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‘Fatale’ Mixes Crime and Horror in a Monstrously Good Comic [Review + Preview]

It’s always nice to see a creative team that is not only in sync, but clearly enjoys working with each other, blazing new trails and pushing their collective craft toward Olympian heights. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who have been collaborating since 1999′s Scene of the Crime, are one such duo. Today, they’re unleashing Fatale on the world, and adding horror comics into their repertoire.

Crime and horror are two genres that don’t generally associate with each other, although they do share a few similarities: sudden bursts of violence and an exploration of something that is wrong at the deepest level. Fatale is more crime comic than horror comic, but it’s the horror touches that make this issue such a treat to read. It succeeds because where crime comics zig, horror comics zag.Crime fiction often includes some type of paranoia, as the private eye is more than aware that he’s on his last case, or the lady on the run needs to somehow get to safety while an entire city is looking for her. The worst that can happen to you in a crime comic is death, but when you add horror into the mix? Suddenly the stakes change. Every morbid thought becomes a possible prophecy, and the dark shadows hold more than sociopaths with sharp knives.

The faceless goons that die by the dozen in crime tales take on an altogether different meaning when placed into the context of horror. Indistinguishable thugs in dark glasses and sharp suits who appear out of nowhere and roll in groups turn from normal humans to people with something to hide in a horror tale. Are they monsters? Familiars? Worse? There’s a twist there. We’ll see it eventually, but for now? It’s eerie.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better creative team working in comics right now than Brubaker and Phillips. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely come closest, thanks to New X-Men, We3, and All-Star Superman, but Brubaker and Phillips–ably abetted by colorists like Tony Aviña, Randy Mayor, and Val Staples–have produced over sixty issues of classic or near-classic work in the same time frame. From Sleeper, their Wildstorm series about compromise and espionage, to Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, a story that weaponized nostalgia, have more than proven that they’re a duo worth paying attention to. They’ve got quantity and quality. The Brubaker/Phillips tag team remind me of the glory days of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. They make great comics, day in and day out, and they somehow keep getting better.

Like Ennis and Dillon, Brubaker and Phillips have an established style. Their stories tend to have crime fiction at their roots. Phillips’ inky, somewhat worrisome shadows and desperate faces match perfectly with Brubaker’s endless supply of doomed heroes and twisty plot twists. Sleeper and Incognito explored how undercover operations and witness protection work in the context of super-crime. Criminal boils their formula down to its skeleton, featuring crime tales as pure as snow.With Fatale, which features colors by Dave Stewart, they’re adding horror into the mix, which doesn’t just aid in surprising the reader; it works to build tension, too.

Fatale shines because, like any femme fatale worth her salt, she gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. At the end of the issue, I was left with several questions and a whole lot of ideas of where things could go in the future. It’s all conjecture, of course. I’ve gleaned vague hints from snatches of dialogue that felt significant, noticed details in the art that I may or may not have imagined while doing a cose read, and come up with my best guesses as to where this crime/horror combination is going to go. This is fun, and while that’s a strange word to use to describe an issue that goes extraordinarily dark toward the latter third of things, it’s apt. This is a comic that made me curious to read the next one, and it was that special type of curious that makes me want to beat the story to the punch by solving it on my own first. That’s good. Fatale will make you engaged.

As an added bonus, Fatale continues the semi-magazine format of Criminal. After each issue, Brubaker provides a quick page discussing the series, what he and Phillips are currently working on, and — assuming this ends up like the back matter from Criminal — great suggestions for relevant television series, movies, or novels to check out. Brubaker is a man who knows his pop culture, and there are jewels to be had here.

Closing out the issue is an essay by Jess Nevins, pop culture scholar and comics annotator, on HP Lovecraft, one of the most significant figures in modern horror. Nevins makes plain Lovecraft’s effect on modern horror, and I was surprised to find that that effect goes deeper than “He made up Cthulhu and let people play with his toys.”

Between the main story and back matter, Fatale is the total package. The story hooks you and the essay educates you. Fatale is a pretty great way to start 2012 for both Brubaker & Phillips and us, the readers. It sets a bar for other series to beat, lets us watch two creators who have more than made their rep work their talent in new and exciting ways, and even gives you context for the genre they’re working in.

I’m really pleased with how this first issue turned out. Brubaker and Phillips are letting their story roll out slowly, and this first issue does a great job of setting the stage without blowing any of the dark secrets that are clearly lurking at the heart of the tale. You get a taste of where things are going, and it’s hellfire hot. If you’ve read the press for the series, you’ll know a little more of what’s going on, but five’ll get you ten that you won’t be able to just guess all the plot twists.

Fatale drops today. You can find it on ComiXology or in finer comic shops across the nation. All you need to get started is the preview in this post.




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