos surround Jo and the cult. It felt like there were a bunch of characters that I had no idea who they were or what their relationships were for at least three issues.
Additionally, volume 3 of Fatale is a weak middle run. It features several loosely connected stories surrounding women similar to Jo throughout history but it ultimately didn’t add to the series overall.
Despite those couple of flaws I can still strongly recommend this book. I am very interested to read more from this pair and see how much more complex and dark they can get. It’s always good to read anything new and they seem to have captured a mix of old style with new content.
Any noir fan should take a step out of their comfort zone to explore this graphic novel series.
Fatale is my introduction to Brubaker and Phillips’ noir graphic novels. They have a ton of them, I see the covers all the time. I just never actually sat down to read one. Well I should have sooner, this book is insane!
A LOT happens in these five volumes. I didn’t really know what to expect going in but I honestly didn’t expect HP Lovecraft meets The Man Who Wasn’t There. But I like it.
Not sure why I didn’t think it would be that. If I had ever seen this issue cover it probably would’ve cleared it up for me:
But I never saw that cover and chose not to focus on the more subtle tentacles on the volume covers. They’re there but I guess I just never registered it until after the fact.
Needless to say, this is not your typical noir.
But it does start as one. With our femme Fatale protagonist Jo cheating on her corrupt cop husband with a corrupt married journalist. Classic noir.
Her husband, Walter, has cancer and made a deal with a sort of evil cult to help cure him.
Jo takes Hank, the journalist, to an abandoned house where a crazed man recognizes Jo. She freaks out and convinces him to immediately kill himself in order for whatever the hell her secret is to not get out.
In a confused stupor Hank goes home. There he finds himself arrested for the murder of his pregnant wife. Walter is somewhat responsible because Hank wrote about their corruption for his newspaper.
Walt’s partner is then murdered by a member of aforementioned evil cult and they kidnap Hank. They’re ultimately trying to find Jo. We know Jo is tied to something very big and dark but still have no idea what.
Walt casts a blood spell to break his tie to Jo and set her free. She then is able to go rescue Hank from the cult. Hank accidentally murders Walt but Jo feels no hard feelings about that. They escape but the cult has a hold of Hank’s murdered wife’s fetus. They use it to re-spawn their leader.
Okay, so that’s Volume 1. As I said, A LOT happens in this book. The first couple issues were a little confusing. I normally read comics and graphic novels before bed and I don’t think I was prepared to pay this much attention at first. Once I kind of figured out the writing style things started to go smoother.
Volume 2 jumps ahead a little in the timeline. Jo is a recluse, living in an old Hollywood mansion and never leaving. Hank has long since left and her only company is an old woman who buys her groceries and cares for the home.
That is, until a Hollywood movie star and his young lover find themselves in her back yard. They escaped the cult and she brings them in. Miles, the actor, is immediately wowed by Jo. She has a power over men that is intense.
They become romantically involved as they go to investigate the cult. Jo manages to kill a bunch of cultists in a confrontation but Miles doesn’t make it out.
Meanwhile, in a slightly further timeline, Hank’s nephew is searching for the mysterious woman named Jo who causes havoc everywhere she goes.
Volume 3 focuses on loosely connected stories of other women like Jo throughout history. It’s definitely the weakest volume in the bunch. It was somewhat interesting but didn’t really provide me with any new information I hadn’t already pieced together.
Volume 4 however, is the strongest volume of the 5. It goes backward on the timeline and shows us an earlier Jo. I’d say younger but she doesn’t exactly age.
She is shown as a victim, running naked through a street covered in blood. A young up and coming rock star picks her up. She is subliminally controlling him to protect her but neither of them fully realizes it.
She starts sleeping with nearly the whole band. The band members getting in on the action are loving it and loving her. The girlfriend of one of those guys hates it though, obviously. She is not under Jo’s control and cannot figure out what is going on.
The one band member who is not sleeping with Jo also hates the situation. He goes pure incel and tries to rape her. She psychically convinces him to drown himself in the toilet. And he deserved it.
Meanwhile, a police officer named Wulf is trying to find Jo. He’s a woman killer by hobby and once killed Jo. He wants to do it again. See, she’s immortal and has died many times. Always to return whether she wants to or not.
Wulf tracks down a former love interest of Jo’s and tries to torture him for information but Jo’s spell appears to also work long distance. Jo seems to have limited control over the immense power she holds over men.
Wulf does end up finding the band’s house. He kills all of them but Lance, the one who initially found her. Jo kills Wulf and runs off, abandoning Lance.
In the forward timeline we once again find Hank’s nephew, Nick. Lance has tracked him down and is going to attempt to sacrifice him in order to draw Jo out.
Volume 5 catches us up to the last timeline. Jo rescues Nick and causes Lance to go insane. He just can’t live without her.
Jo entrances Nick into killing for her. She finally finds a package she’s been hunting down through the whole series, the cult leader’s eyes.
Jo and Nick make love and through this act he is privy to her memories. He witnesses something so dark that it truly explains how her power is indeed a curse.
She has a lustful power over men, they are unable to function healthily after being connected to her. But this power also happens to boys. This power happened to her own son.
She had to repeatedly turn down the sexual advances of her own son but in the end there was nothing she could do. The son was so distraught over not being able to have her that he killed himself. See, dark.
Together, Jo and Nick aim to destroy the cult that caused her first death. The cult leader retrieves his eyes and reverts back to tentacle monster form. He begins to torture Nick when Jo kisses the cult leader. She transfers all of her feelings of pain and heartbreak and misery to him.
He breaks down and all of the grief and torture blood completes some sort of ritual. Jo comes out of the ritual aged. She is finally able to die like a mortal should.
So dark and yet so touching at the end. I really felt for Jo and was so happy for her to finally be released from her curse.
Female sexuality is consistently demonized but I think Fatale turns it around. It’s not due to maliciousness that Jo controls men. Jo is literally just living her life when men try to rape, kill, torture, or enslave her. The men can’t handle her.
The art in this book is phenomenal. It really captures a mood and combines science fiction with noir mystery seamlessly.
I’m excited to read more from this pair. I can only hope they’re all as original and shocking as Fatale.
4/5 tentacle creatures 🐙🐙🐙🐙
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