Fatale, Book Two: The Devil’s Business (2013)
Ed Brubaker (writer)
Sean Phillips (artist)
Trade Paperback, 136 pages
Brubaker and Phillips have been working together for quite awhile on such titles as Criminal and Incognito, to name just a couple. Both titles make effective use of noir elements with multilayered storytelling and shadowy art. While Criminal contains straight-up crime noir, Incognito combines noir with science fiction. Now with Fatale, Brubaker and Phillips have thrown noir and Lovecraftian horror into a blender and produced something that works when it probably shouldn’t. The noir/horror mixture has, after all, been done successfully by very few writers. (William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel and several fine novels by Tom Piccirilli come to mind.) Brubaker and Phillips know how to strike a balance that respects the audiences of both genres.
In Book One: Death Chases Me (collecting Fatale #1-5), we’re introduced Nicholas Lash, a man attempting to track down his deceased godfather’s hidden manuscript, a hard-boiled crime novel from the 1950s. At the godfather’s funeral, Nicholas meets Josephine, a beautiful young woman who couldn’t possibly have known his godfather over fifty years ago. Josephine rescues Nicholas from a gang of murderous occultists and the deadly game begins. Soon Nicholas realizes that Josephine can make any man alive do her bidding; a true femme fatale (hence the series’ title).
While Book One finishes a complete story arc, it is essential reading if you’re going to pick up Book Two: The Devil’s Business (collecting Fatale #6-10), a story set in 1970s Los Angeles, focusing more on Josephine, a would-be actor named Miles and a Manson-like cult called the Method Church.
Plot elements from Book One linger, weaving in and out of Book Two, but here we learn more about Josephine and her power to lure men to their doom. Does she have control over her own power? Or is she a pawn in another being’s game?
Since there’s more story to work with in Book Two, this second volume seems more urgent, more tightly plotted, and more interesting than the first. L.A. in the 70s provides just the right anything-goes atmosphere blending nicely with a shadowy sense of despair and bleak inevitability. If Book One contains more noir than horror, Book Two balances the scales more, with the horror element making a stronger presence.
Brubaker and Phillips are masters of weaving characters in and out of their books. It’s not unusual to meet a seemingly minor character in an early story from their Criminal series who shows up later to be a major player in another story. Fatale looks like it will continue that practice, but possibly with more sinister and cosmic consequences for its characters. Fatale is dark, violent, sexual, and very good storytelling. It’s rare for a comic book (or any format, for that matter) to serve up a combination of two genres with such respect for and homage to them. Book One is good, but Book Two is even more satisfying. 4/5