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Fatale #13 Review
By Zak Edwards
March 29, 2013 - 14:13

Image Comics
Writer(s): Ed Brubaker
Penciller(s): Sean Phillips
Colourist(s): Elizabeth Breitweiser
Cover Artist(s): Sean Phillips
$3.50 US

I’m not a huge fan of Garth Ennis’ long-running Vertigo series Preacher for plenty of reasons, but one thing that series proves in spades is the Western, a genre tied to the values of American society, is pretty difficult to navigate.  Jesse’s constant need to protect/ostracize his love interest, for example, is handled, like everything Ennis touches, with the delicacy of a mutated bull in a comically tiny ceramic store.  But this week, we were treated to two Western comics from writers who handle things much better and tell wonderfully enjoyable stories.  Andy Frisk has nothing but good things to say of East of West, and I pretty much have only good things to say of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips brief foray into the Western in Fatale.

Writer Ed Brubaker has continually mentioned how this story and universe has been getting bigger and bigger and what started as a 12 issue mini-series has left that original plan behind with no end in sight.  Perhaps one thing this series allows, over his other projects Criminal and Incognito, is a bit more space to explore.  While his other series are strongly tied to the pulps of noir and costumed investigators, his explorations of the horror pulps lets Brubaker dip back into his own universe’s past and thus other genres.  In this case, Westerns.  Perhaps what makes this specific issue so interesting is how the tropes don’t always quite fit into the world.  In this instance, the femme fatale, while fairly interchangeable in his other series (and a major focus here), simply doesn’t work, both in the story and metafictionally.  While her powers don’t work on any of the main characters, she has managed to occupy other role previously but can’t seem to operate here.  She can’t shoot, can’t really ride, can’t really do anything but be led along.  Bonnie is a woman out of her time, which reminds me of that line from Sin City about Marv, except here the opposite is true: 'Black' Bonnie’s time has yet to come.   Brubaker’s contextualization of the character helps avoid the cliches and problems of the genre he’s engaging.  So while the faithful Native-American sidekick achingly still exists, at least he does in a carefully considered story that breaks the mold as well.  And while I don’t think Brubaker’s summing up of White-Native relations (below) isn’t very insightful and couched in some pretty masculine posturing, the characters tell a solid story without becoming intolerable.  And really, this is exactly what Brubaker and Phillips’ series have done since Criminal debuted all those years ago: tell classic-style stories that recognize that we can’t, nor should we want to, go back.


Phillips’ art remains something I want to go back to, however.  His moody, heavily shaded artwork has always been a highlight in all his collaborations with Brubaker.  I was initially worried how he would handle a genre that is more defined by its blinding sunlight than what lurks in the shadows, but his sensibility still makes the series delightful, mostly by making most things happen at night.  I would have liked things to be more stark, colour-wise, but the final page shows Phillips’ choice is less to do with limits on his ability and more with stylistic choice.  Choosing a certain cohesion with the rest of the series is a good move, anyways, as these issues are to help bring new readers in.  I hope these issues help bring in those new readers, but I also hope Brubaker and Phillips keep exploring their world to the depths they want to, it’s always a treat.

Grade: 8    The Western works fine for Fatale, showing off the team diversity for a great read.

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