Wednesday, July 30, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The Conclusion of an Epic Short Story.

Fatale #24
released today, July 30, 2014
following a five-page preview

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Lovecraftian horror-noir epic Fatale draws to a close today, after twenty-four issues released over the course of 31 months. In the back pages, Brubaker writes that the story spanned 586 pages, echoing what Phillips had tweeted as his work wrapped up, and that makes the book the longest single work in their fifteen years of collaboration, longer even than the 24-issue run on Sleeper.



I'm still processing this final chapter of "Curse the Demon," and I want to give readers sufficient time to buy the issue and read it for themselves.

An advance review was published Monday at The MacGuffin, and the spoiler-free review rates the issue a 10/10, praising the series overall as a triumph and saying that this final issue ends the story in style.  Rather than rate the issue or series, I'd like simply to draw readers attention to a few observations.

--

The final chapter has quite a few sudden twists.  I set the book down at its midpoint -- where the staples show -- when my family met me for lunch, and that hour-long break ended up heightening the tension for a conclusion that I didn't really see coming.

Brubaker and Phillips managed the rare feat of confounding the expectations of even the most attentive readers while still providing a completely satisfying ending.  I wasn't the only person online writing about Fatale and speculating about its conclusion, and reading all this analysis enriched the experience without spoiling the ending.  So far as I could tell, nobody's guesswork really stumbled upon the ending.

And yet... it occurred to me early on in the series, that if X happened, Y would be a likely consequence, but I strongly doubted X would occur.  When it did, I was happy to see Y.

And, in hindsight, there's a fairly obvious, early clue about one aspect about how this arc would end.

--

In the midst of all the horror, there is one early scene of striking beauty, of Jo taking what she fears will be her last moonlight swim, but even that scene has a bit of unspoken menace.  Sean Phillips shows us that as she swims, Jo is surrounded by sharks, with only their dorsal fins visible above the waves.

Apart from learning more about the owl with the ribbon around the world, we didn't get any real answers to the questions I mentioned yesterday, but that's not a bad thing, as the answers weren't crucial to the story's resolution.

I recently read a 2012 article from The Atlantic, by Ian Buckwalter, on the effectiveness of horror anthologies.  Noticing that Lovecraft and Poe rarely wrote anything other than short stories, he begins with a quote from Raymond Carver.

"Get in, get out. Don't linger. Go on."

It felt like this is exactly what Fatale did, despite its length and the often intricate plotting and artwork.  The story was vast in its scope, covering four different eras at length and having Josephine's curse influence a half-dozen fully realized characters:  Walt Booker, Hank Raines, Miles, Wulf, Lance Hickok, and finally Nicolas Lash.

And yet, the overall effect is still like reading "The Call of Cthulhu," where we grasp enough of the larger world to dread what we don't see.

It's like seeing the fin and not knowing how big the shark is beneath the surface.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: One Very Wrong Theory and A Few Unanswered Questions.

The Fatale finale reaches stores tomorrow, doubtlessly with a few more twists and shocking revelations.

This past Friday, a truly bizarre theory crossed my mind, one that I'm happy to confirm is completely off base:  the theory is very wrong, both in being inaccurate and in being deranged.

In re-reading the series, I had noticed that Nicolas appeared to be quite important to Jo's plans, but they had briefly met only three times over the course of more than three decades:  when young Nicolas accompanied his father and Hank Raines on their 1978 road trip to LA, at Hank's funeral in 2011, and at Hank's estate that night when the Bishop's goons attacked.  Josephine whispered something to his father in '78, and apparently she drove him to madness around 2000 for reasons still unknown.

In constructing the timeline we posted yesterday, I determined that Nicolas was born about the same time Jo's son Willie committed suicide -- and I recalled never seeing a single appearance or even a mention of Nicolas' mother.

