Friday, July 04, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The Unseen Horrors

Fatale #4 was released on April 4th, 2012, alongside the final second printing for the series -- for issue #3 -- and on the heels of a five-page preview.  The body count continued to mount as the Bishop drew closer to finding Jo, but Brubaker and Phillips showed remarkable restraint in hiding the worst of his monstrous acts.

Modern comic books have a reputation for sensationalism and glorifying brutal violence, albeit with the tongue often planted firmly in cheek, but Brubaker and Phillips' work stands apart.  Criminal's first arc, "Coward," was as brutal as any Sin City story, but I believe it was more effective in its humanizing the victims rather than emphasizing the viscera.

The writer's rule is "show, don't tell," but that rule doesn't apply in horror -- or in classics like Jaws, when the deadly great white was obscured as long as possible.  The imagination can often do a much better job at feeding one's fear, and it's not just Sean Phillips' art that benefits from things being so often hidden in the shadows.

Over the course of issues #2, #3, and #4, the Bishop murdered Hank's wife Sylvia, and Hank was arrested and questioned about her death and the grotesque manner in which she was killed.  In just those three issues, we saw plenty of violence -- one man's throat and half of another man's head eaten away, Jo commanding a cultist to shoot himself in the head, a gruesome truck of corpses that only young Walt could see, and Walt's partner Lannie being stabbed repeatedly -- but we saw neither the Bishop's murder of Sylvia nor the crime scene afterwards.

The murder was merely described, and even then we don't read the description as much as see people's reactions:  a newspaper account made Dominic run in terror a half-century later, and the crime-scene photos and the police account made Hank scream uncontrollably.

For all that we see in this arc, it's what we don't see that's most haunting, an unseen horror that is more effective because we only approach its obscene reality in the most indirect way.

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