Genre mash-ups are big business these days, from the well-handled ilk of The Sixth Gun to the ‘just stick vampires in it and print it on toilet paper’ dross that clogs shelves and minds in the post-Twilight literary climate. Comics are no exception to this, and so we have Fatale, a bend of seedy post-war detective story with unknowable Lovecraftian horror. In the crime-writing duo (sorry) of Brubaker and Phillips though, it’s clear that this is more than another genre fiction cash-grab. Having worked together on crime comics like Criminal and Incognito for over a decade, they both have the chops to tell cliche from archetype.
The central conceit of Fatale is that Jo, the afforementioned Femme, is both unchanging and fundamentally irresistable to men as a result of some unwanted supernatural intervention. From there it’s short step to corrupt cops, flawed but noble reporters, and the sort of hooded death cults that sprang up in the more lurid pulps. Spanning some 70 years in a fractured, non-linear bursts, in less capable hands Fatale would be a (undoubtedly misogynistic) mess, but Brubaker deftly selects the elements of pulp crime and horror that work for the story without slavishly aping a particular author or period.
Sean Philip’s artwork is as strong as ever here – his simple lines and thick inking are especially suited to the shadowy horror on show. He even gets some WW2 flashbacks that break out of the strict panels into bold, propoganda-inspired full-page pieces.
Fatale is probably the strongest new series of the last year, and shows that with a deft touch and a genuine understanding of narrative and genre, cross-pollination experiments like this needn’t all end up like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.