My bizarre theory was that Nicolas was Josephine's second son, fathered by Johnny Lash, and my guess is summarized below.
Perhaps, after forcing Hank out of her life, Josephine was still in contact with his friend Johnny Lash, keeping up with Johnny as a way to keep an eye on Hank.  Still in shock and grief after Willie's death, she allows herself to seduce Johnny, and she got pregnant again with another son.  To protect her son Nicolas, Jo sends him to Johnny to raise him as a single father, and perhaps she uses her curse to make Johnny forget about their love affair. 
Maybe Johnny takes Dominic to LA because there isn't a mother in the picture, and Josephine whispers to Johnny to take care of his son, because Dominic is her son, too.  And perhaps after the events in LA, her research with Otto the librarian reveals that a biological son is either ideal or outright necessary to whatever ritual would have to be performed to defeat the Bishop.
Sometime around 2000, Johnny finds out about Jo's plan for his son and tries to stop her, but she drove him to madness to keep him quiet and protect her plan.
Jo strikes up an otherwise unnecessary conversation with Nicolas at Hank's funeral, rescued Hank's manuscript from the car crash for him, and saved him from Lance because he is especially important to her plans.
The theory accounts for the chronology quite well -- and the repeated theme of fathers and sons -- but it would have meant that the love scene in issue #23 was outright incest, and I'm glad that Ed Brubaker wrote back to write to shoot down the theory, writing, "That would be sick, even for me."

(I'm glad the series doesn't go down that dark path for its own sake, but I'll also admit to a little pride in concocting an otherwise plausible theory that Brubaker thinks crossed the line.)

Though my theory was wrong, it does highlight a few lingering  mysteries.

Some mysteries I think we've been able to solve in the course of this month-long review.  Brubaker confirmed that we correctly deduced that Otto the librarian is Milkfed's grandson. We pointed to the confrontation with Jo in issue #4 as the point where Walt Booker had a change of heart against betraying her -- where he "almost forgot" the decent man he really was.  And, we constructed some reasonable explanations for the events in Nicolas' life following Hank's funeral.

Josephine and the Bishop's goons were both trying to find the Bishop's eyes, which Hank Raines had kept in a Santa Barbara bank box; after she retrieved the eyes, she gave them to the sadist Nathan for safe keeping until she needed them for her plan of attack against the Bishop.  Meanwhile, a woman robbed Nicolas completely on her own, and she subsequently crossed paths with Lance Hickok, who killed her for the stolen manuscript of Hank's first book, abridged the book to protect Josephine, and published the book probably to fund his hunt for Josephine.

There are still other questions that remain unanswered.

• It appears from the preview that we'll have some answers about the owl with the ribbon around the world, but will we learn about this creature's significance?

• Will we learn more about the Bishop's mysterious rival?

• Just what was going on between Josephine and Nicolas' father Johnny?  What did she whisper to him in 1978?  And why did she drive him to madness two decades later?

• And what is the reason that some humans can see into the shadow world and be immune to its madness-inducing influence?

That last question was raised by Nick Hill in the comments to the yesterday's post.  He astutely noticed that, in issue #11, Alfred Ravenscroft's immunity to the apparent cult leader McVicar was mentioned as Jo ran screaming from his home.

"And so Alfred Ravenscroft never got to tell her his secret.  That he'd figured out why Mr McVicar's charms hadn't worked on him... that it was the same reason he could see the fire burning deep inside Josephine.  And that's when he realized she didn't even know what she was."

The immunity was mentioned, but never explained.

Similarly, in issue #2, the Bishop taunts Walt Booker about his own immunity.

"You ever wonder why your cryptographer friend went crazy translating that page... but you were fine?"

Booker said he didn't wonder, and the subject was never raised again.  We do know from issue #4 that, even in his childhood, Booker could see the hidden realm of "ghosts and monsters and even angels of a sort," and "an unseen clockwork that made the universe tick."  That ability may have been just another symptom of a deeper root cause.

(I do wonder about those "angels of a sort."  If one were to make an appearance in the last issue, it would undercut the generally hopeless tones of noir and horror, and it would seem like a deus ex machina -- or rather, an angelus ex machina -- but even this brief mention in the first arc gives readers a sliver of hope, however small, that the universe of Fatale isn't ultimately malevolent.)

