Batman: Gotham Noir (2001)

Batman: Gotham Noir

Gotham Noir is a Jim Gordon story. Only he’s ex-cop Jim Gordon, divorced ex-cop Jim Gordon, just trying to get by as a private investigator. Only he’s a drunk. It’s 1949 and Gordon had a bad time in the war. Bruce Wayne was there. Bruce Wayne knows the secrets. Lots of secrets in Gotham Noir. Writer Ed Brubaker has this endless drawer of revelations to throw in to explain why a character did or said something ten pages before. The Noir is heavy.

Some of the comic is Gordon narrating why he’s on the run from the cops. Corrupt politicians have pinned a murder on him, a murder he’s trying to solve. Because when a man’s partner gets killed… oh, wait, no, wrong story. Gordon’s trying to figure out what happened because he woke up from a bender next to a dead body. Though his motivations waver and do a 180 at some point in Noir. Brubaker likes threatening and victimizing to get a reaction in the book, which is really too bad. There’s a lot of gimmick–the Batman cast back in the late forties, complete with Selina “The Cat” Kyle and a guy named Napier who ends up the ill-advised, last minute supervillain.

And Harvey Dent’s around, of course. And some crime boss. And some dirty politicians. And who knows who else.

Gordon heads to the newspaper stand in 1949 Gotham City.

With Sean Phillips’s beautiful, post-war urban Americana noir art–ably colored by Dave Stewart–Noir shouldn’t be able to go off the rails. Unfortunately, Brubaker runs out of mystery a lot sooner than he should. He goes for sensationalism for impact, instead of ingenuity of solution. It’s not like Gotham Noir’s Jim Gordon is particularly smart. He’s not smart, he’s not charming, he’s just pitiable. Strange setup for a protagonist, which Brubaker enables by keeping the rest of the cast obtuse. They’re obtuse to Gordon, who recognizes it and doesn’t care, and to the reader, who probably should care because it’s supposed to be a mystery after all.

There are some similarities to Batman: Year One in terms of cast list and general plotting. And Phillips’s detailed, lush art… well, it doesn’t break the reminder.

Déjà vu.

But the problems with Gotham Noir aren’t from it cribbing Year One’s climax or Harvey Dent. The problems are with Brubaker’s handle on the whole thing. He sets it up to be interesting with Batman and then has to fall back on a Batman villain to make it interesting. Gordon’s a bystander in much of the story, which is fine for a hard-boiled p.i. story, but the other characters don’t make up for it. They’re boring. Selina The Cat’s a yawn fest–and the hinted love triangle (Bruce, Selina, and Gordon) never manifests into anything. Gotham Noir is a bunch of hints not manifesting into anything.

It’s got some good art and is wholly readable, but Batman: Gotham Noir is “just” another Elseworlds book.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Dave Stewart; editor, Ivan Cohen; publisher, DC Comics.

Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special (April 2016)

Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special

Wow.

On its own, Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is objectively excellent. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips do the touching story of a boy and his jerk criminal dad. Set in 1978. And there’s a juxtaposing of an old Marvel-esque kung fu comic. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s sad. It’s a great story.

But there’s so much texture to it all, as the special ties into the old Criminal books. It’s not a haphazard anniversary issue by a couple excellent creators; it’s an excellent anniversary issue, its creators taking it all very seriously. Brubaker and Phillips aren’t congratulating themselves with this Special, they’re awarding the reader with it. It’s this perfectly paced, perfectly conceived gem of a book. It’s got beautiful art from Phillips. He has this way of protecting the son whenever his father is around, implying it through the composition and the panel layouts. It’s such a smart comic.

It’s also fun. The kid meets a girl. She’s precocious. Brubaker hinges the whole comic on her–it’s a pre-teen romance of sorts–and he does a great job on her character. He presents the readers two views into the story, one through the kid’s, one through the girl’s. He does it with this wonderfully prompt pacing–Brubaker and Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (who’s become an essential part of the team) take advantage of every page, every panel. It’s flawlessly executed.

The Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is a class act and a great comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 12 (January 2016)

The Fade Out #12

Well, it’s definitely great. The last issue of Fade Out is a great comic. And it’s a great close to the series. But does it elevate Brubaker and Phillips to that superior level of comic book creators, the ones only mentioned with hushed tones and reverence? I don’t know.

I don’t know yet.

I’ll have to reread The Fade Out someday, in one sitting, and decide. Because the pacing of this issue is key and I’m reading it in a single dose, but it was clearly broken out in plotting as part of a bigger whole. As a single serving, it’s that great success I just said. Brubaker and Phillips wrap things up and then wrap them up again. In doing so, they take readers through not just a recap of the story, but a recap of the experience of the comic, making them reexamine their own interpretations of the comic.

It’s really good writing. Brubaker’s comfortable with the cast, comfortable readers will get their sometimes abbreviated appearances. There’s a lot going on this issue, with Brubaker dropping two revelations (both make a reread seem like a good idea).

Phillips excels through all those complications. He even has this wonderful “Is that Clark Gable? I know that’s George Sanders” forties Hollywood visual in-joke element. He and Brubaker are doing a film noir as a comic, but stepped back, but still using film noir visual queues.

I don’t know what a perfectly finished Brubaker comic feels like (or, if I do, I can’t remember), but The Fade Out comes the closest.

CREDITS

Tomorrow, When the World is Free; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 11 (November 2015)

The Fade Out #11

Ed Brubaker is about to deliver. He and Sean Phillips are break the skylight and get onto the roof. The Fade Out, an entirely grounded detective story set in Hollywood, is about to be where Brubaker joins the very small group of comics writers who I will buy regardless. Because what they do will be something special, even if its mainstream, because their styles may not reflect how comics are progressing as a narrative art form right now, but they will in a few years.

It’s like if Sleeper: Season Two had actually been as good as the first series. It’s like if Captain America really were as good as Catwoman. Brubaker jumps between projects with impatience. He gets excited for the new shiny. Only Fade Out doesn’t have the shiny, it just has the skills. It has the writing and the art and the writer’s understanding of what the art is going to do to this story. Brubaker understands how the comic book is going to read and he lets it inform how he’s writing.

It’s entirely commercial, entirely artistic and sublimely elegant.

He could screw it all up next issue, of course.

That would be very sad.

As for the comic itself, Brubaker gets around to revealing some things Gil should have known about from Charlie. Not to mention the reader. The reader should have known too. Except it works better here defining Charlie as a person, making him more understandable. It’s a genre standard and Brubaker pulls it off.

Then it’s Gil and Charlie on an adventure. It’s amazing. And Charlie’s narration of it, with how the plot progresses and then how Phillips illustrates it, that adventure is where Brubaker and Phillips do something extraordinary. They show how comics noir is its own genre. They prove the argument of their last ten years of work.

Even if The Fade Out flops next issue, Brubaker and Phillips have done something extraordinary with it.

CREDITS

Anyone Else But Me; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 10 (October 2015)

The Fade Out #10

Brubaker’s winding up. This issue of The Fade Out is the part of the detective novel where the detective–in this case Charlie, who’s not particularly good at it–is collecting all the final details to have his breakthrough. In fact, the narration hints Charlie’s confident in his conclusions, which means Brubaker’s got next issue to stir it up more and then the last issue to let it all settle. Not a bad structure, but it does mean there isn’t much to this issue.

There’s exposition and some revelation, but there’s no character development. Brubaker sets the issue during the wrap party for the movie, which should be a big thing. It’s not. It’s a logical narrative progression–Charlie using the party for cover on his investigating–as the story wraps up.

The last few issues of The Fade Out have been breathtaking. This issue’s good, narratively important, but it’s not breathtaking. It’s a necessity and it coasts on existing momentum. Fingers crossed Brubaker is able to stir up some speed in the next issue.

Phillips’s art, of course, is breathtaking. One never has to worry about him.

CREDITS

Where Angels Fear to Tread; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 9 (September 2015)

The Fade Out #9

I don’t know if I’d noticed before but probably not–Brubaker’s narration for Fade Out has the possibility of not just being a noir touch but also an actual part of the narrative. There’s like a single use of “you” referring to the reader so I’m reading a bunch into it like part of the mystery is figuring out who’s telling the story at the end. I’m probably wrong.

