Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
One of the most important parts of the film noir is the femme fatale. The woman that gets the hero mixed up in everything and inevitably leads to his downfall. Normally, this is just a part of the formula that made up noir. Fatale turns the concept on its head with one simple question: what if the femme fatale didn’t want to be the femme fatale, and was just cursed to be one?
Fatale is the story of a man whose godfather dies, which leaves him with one of his unpublished manuscripts, only to shortly be mixed up with Josephine and attacked by mysterious men…while flashing back to Josephine, who’s the same age in the past. While the first volume took place in the 1950s with the godfather, this volume skips forward to 70s Hollywood. Miles is a wannabe actor who’s only starred in one good movie, only to find himself on the wrong side of a cult and seeking sanctuary with Josephine, who’s secluded herself. But the cult is also after her.
First things first: the continuity issue. Do you need to read the first volume? Yes and no. Yes, for the present day overarching plot, you do. For the story in the 70s, I certainly don’t think you’d get as much out of it coming in here. At the same time, the time-skip means it’s a new set of characters and new plot which at least wraps up at the end of the volume. I’d say it’s a fairly friendly jumping-on point.
The main twist of Fatale is its combination of crime stories with supernatural elements. The cult here isn’t just a cult, they’re really working for a demon. It’s certainly a bit jarring, but most surprisingly, it doesn’t break the atmosphere. The dark, gritty crime stories still work even if the villain is a Cthulhu-esque demon. It’s a blending of genres that Sean Phillips’ art manages to make work. Everything is stylized like a noir movie, but as demons appear, they come off as almost Mignola-esque. They look wrong in this world, but that’s what makes their presence interesting.
It’s impressive that the tone the first volume sets in the 50s manages to stay across 20 years. There’s quite a difference going from the noir-fuelled world of corrupt cops and reporters to a Hollywood ruled by sex, drugs, and cults. Keeping the narration around helps, and Josephine provides the link. We get more of her character here, too, including the confirmation fairly early on that she mysteriously attracts men to her. There’s only so much given here, of course. At the end, we’ve gotten maybe one piece of the puzzle, along with some more of her character development, but there’s still enough missing that makes you want to read more. It is worrisome that it’s only 40 years until the flashbacks catch up to modern day, but then, we’ll have to see where the series go before it’s worth worrying about completely.
The Devil’s Business is easily as strong as the first volume. If you want a noir story with some twists, go there. This is where things are really beginning go places, taking the noir genre and twisting it more to fit into different decades and plots, along with starting to reveal where the overall plot is going. Fatale certainly has my interest, and I eagerly await future storylines.