Too many answers might interrupt the momentum of the last issue and dispel the mood of dread that the series has created.  The story is ultimately a mix of horror and noir, not a systematic description of the fictional universe that Brubaker and Phillips have created, so unanswered questions may be part of the point, even if the creators have answers that they're deliberately withholding.

Still, I suspect that some of the series' most important questions will be answered, and that the answers may come as a well-earned surprise even to careful readers like ourselves.

I'm looking forward to it.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The Timeline.

Reviewing Fatale, I drew up the following timeline, piecing together all the events that I could.  The timeline omits important events that couldn't be traced to a particular timeframe, such as the Bishop's birth, and it passes over otherwise important characters whose stories were limited to a single arc, such as Miles, Walt's crooked partner Lannie Dalton, and the mobster "Mayday" Lucarelli.

I tried to cite my sources, with issue numbers in parentheses, and I give a few unproven conjectures in brackets.

Our hope is that your reading this timeline is as helpful in seeing the big picture of this horror-noir comic as I found constructing it.

--

c. AD 1244 – Josephine’s predecessor Mathilda is cursed with immortality  and no memory of her previous life. (12)

1286 – In the Languedoc region of France, Mathilda is burned at the stake by the inquisitors of the White Brotherhood, for her curse and the effects it has on the townspeople nearby.  Immortal, she survives and finds sanctuary with a hermit named Ganix, whose fairy tales include a reference to the owl with the thread of the world.   Several years later, both are found by an order known for the yellow cross on its tunic.  The order is led by a predecessor of the Bishop Sommerset, and he kills the watchman Ganix for betraying them. and evidently “devours” Mathilda,  Mathilda kills the Bishop and his men, but their dark gods "devour" her, resulting in a fire that consumed the forest.  Afterwards, a mysterious book is discovered in an abandoned shack. (12)

[UPDATE: Brubaker has kindly corrected our garbled summary, that it is the Bishop's dark gods and not the Bishop himself who "devours" the Consort.  The Bishop sacrifices the cursed woman, and his gods feast on that sacrifice.]

[We suspect that this book is the Bishop’s “bible.”]

c. 1822 – Josephine’s immediate predecessor Bonnie Smith dies and becomes cursed, after a party on a boat in New York. (13)

1883 – In Colorado, the  outlaw “Black” Bonnie is apprehended by Professor Waldo Smythe’s half-Indian son Milkfed.  Bonnie was being pursued by the cult’s inhuman henchmen, and Milkfed kills them so that the professor can locate their church tower and steal their “bible,” using Bonnie as bait.  The professor is killed, but Milkfed continues to protect Bonnie. (13)

c. 1886 – Alfred Ravenscroft is born. (11)

1898 – Twelve-year-old Alfred Ravenscroft is taken on a trip through Mexico, on an expedition with a rich man named McVicar and  servants that are more like religious devotees.  McVicar is evidently seeking “the doorway to the gods,” and Ravenscroft stumbles across an ancient occult book in McVicar’s tent and flees back home in terror. (11)

[We suspect that McVicar is the Bishop’s predecessor, or perhaps his “rival.”]

c. 1905 – Milkfed dies, evidently of natural causes. (13).

1906 – Having been captured by the cult, Bonnie is “devoured” in the catacombs beneath San Francisco, and the merely human Sommerset becomes the monster known as the Bishop.  Evidently a result from the bizarre ritual, the Great San Francisco Earthquake occurs on May 18th. (5, 13, 22)

c. 1913 - Josephine is born. (23)

c. 1914 - The Bishop serves as a German officer in World War I. (22)

c. 1935 – In Fresno, Josephine dies at age 22 in a bizarre ritual and is resurrected.  Cursed, she slowly discovers her usually irresistible power over men, and she confirms her immortality by attempting to commit suicide at least 17 times.  Early in the discovery of her powers over men, she  finds an eerily familiar pulp story that echoes her experiences (3, 11, 20,  23).