But if Brubaker was going to wait to reveal that narrative device, this issue would be the one to reveal it in. Gil and Charlie duke it out and the flashback reveals their back stories, separate to some degree, but mostly together. And the reveals make you want to go back and reread the earlier issues to see how Brubaker constructed it all.

There’s a lot in the flashback. Even though the present action takes place in a couple hours–at most–and is largely just one conversation leading up to the soft cliffhanger, Brubaker is able to make the issue dense with that flashback. It takes place over a decade or so, Phillips getting to illustrate a variety of settings, Brubaker able to work up tension in the flashback itself and not just how it relates to the present action.

Very cool; very good issue.

CREDITS

Living in a Memory; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 8 (August 2015)

The Fade Out #8

It’s another strong issue of Fade Out, which isn’t a surprise. Brubaker and Phillips are doing great work.

But it actually looks like Brubaker is doing something a little different with this series. His famous (are they famous, they should be) aside issues–which I believe he’s been doing since Catwoman–this issue features the first time (at least in my memory) someone else gets caught up on that aside.

Charlie finds out Maya’s story from her aside issue. It’s kind of crazy to see, just the way Brubaker handles it, having two protagonists collide. It shakes things up for The Fade Out, which didn’t need a shaking, but the shaking works out perfectly anyway. Brubaker shows he has the skill to do the series without a lot of leaps and jumps, so when he does those leaps and jumps, they’re all the more impressive.

Fade Out’s turning out great.

CREDITS

A Dead Giveaway; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 7 (June 2015)

The Fade Out #7

The Fade Out doesn’t feel like anything but itself. Seven issues in and Brubaker and Phillips have shed any comparisons to their previous work; it’s another in their line of collaborations, but it’s wholly independent from them. One of the factors for it standing on its own so quickly is the lack of fantastical elements. It’s about creating the fantastic through “regular” human ugliness.

This issue opens with Charlie and Maya off on the beach enjoying a getaway weekend. Phillips has his delicate sex scenes, which give each panel a certain weight and pacing of their own, and even when Brubaker hints at the main plot lines, it’s gentle, conversational. The reader is on a getaway too. But, like Charlie, the escape can only last so long.

It’s not really a getaway so much as a scenic bridge. And maybe the best bridging issue I can remember, thanks to Phillips.

CREDITS

The Sound of Waves; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 6 (May 2015)

The Fade Out #6

It’s a good issue of Fade Out but something feels off. Like Brubaker is backing off a bit in the narration–he’s set up the story, he’s telling the reader a whole lot about Gil and Charlie and how they feel and so on. There’s still a great story for Charlie and Maya.

It’s also where Brubaker embraces the regular reader. The previous issue had some big events and he doesn’t recap them here. If you aren’t on board with the series, you don’t get any more help.

Brubaker moves things along in a big way with Gil’s storyline getting clearer–Charlie’s is still a muddle, the noir screenwriter fumbling his way through a noir while Gil’s being the actual hero. Brubaker introduces a Little Rascals stand-in troupe for some plot fodder; it’s what feels off. It’s too much of an Ellroy homage.

Nice art from Philips as always.

CREDITS

To Set the World on Fire; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 5 (April 2015)

The Fade Out #5

It’s a sort of gentle issue of The Fade Out, with Brubaker and Phillips heading to the country. The movie production is doing location shooting–albeit on sets, but they’re away from the studio and things are developing. Charlie the protagonist continues his flirtation with the replacement girl while his flashbacks reveal his relationship with the original. Blacklist Gil goes and gets drunk and finds himself in a pickle.

Plus there’s Hollywood stuff. There’s the tawdry stuff out of James Ellroy, but Brubaker’s got a lot about how the characters react to being away from the studio. While in Hollywood, The Fade Out just seemed like a noir set during the making of a film noir, but on location? Brubaker’s showing his research through Charlie’s narration. The setting feels fresh, real.

And Brubaker doesn’t go for a cliffhanger. He brings up some things, he stirs a pot, then it ends.

