Fatale | Comic Review

Sunday 2 August 2020

This year my reading goal is bigger than ever. I aim to read 125 book, but seeing as last year I barely made it over my goal of 60, you may be wondering, “is that a good idea?” To which I say, it is if I’m counting manga and graphic novels. My wife and I have a rule in our house. If it counts on Goodreads, it counts as a book, so I jumped at my higher than normal goal with gusto.

The first comic series I read was Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan and after that I wanted to finally finish the Fables series by Bill Willingham but before I did that I picked up Fatale by written by Ed Brubacker with artist Sean Philips. It was a short comic series from way back in 2012 that I collected as it came out, but stopped reading it even though I was still buying the issues. What did I think, eight years later? Here’s my review.

I was 29 back in 2012 and while that’s technically well into adulthood, I know now that I wasn’t quite as mature as I should have been. One sign of that was how impressed with myself I was that I was buying a mature rated comic that wasn’t pornographic. See? Mature! Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a comic for kids. There’s murder, nudity, sex, ritualistic sacrifice, and plenty of blood. So consider that your content warning.

Fatale revolves around Josephine, a mysterious woman who seems to draw the attention of men like moths to a raging bonfire. She has power over men. They not only notice her, but she can get them to do whatever she wants. She lives on the run from a mysterious adversary who wants nothing more than to sacrifice her to long forgotten gods for an unclear purpose. Josephine meats Nick who falls under her spell and is now caught up in everything.
We might as well call Nick “Whitey McGee” because he’s just one of many white male characters with no personality that serve no real purpose other than to lust over Jo and to be used as her tools, even when they think they’re being chivalrous and protecting her. There’s only two male characters who don’t feel like useless plebeians. One of them is only in one short part of the story, a Native American man who was connected to a “Fatale” before Jo, and the man who saved Jo for the very first time.

So basically, even though Jo is the main character and has power over men, her story is still told via the men she encounters. In fact, it feels like her story is some sort of reverse “woman in a refrigerator,” and instead of this reverse trope feeling like it’s a step forward for women in fiction, it serves as more of a lethargic step back.

Look, not every piece of fiction has to be some super woke work of art or some diverse rainbow. But especially in today’s cultural climate, the lack of characters of color (except for the lone Native American) and Bechdel test passing women stands out.
What’s worse than the lack of inclusivity is the fact that the story is so bland. Each particular volume is entertaining enough to be a tad enjoyable, but the story as a whole is more convoluted and fragmented more than humpty dumpty after an earthquake. Brubaker spends too much time diving into Jo’s backstory and the story of the Fatales as a whole. So much so that the main story gets lost in the process. The entire third volume takes place in the past and focuses on the advent of Josephine and a few Fatales who came before her. But even though we get this volume that focuses on her beginnings, it’s still never made clear how or why she got her powers. I realize that leaving a mystery unsolved or not answering every single question can be an important and effective narrative device, but in this case it left me cold and wanting more.

If I took each volume and critiqued it by itself, they’d get a higher average score than the story as a whole. But I have to rate this as one story. In the end, Fatale is a good idea that shows a lot of promise but it misses the mark so bad that I wonder what Brubaker and Phillips were aiming for in the first place. This could have been a great series but the sloppy narrative and poor characters keep it from being all it could have been.

Fatale by Ed Brubacker gets a 4 out of 11

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