1936 – In Texas, Jo seduces and abandons the police officer Nelson en route to tracking down the author of the eerily familiar pulp story originally titled, “To the Unseen Eyes.”  She finds the writer Alfred Ravenscroft and forces him to take her to his mother, and after seeing his mother’s spectral form, she learns that there really is an unseen world visible to a small number of people.  After the ghost of his mother leaves him in anger, Ravenscroft commits suicide.  Elsewhere, the Bishop finds and interrogates Nelson, learning that his quarry’s name is Josephine but not reaching Ravenscroft in time to question him. (11, 14)

c. 1940-1943 – Jo finds the wise old woman Mirela in occupied Paris and, over the course of a few months, she learns enough magic to keep herself safe.  Mirela tells her about the “followers and fanatics” hiding among the Nazis, and Jo ignores her warning not to seek them out. (14)

1943 – In Romania around November, Josephine is captured and nearly “devoured” sacrificed by the Bishop, working as an officer of the SS. She is rescued by Sgt. Walter Booker, who takes from the ceremony an ancient stone knife and a page fragment from the Bishop’s “bible.” (5, 14)

Frightened by the near-miss in Romania, Jo seeks safety in her relationship with Booker, teaching him everything Mirela had taught her.  In Paris around the time of the city’s liberation in August 1944, Mirela tells both of them about the ribbon around the world.  After the war, the two move to San Francisco, where Booker joins the police. (2, 5, 14)

1945 – In Japan and probably in August, corresponding with the two atomic bombings, the Bishop’s mysterious rival takes the victory that he thinks should have been his with the ritual in Romania. (22)

1955 – Writer Dominic Henry “Hank” Raines marries Sylvia Maria Bernley. (3)

1956 – The Bishop’s cult finds and murders Jo’s friend Leroy Kressler, in a ritual designed to draw out the now crooked cop Walt Booker.  Jo betrays Booker to the investigative reporter Hank Raines to escape her life as a kept woman, and Booker almost betrays Jo to the Bishop to find a cure for his cancer. Booker has a change of heart and attacks the Bishop and his cult in their catacombs, dying in the ensuing chaos but not before cutting out the Bishop’s eyes and giving them to Jo.  Jo and Hank leave San Francisco, and the Bishop is reborn in the body of Hank’s son, who was presumed dead, ripped from the womb of his murdered wife, eight months pregnant. (1-5)

1957 – In June, Hank Raines writes “The Losing Side of Eternity,” a surreal story and possibly the best work he ever wrote.  Influenced by Josephine and the events in 1956, he mentions the owl with the thread of the world, and the story’s only mundane detail is the accidental death of the wife of the narrator, a stand-in for Hank. (1, 3)

1959 – Hank opens a safe deposit box at the Santa Barbara Savings and Loan. (6)

[Our theory is that Hank uses this box to keep the Bishop’s eyes for safekeeping.]

1960 – After Jo had helped sell his novel by influencing the literary agent Alan Marshal, Hank Raines publishes his first detective novel, on the way to becoming a bestselling writer of works such as “Hatchet Job.” (1, 6)

c. 1960 – Hank and Josephine have had a son Willie. Hank eventually realizes Jo’s effect on him, and in denial and anger, she forces him out of her life.  Hank leaves LA, having lived there briefly “in the late ‘50s.”  (6, 8, 23)

At age 13, Willie attempts to rape his mother, is institutionalized, and commits suicide a week later.  (23)

c. 1970 – The Bishop, going by the name of Hansel, leads a version of the cult called the Method Church.  His charisma notoriously had got the attention of Charles Manson, who in 1971 was convicted of conspiracy to murder.

c. 1970-1972 – The photographer Johnny Lash has a son, Nicolas.  Johnny’s friend Hank Raines will become Nicolas’ godfather. (8)

1978 – In the summer, Jo discovers that the Bishop is alive, leading the Method Church.  After “nearly 20 years” of being out of her life, Hank Raines visits Jo to warn her that the cult is looking for her; Hank’s friend Johnny Lash has brought his son Nicolas on their road trip to LA, and at age six or seven he meets Jo for the first time.  Jo obtains the Bishop’s “bible” but, following an attack on her house by the Method Church, she abandons her life as a recluse in Los Angeles. (6-10)

After leaving LA, Jo haunts occult book stores and auctions and looks for an ally who shares Mirela and Walt Booker’s awareness of the darker world in the shadows.  She finds Otto the librarian, Milkfed’s grandson. (21)

[In email, Ed Brubaker has confirmed our theory that Milkfed is Otto’s half-Indian grandfather.]