CREDITS

The Broken Ones; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Criminal: The Special Edition (February 2015)

Criminal: The Special Edition (One Shot)

Criminal’s back for a one-shot and, wow, it certainly does do a good job reminding of when Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are hitting the high notes on the comic.

The special brings back a character, but Brubaker spends more time establishing this Conan knockoff than anything he does with the issue’s protagonist. Having black and white interludes to the Conan knockoff’s magazine (it takes place in the seventies) wouldn’t work without Phillips’s art. He has this beautiful way of being detailed but not too detailed. You can buy the interludes as hurried late seventies fantasy comic art, but there’s still the Phillips quality to it.

The individual scenes in the comic–whether it’s the protagonist in a jailhouse fight or yelling at his son at one point–work better than the whole. Brubaker doesn’t have time for a big twist. He’s got time for scenic awesomeness though.

CREDITS

By This Sword I Live!; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 4 (January 2015)

The Fade Out #4

Even though there’s sensational material in the issue, the issue itself isn’t sensational. Brubaker is very measured. He’s meticulous in the plotting, giving just enough hints and just enough callbacks to the previous issues to get to some big surprises. By the time the issue ends, The Fade Out is something of a different comic than it was before.

There are three big reasons. First, the previous issue where Brubaker changed up format. Second, the sensational material–the Red Threat in Hollywood. Third, the use of actual celebrities as characters. Brubaker’s very subtle about how he uses the last one and it works out beautifully.

And Phillips. Phillips gets some great stuff to draw this issue. Not just the period scenes, clubs, talking heads banter, but a flashback to World War II and some more information about protagonist Charlie. It might turn out to be a great comic after all.

CREDITS

The Word on the Street; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 3 (November 2014)

The Fade Out #3

Brubaker switches protagonists for the issue–with the normal, screenwriter protagonist basically getting a cameo–and moves over to the actress replacing the dead actress in the movie.

It’s a phenomenal comic book, showing more ingenuity from scene to scene than anything Brubaker’s done in The Fade Out in a while. Than he’s done in anything in a while, actually–he has a number of great surprises in the issue and they’re just details he’s revealing. They’re not flashy, they’re just great writing.

The issue just covers this actress on her last screen test, with Brubaker using slight expository dialogue to imply her history and her relationships–not to mention how gently he moves along the main plot.

Brubaker’s really good at these done-in-one issues set amid his bigger stories. Or maybe Fade Out is going just get better. Regardless, this issue’s great work from Brubaker and Phillips.

A 

CREDITS

The Replacement Blonde; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 2 (October 2014)

The Fade Out #2

Brubaker goes all over the place in the second issue of Fade Out. There's a bunch of stuff with protagonist Charlie's secret partner and best friend–and the way Brubaker narrates from a close third person on Charlie is phenomenal–but there's a lot at the movie studio too.

Not to mention the scenes with Charlie and his friend's wife or Charlie and the dead girl. Those scenes are just great. Brubaker doesn't do anything with the murder investigation; the comic doesn't feel like a too gimmicky noir, it feels like Brubaker trying to figure out this story and it's often great.

Overall, there are some problems towards the end because there's still the narrative–it's still about this dead girl and protagonist Charlie's involvement in it. But Brubaker's emphasis on the cast and making sure the texture of the setting comes through, not to mention Phillips's illustration of those things, is great.

B 

CREDITS

The Death of Me; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 1 (August 2014)

The Fade Out #1

The Fade Out is the story of a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s. Ed Brubaker writes the comic’s narration in really close third person. Between Brubaker–who has his fair share of writing predictable twists–and the protagonist–who would probably write even more of them–one of them should have noticed the utterly predictable nature of this issue.

The writer wakes up next to a dead body. Is there any chance he could have something to do with the dead body–a young starlet whose picture he’s working on? He sure doesn’t think so and Brubaker sure tries to make it seem like he’s not involved but guess what… you probably don’t have to guess if you’ve ever seen a single film noir.

I’m being a little hard on the comic, which is well-researched and beautifully illustrated by Sean Phillips. It’s recycled material–James Ellroy deserves an “inspired by” credit at least–but professionally, thoroughly presented.

