Some would say that offering solutions to mysteries is just good storytelling, but I’m not sure I agree. Often, the mystery is the thing for me. Mysteries tantalize and tempt. They seduce. We’re drawn to them, and as much as we might desire their solution… Sometimes, it’s sweeter to want. All of which brings us to our topic for today…
Fatale 14, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
If ever there was a book about wanting, it’s this one. The lead (if you’re not familiar) is Josephine, an apparently immortal beauty who inspires an irresistable desire in men. But it’s a terrible, ruinous desire, a passion that typically leads to madness and death. And they die, of course, because Fatale is also a book that’s all about mysteries. The secrets of Josephine’s true nature, and of the bizarre cult that’s hounded her across the decades.
So, considering my perspective on mysteries, and the series’ preoccupation with wanting, I’m really quite happy with the way Ed Brubaker has chosen to start offering explanations. The more we learn about the world of Fatale, the more mysterious everything gets. Or… if not mysterious, at least weird. Really, truly weird, in the best sense of that word. I mean, at one point it looked like we were just dealing with some kind of run-of-the-mill Satan worshippers with a Lovecraftian edge. But now, after this current arc of flashback stories, we find that the series is actually about a deeper supernatural world, a dark secret world of the spirit lurking in the corner of your eye. It’s still Lovecraftian, of course…
…and kudos to Sean Phillips for making the series’ trademark tentacle-headed visage so primally, pants-wettingly scary. That’s no mean feat in a world where cute cuddly Cthulhu plushies are a thing. I mean, sure they’re funny, but there are a lot of people who prefer their cold implacable cosmic horror defanged, and I’m glad this book shoots those people a great big middle finger every time that bastard pops up.
Kudos also to Brubaker, who gives us a classic Lovecraftian freak-out this issue, when an army cryptographer tries to wrap his brain around some Eldertext.
As you can probably tell from the artwork, this issue takes place during World War II, which is a great setting for this kind of weird horror tale. Any war would be, probably, but the spectre of Nazism lends that era the perfect cache. As the narrator argues, it’s a natural environment for these creatures, one in which they can all but operate openly. That sentiment very nearly makes them too commonplace for my taste, but then Brubaker saves it by revealing something kinda squidgy about the bald bruisers who make up the cult’s rank and file. I won’t give the surprise away here, but now I do understand why they’re immune to Josephine’s supernatural wiles.
That’s always going to be a potential problem with this book, though. Brubaker and Phillips are working very much in a grounded pulp tradition, a style that’s typically far more interested in solutions than mysteries. That tension works in the book’s favor most of the time, mind you, and they’ve done a fine job in recent issues of exploiting it. But I’ll be very curious to see, as we move into the series’ second half, if they continue to maintain the proper balance. Or if, like Josephine’s doomed lovers, we have our desires slaked and find that it was the seduction we preferred all along.