1995 – Otto sends Jo and her friend Gavin to Seattle to locate some occult literature, and the serial killer Wulf finds her and tries to kill her.  Traumatized into a state of amnesia, Jo stumbles upon the rock singer Lance Hickok, wreaks havoc with his band Amsterdam, and reveals her location to the Bishop and to Wulf.  In his continued hunt for Jo, Wulf kills Gavin and all of Lance’s bandmates, but Jo kills him in turn when she rescues Lance.  Lance is blamed for the multiple murders at his band’s house, and Jo soon leaves him after teaching him the basics of a fugitive life.  Lance becomes a serial killer in his attempt to find Josephine. (15-19)

c. 2000 – Nicolas Lash finds his father Johnny raving like a madman and has him institutionalized. (1, 20)

2011 –Hank Raines dies, and his godson Nicolas is made the executor of his estate.  Jo talks with Nicolas after the funeral, and she rescues him from the Bishop’s goons, who invade Hank’s house near the coast of northern California.  The goons chase them in a small private plane, and Nicolas loses a leg in the resulting car crash, but Jo ensures that he still has Hank’s unpublished manuscript, “The Losing Side of Eternity.” (1)

One month later, Nicolas researches the wife he never knew Dominic had and discovers her grisly murder.  Suspecting that Jo doesn’t age, he visits Wingate Asylum and asks his father Johnny about a picture he probably took, of Hank Raines and Jo’s supposed grandmother.  Johnny begins laughing maniacally. (3, 5)

c. 2012 – Hank has abandoned his old life seeking out Josephine, on the pretense of researching Hank’s life for his godfather’s old publisher.  An investigator Mark Garvin informs him of Hank’s safe deposit box in Santa Barbara, but Jo has already emptied the box; Garvin then dies helping Hank escape from one of the Bishop’s goons, confirming that Hank hasn’t been paranoid about men following him. (6)

After being on the run for two months, Nicolas is seduced by a woman who steals Hank’s manuscript.  She finally tracks her down, but she had been murdered, and the manuscript had been taken.  Nicolas is arrested for the woman’s death, and eight months later he discovers that Hank’s manuscript had been published. (8, 10)

Soon after, a man calling himself Nelson breaks Nicolas out of the courthouse.  On the run for a week, the two return to California, where Nicolas discovers that Nelson had printed an abridged version of Hank’s manuscript.  He realizes that “Nelson” is really Lance Hickok, who drags Nicolas to his basement, to torture him and draw Josephine to him. (15, 17, 19)

2014 – In January, in northern California, Josephine begins enacting her plan to end her battle with the Bishop, first rescuing Nicolas from Nelson/Lance, driving the latter to madness.  The Bishop picks up on her trail of destruction and finds the now lunatic Lance.  Jo retrieves the Bishop’s eyes from the sadist Nathan, whom Nicolas kills, unwittingly completing the requirements of a ritual for Jo.  Jo makes love to Nicolas in a kind of bizarre ceremony in Otto’s house, sharing her pain and tragedy.  Nicolas truly falls in love with Josephine, but he next finds himself in a strange forest, stumbling upon the Bishop and his men. (20-23).

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: Jo's Greatest Loss.

Fatale #23
released June 18, 2014
following a six-page preview

It was just last month that the penultimate issue of Fatale was released.  Ed Brubaker describes it as the "all sex issue," but the most important aspect is neither the physical intimacy between Nicolas and Josephine nor the increasingly psychedelic mindscape of their love-making:  what matters most is the emotional intimacy resulting from Josephine's complete (or nearly complete) self-disclosure.