B 

CREDITS

The Wild Party; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 24 (July 2014)

Fatale #24

Given all the series’s problems as of late, I didn’t expect Brubaker to finish Fatale well. I knew it’d be problematic, but I hoped he’d go for satisfying at least.

Instead, he pretends he’s been writing a lot of third person exposition in purple prose so he can finish the comic with a rumination on the beauty of a sunset or some such nonsense. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Fatale’s been on a downward trajectory for a while and a rushed one–not ending would have been satisfactory. The writing’s just been too reductive.

But worse, Phillips’s art is rushed. He’s got lots of little panels and not enough detail on the people in those panels. He does a lengthy action sequence and it’s boring–it’s not entirely his fault, Brubaker’s rushing through the scene as far as tension.

It’s an unfortunate ending. It ignores everything good about the comic.

C- 

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 23 (June 2014)

Fatale #23

What a frustrating penultimate issue. It’s intentional on Brubaker’s part, but it doesn’t really matter because even though there’s almost no content to the issue–he reveals one big, deep dark defining secret of Jo’s, but it’s handled so matter-of-factly it doesn’t have much weight–even though there’s nothing to it, there’s Phillips’s art.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Phillips get to go so big on a collaboration with Brubaker, much less on Fatale, where he’s usually just been the perfect artist for the story but never the driving force of the comic.

Phillips drives this issue with its cosmic lovemaking and its double page spreads. There’s nothing to the comic besides this wonderful art, the underdone reveal and then the cliffhanger. But those big pages of Phillips, where he gets to equalize the stars and people, those are wonderful and nothing else matters. Not even Brubaker slacking off big time.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 22 (May 2014)

Fatale #22

Until the last sequence, which tries too hard, this issue of Fatale is one of Brubaker’s strongest in a while. It starts with the big bad guy, the Bishop–who I can’t remember if Brubaker has named before–investigating what Jo’s been doing. Then it goes into a long flashback of the Bishop’s life since 1906.

It ties into a lot of big historical events, with the San Francisco earthquake being the result of the ceremony giving the Bishop his power. Brubaker and Phillips tie it all together, with pitch perfect narration and some great summary art from Phillips. World War I, World War II, it’s like getting a war comic and an Indiana Jones comic from Phillips all in one.

But the finish, where Brubaker ties it into the modern events, is problematic. It’s more setup for the finale and, worse, it’s contrived setup.

Still, it’s mostly masterful stuff.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 21 (March 2014)

Fatale #21

This issue, while obviously winding up to the big finish, is a bit of return to form. Brubaker takes the time to introduce a new character–one impervious to Jo's charms–and he's a nice addition. There's some levity amidst Jo's preparations.

Speaking of Jo's preparations, Brubaker does go too far with a reveal in the last page or two. He makes Jo do something incredibly dumb. After showing her to be plotting and careful, she goofs. It doesn't work.

But Jo's really back to being the mysterious femme fatale this issue. Nicolas is the protagonist, meeting Jo's sidekick, trying to figure out what's going on with her–he hasn't been the protagonist for a long, long time. And the series is only twenty-one issues in and the guy feels foreign to the captain's chair.

It's an outstanding issue; still, it also shows how reductive Brubaker's being with the series's many intermediary details.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 20 (February 2014)

f

Well, okay, yeah… Fatale is definitely in its last lap. Brubaker doesn’t hide it at all. He does, however, rush things. I thought it was going to be an awesome issue of Jo flashing back to her very interesting past.

Instead, she becomes John McClane and has to save Nicolas. And that wraps up real quick. Not so much action-packed as Cthulhu-packed. I’m also not sure if the Donnie Darko reference was supposed to seem original or not.

But it’s hard to get excited about the finish because halfway through this issue, it’s clear Fatale isn’t coming to a nature end. Why do a bunch of character work on utterly disposable characters? It feels like the series got canceled on Brubaker and Phillips so they have to rush an ending. Only no, they apparently just ran out of interest.

Or Brubaker always had a weak ending planned out.

