The first arc comes to a close as Brubaker and Phillips take this modern day pulp story and pepper it with classic ‘50s horror/occult motifs.
Previously in Fatale: “Hank Raines has been seduced into a dangerous affair by a woman named Josephine, who is not what she seems. Following the brutal murder of Hank’s wife, and the reveal of Jo’s strange effect on men, Hank goes in search of her… only to be caught by a deadly Satanic cult. Meanwhile, Walt Booker, a crooked cop and Jo’s former lover, has his own plans for Jo.” (from the Previously In… from the inside cover)
My biggest area of interest and semi-expertise in pulp novels are the ones that appeared in the 1930s through the late 1940s. I’ve read a few horror/occult pulps from the 1950s, and there are three things that seem to be prevalent in those books:
- Monsters – usually demons from the depths of Hell
- Someone losing their eye(s) or significant body part
- An ending that doesn’t wrap everything up, but attempts to anyway
If these are the touchstones for a successful horror pulp, then Burbaker and Phillips have done their job.
This issue finds Booker putting a bloody curse on himself to break his connection with Josephine. It seems he’s ready to turn her over to Bishop (a demon in a man’s body), in order to get a boon of some kind. Fortunately, Booker, though a crooked cop, still has some noble traits; one of them being very loyal to his friends and companions. While it looks like Booker is in it for himself, he’s really pulling a con to get close to Bishop at the very spot where all the flashback action we’ve seen throughout the arc took place – the bowels beneath San Francisco.
This is where it gets really weird. The last time Booker was in this place, he took a scrap of paper containing a spell, and a stone dagger that is as old as time. When stuff hits the fan – and it does with a lot of gunshots to the head, rampaging occultists, and guys with bowler hats and glasses getting their brain matter scattered – Bishop reveals his full demon self. Though we’ve seen Bishop reveal his demonic side in previous issues, this transformation is horrifying in a true sense, though I doubt many readers are going to wet themselves.
Without giving everything away, Booker does defeat the menace, saves the girl and the captured reporter, but loses his life in the process, and each of the listed items above are met.
It’s the third item on that list that is somewhat troubling. The story concludes in a way that doesn’t wrap in a conventional manner that one might expect. There’s no driving away into the sunset moment, no definite resolution to who Josephine is, or what was really going on in the 1950s. There are hints and there are foreshadowing moments, and I can only guess that this will be touched on in issue six, which begins the second book in the series. For the trade waiters, there is an interesting and graphic hook that should propel them to the next trade, but I’m concerned that many are going to walk away from this issue and the first trade with a big question mark floating above their head. And if the question mark is big enough they might not return.
WONDERFUL SPOOKY ART
Complimenting the bizarre story, is the graphic art by Sean Phillips. The “what’s in the box” moment is very disturbing in the panel reveal, and the fate of the baby child should have more than a few people wincing during the closing sequence. The heavy use of black in the inking is something that usually turns me off, but here, it adds to the mystery and Noir feeling Phillips and Brubaker are creating for the reader.
The violence is bloody and graphic, the monsters are horrors from your nightmares, and each panel reeks with the feeling that impending doom and chaos is just around the corner.
I love it.
BOTTOM LINE: PICK IT UP
This isn’t a book to read as a jumping on point, so if you haven’t been following this series from the beginning, then you are probably going to lost (thank goodness there is a Previously In… moment on the inside cover). The characters have just enough depth to propel them through the story in a believable way, the horror and excitement of wondering who will live and who will die keeps the reader hooked, and Phillips’ art is only missing a few more .45s and bullet bras to make this story feel like it was lifted from the time period in which it is set. Pick this book up, and while you’re at it, pick up the previous four issues. It isn’t capes and tights – it’s much better. Fatale #5 earns 4 out of 5 Stars from this reader.