Nicolas sees her losses and her hurt, and the AV Club astutely observes that  his empathy for her is what transforms his infatuation into affection, his lust into love.  As Nicolas himself narrates:
"It is the white-hot center of her.  The broken center.  And I understand finally... That that's where love is found, in our broken places.  In our sympathy.  And I know how she does what she does... because my heart will never stop breaking for her."
As The Passengers put it, sex is "a different kind of conversation," and this particular conversation begins immediately after the events of issue #21 -- the debauched party where Nicolas killed the sadist Nathan and Jo retrieved and opened the box containing the Bishop's eyes -- and afterward all this, Nicolas wakes to find himself in a strange forest, and he immediately stumbles upon the Bishop and his cult.

When Jo rescued Nicolas from Lance the rock singer turned murderous drifter, Nicolas realized that she probably drove his father to a madness from which he never recovered.  In the midst of their intimate conversation, Jo tells him that she needs her help to end the battle with the Bishop -- to end it, not to win it -- and she warns that it's going to hurt.  Even with the intimacy that permits Nicolas to know and love her truly, it's not clear that Josephine has revealed everything, and it's not clear that she isn't simply using Nicolas to accomplish her goals.

Earlier, we wrote about how Hank Raines' sons have proven to be crucial to the story.  His son through his murdered wife Sylvia was taken from her womb and became the host for the reincarnated Bishop, and his godson Nicolas Lash is proving to be central to Josephine's final battle with the Bishop.  But it's his son with Josephine who causes that great loss from which she'll never recover:  her curse corrupted him, and at age thirteen he attempted to rape her and then committed suicide shortly after being committed to an insane asylum.

In the excellent, lengthy podcast interview with Brubaker, 3 Chicks Review Comics notes some of the subtle foreshadowing that point to this tragedy.  In "The Devil's Business," we discover that Josephine is no longer with Hank, and her great secret is that she has had a son whose fate was not yet revealed to the reader.

After that, we repeatedly see her curse's effect on even young boys.  In issue #16, we discover that Wulf became a serial killer after a brief encounter with Jo when he was a injured child lost in Disneyland; and as recently as issue #20, we see the immediate obsession that seizes a small boy in footed pajamas, as he had been in the back seat of the cultist's car that Josephine hijacked.

What may have thrown the reader off the scent is Bonnie's story, in issue #13.  We see that Bonnie had a child without any apparent incident, though the child was murdered when natives kidnapped the two of them, but Bonnie had a daughter, and the curse evidently only affects men.

It's not mentioned at all, but careful readers might realize that Josephine's loss may be even more tragic, in that it was entirely preventable.

If Josephine had met the librarian Otto before giving birth to a son, she could have known about the tattooed markings that would have inoculated him from the effects of her curse -- the markings that Otto was given as a boy, like his grandfather Milkfed before him.  I've already noted that Otto appears to have an unnamed cameo in issue #13, set in Europe in 1943, but he and Josephine evidently didn't cross paths until she left Los Angeles in the late 70's, long after Willie's birth and death.

If Josephine had been more proactive in seeking out knowledge about her curse, the cult, and the dark gods that lay behind both, she could have learned how to protect her son, but her fear may have led to his madness and suicide.

That's another layer of tragedy to her greatest loss, and I believe she is made even more real and more sympathetic by the likelihood that her personal failings had a hand in an otherwise avoidable tragedy.

She is much more than a femme fatale, and we'll see if the sympathetic and immortal but all-too-human Josephine can find a happy ending in the grand finale.

Fatale #24 reaches stores this Wednesday, July 30th.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The Race and the Rival.

Fatale #22
released May 7, 2014
following a six-page preview

Readers finally take a closer look at the monster in Fatale with issue #22, advertised as "the life story of the man-monster called The Bishop."


In 1906, the man named Sommerset emerged into the burning streets of San Francisco, climbing from the tunnels we would see again in 1956, in the last chapter of "Death Chases Me."  He first entered those tunnels as a mere human -- "just a boy" -- and he emerged "reborn" into a monster that merely appeared human.  The ritual that transformed him evidently caused the Great San Francisco Earthquake of May 18th, 1906, and it involved the "devouring" of the "Consort" Bonnie; he would spend much of the next century hunting her successor Josephine.