B 

CREDITS

Curse the Demon; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 19 (January 2014)

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I’m not sure where I’m at with this issue. It finishes up the grunge band arc, but Brubaker uses it to kick off (presumably) the next arc set in the modern day.

He should really have some reminder of the modern day protagonist’s name. We’ve just gone through five or six new male characters; I’ll call him Streak from now on.

The plotting is a little too contrived, too convenient. Jo comes back at just the right time, the record company is owned by the Cthulhu worshippers. The issue’s a fine enough read, it’s just on reflection it’s such an easy out. Maybe it’s how Brubaker structured the story–Jo’s the protagonist, but the reader is supposed to care about the band and their problems. The two parts don’t move in conjunction.

There’s some gore and violence, but nothing visually distinctive. There’s nothing inventive or surprising, it’s all painfully predictable.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 18 (November 2013)

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The issue reads too fast. It becomes a showcase for Phillips’s abilities at creating a static montage sequence, which are considerable, but Brubaker is still passing it poorly.

The first half of the issue is the band at the house, trying to figure out what to do with a dead body. Brubaker plays the scene for effect, time and again, and not actual narrative progression. He doesn’t stick with the biggest reveal of the scene. Instead, he lets it pass almost without comment to set up his next dramatic moment.

The second half is the music video shoot, where Jo’s dancing sends everyone into a psychotic trance of sex and violence. Phillips does great work with all those little scenes–Brubaker moves through the whole cast (including the forgotten cop)–but it’s again all for effect.

Brubaker spent too much time setting up this arc’s concept instead of its plot.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 17 (September 2013)

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Very different approach this issue, at least to the flashback. Jo is the center and everything revolves around her. Brubaker uses it to move the story smoothly; even the scenes she’s not in are about her. Only the flashback stuff can’t compare to the interlude with Nick on the run.

Brubaker brings back the Lovecraft writer references towards the end of the interlude, with the mysterious book coming back into play. Fatale is only a year and a half or so in and Brubaker has definitely established a deep mythology to the series. But the stuff with Nick and the guy on the run is great. There’s some occasionally iffy narration from Nick, but it’s great.

The flashback, where Brubaker and Phillips go almost more for effect than story, can’t compare. It’s good, but Brubaker uses a lot of easy devices to get the results he wants.

Still, fine issue.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 16 (August 2013)

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Definitely some Lowlife undertones. Brubaker’s shockingly frank about how Jo’s presence destroys the failed band members.

But all that destruction comes later. Brubaker opens with how Jo unknowingly created a serial killer out of some kid she once treated nicely. He’s never really looked at the long term effects of her presence, but here he’s loosing her not just in a closed environment (it’s almost like The Thing) while also examining her varied admirers.

Meanwhile, Jo herself has amnesia and has all of a sudden become a muse for this failed grunge band. He’s turned Singles into a horror movie while marrying it to a serial killer picture. There’s none of the Cthulhu stuff this issue, which might be why he has so much room for the rest of it.

There’s a lot of great art from Phillips–seeing a happy Jo is a strange thing.

Fatale’s an excellent comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 15 (June 2013)

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Now there’s a comic book. Brubaker opens with his first protagonist, Nick (I think it’s Nick) meeting with his lawyer after being in jail. Brubaker works a little with the book, which used to be the A plot but is now probably the C plot at best, before some weirdo breaks Nick out.

After some amazing low action jail break scenes from Phillips, Brubaker takes the issue back to nineties Seattle. Presumably the flashback protagonist is the jail breaker in the prologue.

This guy’s a failed rock star, amateur bank robber. It’s maybe the closest–when the guy’s hanging out in a mansion with the rest of his failed band–Brubaker has gotten to calling back Lowlife in his mainstream career. Utterly wonderful character stuff. Great Phillips mundane art. Just awesome.

Then Jo shows up and it gets even better.

Who knew Brubaker could fit so much variety into Fatale?

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 14 (May 2013)

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This one starts a lot better than it finishes. Brubaker sets it during World War II, with Jo getting mixed up with Nazis but these Nazis are really the squid man and his sidekicks. Meanwhile an American soldier sees all these strange things happening and finds himself unintentionally rescuing Jo.

