Saturday, July 05, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: Fathers and Sons.

The first arc, "Death Chases Me," reaches its violent and disturbing conclusion with Fatale #5, published on May 9th, 2012, after the release of a five-page preview. 

I believe this issue makes the first allusion to the Great San Francisco Earthquake of May 18th, 1906.  In the real world, the earthquake and the resulting fire probably resulted in 2,000 to 3,000 deaths.  In the world of Fatale, the cataclysm was the result of a key event that's referenced again in issue #13 and issue #22:  the sacrifice of Jo's predecessor Bonnie and the rebirth of a human named Sommerset into the inhuman Bishop.

The Bishop returns to the subterranean scene of that crime, evidently expecting to sacrifice Hank and Jo after Booker has brought the immortal woman to him.  Things don't go as planned, and the Bishop is permanently blinded, seemingly killed, and reborn in a new host body.

Brubaker and Phillips don't just obscure the worst brutality, as we discussed last time; they are often subtle in conveying key plot points.  I particularly remember a cliffhanger ending in "Coward," where I wondered if Leo had taken the stash with him.  He had, but that fact was never mentioned outright in narration or dialogue, only shown as without fanfare as Leo left his hideout to try to make things right with the crooked cop that set him up.

Here, I think we're left to wonder, was it never Booker's real plan to betray Jo into the Bishop's clutches?  My guess is that Walt Booker really intended to sacrifice Jo for a cure to his cancer, but he had a change of heart when she confronted him in the police station and he broke down in grief, near the midpoint of issue #4.

And where did the child come from, which the Bishop possessed in the grotesque ritual of reincarnation?  We can deduce the infant's origins from a single line from one of the cultists.

"It's been over a week since he cut it out of the woman."

Bishop was reborn in the infant son of Hank Raines:  the police had mistakenly concluded that the child died with his mother.

In the next arc, "The Devil's Business," we find out that, in the 70's, Jo had had a son, and in the penultimate issue, #23, we discover along with Nicolas that she had this son with Hank.

In much of Brubaker and Phillips' work, especially Criminal and Scene of the Crime, families are crucial and sins reverberate through the generations.  In Fatale, there is a long line of women like Jo, and their powers torment generations of men.

For Dominic "Hank" Raines, the generational drama hits much closer to home.

Unbeknownst to Hank, his infant son through his wife Sylvia becomes the new host for the Bishop.  Tension over his son with Jo ends their relationship, and Willie's violent, oedipal reaction to his mother's powers and his subsequent suicide is the great tragedy of her life.  And his godson Nicolas -- the son of his friend, the now-mad photographer Johnny Lash -- plays a central role in the story's conclusion.

This epic tale matches Sleeper in length and, in its scope, it surpasses all of Brubaker and Phillips' previous work.  It's a Lovecraftian horror-noir, but it has revealed itself to be much more than that.

For Jo, Hank, Walt, Nicolas, and quite a few other characters, the story is a deeply moving tragedy, made more moving with Sean Phillips' moody art.



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