Fatale (Vol. 1): Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Death Chases Me is the first of five volumes in the Fatale series by Ed Brubaker and his frequent collaborator Sean Phillips. In the prologue to this story, Nicolas Lash is attending the funeral of his Godfather, Dominic Raines. Dominic was known as a hack writer of detective novels, but still, when Nicolas, as executor of the Raines estate, returns to Dominic’s home and finds the manuscript of Dominic’s unpublished first novel, it’s quite a find and possibly one with monetary rewards. But at the funeral, Nicolas already has made a more important discovery, of which he is unaware: He has met the mysterious woman, the femme fatale of the story, who goes by the simple name of Jo. When she shows up at the estate that night as Nicolas discovers the manuscript, all hell breaks lose and Nicolas’s life will never be the same again.
After the prologue, we are taken back to 1956. We meet a young Dominic Raines as he talks with Jo, or Josephine, in a bar. For some reason, she looks the exact same as she does in the present day, so our mystery woman clearly doesn’t age like a normal person. She’s a kept woman by a corrupt cop named Walt, and the young Dominic Raines, who goes by the name of Hank, wants to help Jo escape his clutches by putting him in jail. With her help, he is writing an article exposing Walt’s corruption in the newspapers. Meanwhile, Walt and his partner, Lannie, discover a house full of murdered bodies, one of which is a ritual killing in the form of the Hanged Man. Their job is to solve the riddle of these ritual slayings by some strange cult. At the same time, Walt seems to be willing to trade Jo in for a miracle cure for his cancer. In the world of this comic, that’s a real possibility.
In fact, the underlying feel of the comic book is noir meets H. P. Lovecraft. Tendrils show up in panels and in the narration: “She’d feel the cold tendrils of the universe touch what was left of her heart then.” Who is Jo? What is Jo? These answers are never fully given in the first volume, but she has some sort of magical hold over men, able to manipulate them by force of will mixed with the allure of her attraction. She’s a femme fatale we like, with whom we empathize, and she has a sense of guilt when using her powers. So, when we see that she’s on the run from a mysterious monster of a man known only as the Bishop, we cheer her on, hoping she can escape his clutches, because we know, along with Jo, that there are things to fear that are worse than death. She is a desperate woman just trying to survive.
Back in the present, Nicolas is trying to figure out what happened to him after that disastrous night, but the bulk of the book is the story of a bizarre love triangle in the 1950s: A mixed web of deceit and love and lust between a corrupt cop, a newspaper man who exposes him, and Jo, who is able to manipulate both, but perhaps not enough to save their lives. There are countless murders, as well as twists and turns you’d never expect; it’s classic noir. At the same time, Brubaker channels Lovecraft so that he creates a better story than even Lovecraft himself could have imagined. After reading book one of Fatale — Death Chases Me — you’ll want to find out the rest of the story of Jo, both her past and her future. If you are a fan of noir or Lovecraft, Fatale is a must read.