In the meantime, the Bishop Sommerset engaged in a series of bizarre, evil rituals, the most appalling involving a number of infant sacrifices, the victims left hanging upside-down from a tree, where their bodies mummified.  We catch up with him in the present, four days after Josephine's actions at the beginning of issue #20 and therefore a few weeks before she and Nicolas retrieved the Bishop's eyes at the end of issue #21.  He finds Lance, who had been institutionalized after Jo drove him to madness:  Jo always leaves debris in her wake, and he intends somehow to use this "dead man" against Jo.  We'll presumably see how in the final issue.

In all his cult's histories, he has never read of a hunted and cursed woman like Josephine fighting back in a manner far more systematic than the Professor and Bonnie's single assault on the cult's lighthouse. He nevertheless remains confident that "her fate had been sealed ever since her first death" -- and his confidence isn't diminished by either his failure in Romania in 1943 or his subsequent injuries, being blinded in 1956 or burned in 1978.

What I find most interesting is his reminiscences on the events in Romania, last seen in detail in "Just a Glance Away" in issue #14.  Despite the supposed inevitability of Jo's fate, things had gone wrong for the Bishop as she escaped with Walt Booker.
"His black heart had shattered then...and been ground to dust when his rival in Japan had taken the victory that should have been his."
His rival?

I believe this is the one and only time that this "rival" is mentioned:  evidently the Bishop and this rival are in a kind of race, and the rival won that race with a victory that may have corresponded to the atomic bombings in August, 1945.

Josephine obviously wasn't sacrificed, so was this rival chasing his own "consort"?

Comparing issue #11 and the roughly contemporaneous flashbacks in issue #23, it doesn't appear that the Bishop -- then bald, mustachioed and slightly heavy -- was present at the ritual that resulted in Josephine's first death and curse of immortality.  It furthermore stands to reason that the Bishop wouldn't have released the confused and weakened Josephine only to hunt her down immediately, but was this rival present at that house in Fresno where Josephine first died?  Did the rival and the Bishop create each other's quarry?

Will we learn more about this rival in the final issue, and does the rival have a role to play in Josephine and Sommerset's ultimate confrontation?

I can't wait to find out.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: Eyes Without a Face.

Fatale #21
released March 26, 2014
following a six-page preview

With Nicolas being taken to Josephine's secret base -- or "inner sanctum" -- we finally discover what she's really been doing since leaving Hollywood in 1978.   Following the events in "The Devil's Business," Jo sought out someone else like Mirela the gypsy and Walt Booker, an ally who "saw the true clockwork of the world."



She found the librarian Otto.  His grandfather was "some half-Indian mystic," and as a boy Otto had been marked with the tattoos that made him immune to Jo's powers.  In issue #13, we meet the Indian Milkfed, who is also immune to Jo's powers because of the markings on him -- "tattoos and paint" -- and we discover that he's the Professor's son.  As we've speculated previously, perhaps Otto is Milkfed's grandson.

Either way, we notice that there isn't an organized group whose aim is to fight and defeat the Bishop and his cult, nothing like a holy order of knights that persisted into the 21st century.  And we see no evidence of angels or other otherworldly beings helping the humans against the Bishop's dark gods.  The optimist might hope that the universe of Fatale has a benevolent Supreme Being who trusts His human creations and their abilities to fight the demons and their worshippers, but the genre of noir emphasizes hopeless causes in an uncaring cosmos.  The best we can hope for in this story is agnosticism about a good and sovereign deity.

Known only as "the librarian" in the previous arc, it was Otto who had sent Jo and her friend Gavin to find some occult literature in Seattle, and it appears that, by now, they have a plan of attack against the Bishop.

--

With Nicolas' help, Jo retrieves a very special box from the rich sadist Nathan, who was holding it to keep it safe.

The box contains the Bishop's orange and inhuman eyes, which Walt Booker had cut out of him in 1956, at the end of "Death Chases Me."

