Sex, drugs, satanic cults, and crime. No, it’s not another B-movie on its way to your local drive-in movie theater. It’s a comic book, brought to you by the same creative team that brought you Criminal and Incognito – Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (illustrator), and Dave Stewart (colorist) – and this time it’s called Fatale. The title refers to those seductive, yet murderous women of film/crime noir, the “femme fatale”. The kind of woman that grabs a man with her eyes and burns a hole in his skull, removing all recognition and logic so that the man is nothing but a chess piece to be maneuvered and manipulated. But the title can also refer to a person’s imminent doom or destiny. Their “fatal” path of destruction and the hurt that follows them. On that note, let me introduce Fatale’s femme fatale, Josephine.
Josephine is the ultimate femme fatale. She does not age, therefore she does not lose her seductive qualities. Her lips. Her hair. Her eyes. Her body. They are all tools used to seduce and destroy. Men are putty upon their first encounter with Josephine and they follow her willingly, disregarding their marriages and families only to be in her arms. Their lust and passion for her is so strong that they will indulge in violence, or even murder to satisfy their cravings. But the concept is not as simple as Josephine reducing a man to his most primal instincts. The men are still their former selves, just hollow shells needing direction. A victim of Josephine’s describes the experience in issue #11 of Fatale:
He couldn’t stop thinking of her. Like she was an itch that wouldn’t go away. He didn’t plan on helping her escape. Didn’t plan on killing Bill when he got in the way. It was almost like he was a passenger in his own body.
The story is hardboiled and ever expanding, taking readers through different time periods and locales. The issue I enjoy most is issue #6, part one of the second story arc, “The Devil’s Business”. It’s now 1978, and Josephine is officially a recluse. She lives in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, lost in her memories of the past and the men she’s ruined. She feels guilt and sadness and she no longer has any use for her power, until a man and woman leap over her wall and into her yard, running from someone or something, and in need of help. Josephine takes them in and the man is immediately drawn to her, for reasons he cannot understand. The cycle of ruin and hurt begins again. Josephine is a victim of herself.
It’s odd that we should witness a femme fatale feel anything but pleasure in the hurt she’s caused, yet here’s Josephine, in limbo, unable to leave her home for fear of inflicting ruin upon more unsuspecting suitors. In this series, Brubaker provides further insight to those nasty bitches that manipulate. Maybe they’re not as cold and heartless as we always thought. Maybe they do actually feel love, or some form of it…?
Fatale is now on its eleventh issue. There have been two story arcs released, both compiled in trade paperback, and the series continues to expand. In the columns section, at the back of each issue, Brubaker states that he never intended for the book to become an ongoing series,
I wasn’t allowing myself to imagine a world where we could do a longer series that built as it went, where there was room to stop and tell stories about other pieces of the puzzle. I always envied series like that for their freedom. And then I realized I was the only one stopping me from doing that in Fatale.
Please, Mr. Brubaker, don’t stop. I want more of Josephine!