Fatale #24 review by
Ed Brubaker (w)
Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser (a)
Release Date: July 30, 2014
Finally, the fiendishly fantastic finale of Fatale!
Yeah, that's all the alliteration you're going to get out of me. Fatale #24 wraps up one of the best comic book series in the last several years, which is no surprise given the creative team behind it. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are well-known for producing noir-infused hits like Sleeper, Criminal, and Incognito, and in Fatale they delivered a unique blend of that noir styling with Lovecraftian horror. This genre mashup is such a natural fit that it's surprising nobody in comics has done it before, although it's doubtful anyone could do it justice like Brubaker and Phillips. Fatale revolves around the story of Josephine, or Jo, a woman cursed with immortality, unable to die even if she tries, and an uncontrollable power over most males she encounters. The men caught in her influence become hopelessly infatuated with her, to the point of insanity, and a recurring theme in the series is how this infatuation ultimately shatters their lives.
In its two-and-a-half-year run, Fatale spun out numerous plot threads around Jo, her curse, the men she's ruined (intentionally or not), and the demonic Bishop who pursues her for his own twisted ends. This extra-sized issue ties most of those threads up nicely, bringing not only Jo's story to a satisfying close but also those of Nicolas Lash, Jo's latest suitor who was introduced in the first arc of the series, and the Bishop himself. Although there's closure, the story still leaves behind a hazy uncertainty about exactly how Jo's nightmarish reality came to be. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Some stories wrap up too neatly, bringing everything together in a way that is so thoroughly explained that they come of as contrived. So while we do get a somewhat clearer picture of Josephine's origin between the previous issue and this one, I'm glad that every detail of her curse isn't laid out end to end. The lingering questions serve the mood of the overall story, and all the crucial notes are touched upon. Beginning with a fairytale-like sequence that presents an abstract sort of backstory to Jo's curse and leading into the present, this issue gathers previous story arcs' major threads and weaves them together, just as all the main characters converge for their final, grisly showdown.
Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser are as amazing in this issue as they've been at any point in the series. The first few pages, essentially being told as a bedtime story, are a departure from the usual art on the book, reminiscent of old woodcuts and with a lighter, more colorful palette. It is an apt contrast with the book's usual dark look, and provides a great snap back to reality when the sequence is over and the art returns to normal. The story's atmosphere is expertly captured throughout the book, with a gloom hanging over every moment. Even Jo's moonlight swim, her last moment of relative peace, seems overshadowed by what's in store for her. Every emotion is amazingly clear, from Jo's roller coaster of fear, remorse, anger, and eventual acceptance of her fate, to Nic's realization that he is the bait in a trap and the determination that comes from it, to the deranged stare of Nelson, who has blown right through rock bottom in his twisted infatuation with Jo, to the Bishop's naked hatred and hunger. The effortless, immersive detail here is the capstone to the gorgeous body of work that Phillips and Breitweiser have developed throughout Fatale's run.
The ultimate confrontation with the Bishop is engaging and suspenseful, with a couple of unexpected moments. You never know if Jo's plan has gone horrifically wrong, or if events are playing right into her hands. The action is brutal and intense right up to the climax, thanks to the artists' visceral rendering and brilliant pacing. Of course, any sort of “happily ever after” would feel extremely out of place in any Brubaker book, particularly this one, and thus the closing pages are a beautifully tragic epilogue. The final, bittersweet glimpses we get of Jo and Nicolas absolutely could not have been more perfect. Good endings are hard to pull off, but this issue unquestionably nails it.
Fatale puts a new twist on the classic femme fatale archetype, not just by adding the horror theme of monster-worship, but by presenting a more sympathetic facet of the character. As with most of Brubaker and Phillips' books, there are no clear-cut heroes or villains here, which makes it all the more relatable. This final issue puts a cherry on the top of a powerful, darkly seductive story. I can't stress this enough: Buy it.