I think the opening is homage to The Keep; I presume the book, but maybe the movie, who knows… But the end feels like Guillermo del Toro’s take on Indiana Jones. It’s this lame, lengthy action sequence. Phillips can draw it, but he’s got no heart in it.

The comic’s easily at its best before Jo even shows up. There’s not a lot of character development on the other cast, so Jo should be the best thing in it. But Brubaker’s forcing her into a predictable comic. It’s almost amateurish.

It’s an okay comic, but not anywhere near Brubaker’s par.

CREDITS

Just a Glance Away; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist and letterer, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 13 (March 2013)

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I’m not sure if Brubaker’s intentionally doing homage or you just can’t do a Western anymore but this issue nods nicely to both John Ford and Unforgiven.

Once again, it’s a new protagonist, a woman in the Old West with the same affliction as Jo. Bonnie, I think. Brubaker summarizes her early life then shows her big adventure, if something so traumatic can be an adventure, where she finds out a little about herself.

Along the way she meets up with a Native American outlaw and a professor of the occult–not at an accredited institution, of course.

Phillips drawing a Western is awesome, as is Brubaker writing one. They ought to try one without the Cthulhu stuff. Just a good Western.

The end has a little surprise. Brubaker instead concentrates on the character development. He’s going to have a hard time maintaining this writing quality in multi-issue arcs.

CREDITS

Down the Darkest Trail; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist and letterer, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 12 (February 2013)

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This issue takes place in thirteenth century France, with a Joan of Arc-type character turning out to be connected somehow to what’s going on with Jo. Maybe not connected, but definitely similarly afflicted. There are only the slightest hints at what’s actually happening with her–demons in the sky–because Brubaker instead has it play as an idyllic Bride of Frankenstein hermit and the monster story.

Except all the violence. There’s a whole lot of violence; the issue opens with some guys burning the lead at the stake. Then the hermit shows up and it’s like the violence has gone, but Brubaker actually just has it building, simmering under the surface. It’s a great done-in-one. I said before Brubaker always does these issues well, but he’s getting better.

And the Phillips art is just beautiful, whether peaceful forest in winter or bloody action sequence.

Fatale’s getting great.

CREDITS

A Lovely Sort of Death; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist and letterer, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 11 (January 2013)

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Brubaker and Phillips excel at these done-in-ones. More Brubaker, I suppose. Though Phillips does excel too, it’s just Brubaker is particularly good when he’s conceiving and executing a one issue story. He always has been good at it.

This issue, set in late thirties rural Texas (Phillips does a wonderful job with the setting), has three things going on. First is a cop who Jo seduces to help her and he’s ruined his life. Then there’s Jo, who’s just found some writer she’s been looking for. Finally there’s the writer, who has clues into the big Fatale mystery but also some secrets of his own.

The great thing is how Brubaker gets actual surprises out of things in so short a time. Not so much with the cop, but the writer and Jo’s scenes are simply amazing. They’re economical and devastatingly well-done.

It’s masterful writing from Brubaker.

CREDITS

The Case of Alfred Ravenscroft; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist and letterer, Sean Phillips; colorist, Dave Stewart; publisher, Image Comics.

Fatale 10 (November 2012)

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Brubaker and Phillips come up with a great conclusion. Not so much for the present day part–Brubaker’s cheap with the present day stuff–but the flashback story closes beautifully.

While there’s a lot of good action, the issue excels because of the characters. Brubaker provides deeper insight into his protagonists during the issue’s busyness. They’re little insights, very quiet, but Brubaker gives them significance without too much emphasis. If that description makes any sense at all. It’s neat.

There’s not much explaining. Not in the present or the past, which gives Fatale an otherworldly tone even though there’s nothing fantastic in this issue. Even with the seventies cult resolution, there’s nothing uncanny either. It’s a very grounded finish to the arc.

Except for the present day stuff. Brubaker rushes it because it’s a cute resolution for the modern protagonist–whose name I have, in fact, forgotten.

Still, great comic.

CREDITS

The Devil’s Business, Chapter Five; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist and letterer, Sean Phillips; colorist, Dave Stewart; publisher, Image Comics.

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