It's our theory that Hank Raines had custody of these eyes upon his death in 2011, at the very beginning of the series.  With his knowledge of spells and magic drawings, he was able to protect himself and his possession until his death, at which time Jo -- and the Bishop's inhuman goons -- came looking for them.

If Jo was looking for the Bishop's eyes, she wasn't looking for Hank's early manuscript, which may be why she left the manuscript with Dominic.  Perhaps she continued to trail Dominic, the executor of Hank's estate:  she intercepted the investigator Mark Garvin before he found Dominic, and she used Garvin to get to the Santa Barbara bank box before Dominic did.

Notice that the safe deposit box is about the right size to hold the small box of the Bishop's eyeballs.

And notice that, when the Bishop's goon attacks Nicolas outside the Savings and Loan, he keeps asking for something in the plural.
"Just stay calm, Mr Lash and tell me where they are.  Where are they?" [emphasis mine]
Johnny Lash opened the safe deposit box in 1959, the year after Hank and Jo left San Francisco.  Jo apparently always wanted to keep herself well away from those eyes, perhaps for fear that she would be tempted to look at them or perhaps from the understandable dread that the Bishop would be able to track her from her proximity.

After retrieving the eyes from the safe box around 2012, the year after Hank's funeral, she had apparently put them in Nathan's custody until she was ready for them, which she was in early 2014.

She  opens the box and looks at its contents, and somewhere else, the Bishop realizes that Jo has his eyes.

Even with just one issue left, I'm fairly confident that wasn't the last time those eerie eyes appear in the story.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The White Knight Subverted.

Fatale #20
released February 12, 2014
following a five-page preview

The most surprising thing about Fatale #20 isn't the Nietzsche quote which may remind readers of the movie Groundhog Day, a comparison reinforced by the sequence of Jo's futile suicide attempts.  No, the shock comes with seeing Josephine as the completely self-assured bad-ass, seeking out the Bishop's cult, armed with  a semiautomatic and wearing a black leather jacket.



It was a long road for Jo.  After nearly being sacrificed and "devoured" in Romania during World War II, she had first found safety in Booker's protection in the 1950's; after losing her son, she then found safety as a recluse in the 1970's.  We had previously written how issue #8 documented the turning point:  seeing Hank in his fragile and fearful state, she decided that she was tired of hiding and that she would start fighting the cult that had been hunting her for nearly half a century.

Issue #21 will show that, after the costly victory in Los Angeles, Jospehine started looking for more knowledge about the cult -- and looking for allies.  She found Otto the librarian, and in 1995, Otto sent Jo and her friend Gavin to Seattle to find some rare occult books.  Her research was derailed by Wulf's attempt to kill her and the resulting amnesia, and she hadn't yet started acting on what her research uncovered.

Now in the present day -- January, 2014, to be specific -- Josephine is enacting a plan long in the making, with the schedule accelerated since Nicolas became a fugitive from the law.  After attacking the group of cultists in the woods, she embraces her powers and hijacks a cultist's car to find Nicolas, who is evidently a key part of her plan.

Jo rescues Nicolas from Lance -- now called Nelson -- and she drives Lance insane by revealing to him "every cold thing that's been hiding the shadows of eternity," a moment of self-disclosure that almost echoes the intimacy that she will share with Nicolas as they make love in issue #23.

Nicolas has seen Lance's incoherent ranting before, in the lunatic babbling of his father Johnny Lash, on the day he had Johnny committed ten years prior, the circumstances of which remain one of the story's biggest mysteries.  The memory ruins his moment of salvation and makes him wonder about what role he really plays in Josephine's master plan.

In this issue, Josephine subverts the image of the white knight twice over.  Instead of being the damsel in distress rescued by her prince, she's the one who saves Nicolas, but -- even in light of the cliffhanger ending to the penultimate issue #23 -- it's not at all clear that she saved him for noble and selfless reasons.

Jo was ruining men's lives long before she became proactive in her fight against the Bishop.  She's become both more knowledgeable and more self-assured, but that doesn't mean she's changed her destructive ways.




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