Pulp Corner: Fatale Book 1 – Death Chases Me
I had never heard of Fatale or read anything by Ed Brubaker. My evil compatriot, Martian Luthor Kang advised me based on my interests to check it out. After some preliminary research I found it was basically a film noir mixed with horror. Generally not being a fan of the horror genre I was a little put off at first. It seemed like an odd combination but to make it work it would have to be the proper balance between each genre, but it can be done.
I point you to the 1957 Jacques Tourneur directed movie, Night Of The Demon. Definitely not horror by today’s standards but it’s moving in that direction. Tourneur had made a few psychological thrillers prior to this as well as what some say is the definitive film noir, Out Of The Past. Night Of The Demon was the first time he really combined the two. Had I not seen it and realized it was possible to mix the two genres I wouldn’t have bothered even reading Fatale. I’m glad I did though, because I would have been a damn fool to pass this up.
Where to start? It’s not very easy to explain and I certainly don’t want to spoil anything for new readers since the mystery of this book is part what makes it work so well. Like any good Noir it begins with a voice over and we see Nicholas Lash at a funeral for his godfather, Hank. Right from the start we know Nicholas is doomed. Hank was known as a writer of successful but insipid crime novels and Nicholas isn’t thrilled about inheriting his estate. His sole saving grace is the possibility that he may uncover unpublished manuscripts there. Enter the glamorous and beautiful Josephine, granddaughter of a woman Hank had been in love with. She accompanies Nicholas back to the estate to look for something in particular that belongs to grandmother. Assailants break into the house only to be disposed of by Josephine. Things begin to spiral out of control for Nicholas, but he can’t bring himself to pull away from Josephine.
Our narrative steps back in time to the 1950’s and we see Josephine unchanged and the story of how she met Hank slowly unravels. The focus of the bulk of this collection involves a love triangle between Hank, Josephine and a crooked cop named Walt Booker. All set against the backdrop of San Francisco and a series of mysterious cult murders that are all tied together. The story switches back and forth between the past to today regularly and effectively.
I know this may seem vague, but it’s the best I can do. The title Fatale is clearly named for the female lead, Josephine. Femme Fatales of course being an essential part to most Film Noirs and usually serve as the catalyst for the trouble the main character finds himself in. Sometimes they act out of their own motives or sometimes due to manipulation from somebody else. Josephine is so far beyond that. She literally possess some kind of power (or more accurately curse) that makes it so that any man who comes in contact with her can’t live a single minute afterward without wanting to be with or think about her. Despite the fact that it literally destroys all these men and they know, but they just don’t care. She leaves a trail of some sorry and some dead men in her wake and uses new ones to get rid of her old ones. On top of that, she never seems to age at all either. This arc never truly explains the nature of her curse but I have no doubt in future installments we will learn more.
It’s an incredible story, I couldn’t put it down. I rearranged my schedule so I could read the final chapter once I had started. Then I spent the rest of the day thinking about what I read. A lot of comics these days get the tag of film noir tossed on them if the panels are dark and people wear fedoras and have guns. It’s so much more than that. This is one of the first I’ve read where I felt like I was watching a true blue noir film. That alone is an impressive feat. Despite this being the first Brubaker book I’ve read I will definitely be checking out more. He understands the genre and how to make it work in a comic book context. Sean Phillips art is equally top notch. It’s realistic but still contains that comic edge so you know what you’re reading. I understand these two have collaborated together on various projects like this in the past and it shows. The movie like fluidity of the panels and the story pacing is proof.
This is highly recommended to anyone who is a fan of the genre or looking to get their toes wet.
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