Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Fatale 24 begins with a fable. A young Nicolas Lash is being told the story of a white owl that may have been a god and wrapped the Earth in a ribbon. Many years later, there was a knight whose crest was a white owl. The knight arrived at a kingdom that had a dragon problem and asked its king why they do not allow the dragons to sleep. The king replies that the dragons are the truth. The knight replies that while that may be so, they were not the only truth. As young Nick falls asleep, his uncle starts to leave without finishing the story. Nick asks if the knight slays the dragons. His grandfather replies, “Everyone knows you can’t kill dragons.” Nicolas then wakes up in the back of a truck with the wild old man, Nelson. They are both still prisoners of the Bishop. Meanwhile, Josephine and her friend Otto are at the beach, trying to figure out what to do next. Jo goes for one last swim in the moonlight while she can and comes to the realization that she can no longer run from her destiny. She and Otto return to his house where they work on setting up a trap for the Bishop when he and his men show up at the front door. They are all taken to an alter where Nick is being used as part of a ritual to summon the Bishop’s dark masters. Josephine uses her power over men in an unexpected way to distract the Bishop. The ritual is stopped, but not as planned. Nick, Nelson and the Bishop all unexpectedly wind up meeting the dark gods that the Bishop was trying to summon. At the last minute, Nick is pull free from their grasp, but there are repercussions of his encounter. Afterwards, Nick and Josephine get to live out their lives, but not in any way that they ever expected.
Wow, what a finish. This book has felt like a noir story from the beginning, but with a liberal dash of horror mixed in. Some of the more Lovecraftian elements have mostly been at the story’s periphery, only coming into focus on a few occasions. Fatale 24 jumps into the deep end of that pool though, and the characters get to meet the monsters head on. There really aren’t many details about what lurks in the darkness though. The monsters are never really given any names, and no attempt is made to explain what they are, where they come from, or what they want. This plays up the “fear of the unknown” angle, and the idea that the creatures are horrors beyond human understanding. Brubaker uses all of this to create a disquieting tone throughout the book. This series has also been about destiny. The fact that Josephine had a predefined role to play, and whether or not she could break free from it. In that way, she is a tragic character. In that same vein, Jo gets a sad but honest ending that just works. It’s highly satisfactory.
Sean Phillips kills on this book, as usual. From his medieval manuscript style art for the opening tale, to the non-traditional page layouts that show characters seemingly falling through space and time, the art is beautiful and evocative. One of the things that has always stunned me about Fatale is the way Phillips draws Josephine like a very real woman with a timeless beauty. Sometimes you see pictures of people from earlier decades and they just look off. They look like they belong to that time and would be out of place in the present. But Josephine isn’t like that. She leads a long life and remains the same through the majority of it, but she never looks out of place. And even though she has powers that can cloud the minds of men, there’s no doubt that they would be drawn to her regardless. This has really built a strong foundation for believability throughout the series, something that might not have been achieved by a lesser artist.
They say that all good things must come to an end, and I suppose this is proof of that. This series has been fantastic and gotten me hooked on Brubaker/Phillips collaborations. I now want to read their entire backlog of work and I’m really looking forward to their new series, The Fade Out.
If you’d like to find out more about Brubaker and Phillips’s upcoming Image title, The Fade Out, click here.