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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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: An Updated Montage.

With the release of a five-page preview of the Fatale finale, we noticed yesterday that the cover art for issue #24 had been recolored, from a moody green to a more violent orange.  We've decided to take the time to update the cover montage we posted last week.

The 5.5-MB JPEG file for the updated image is now available on Google Drive, and readers are welcome to download the file.  We named the file version 2, and we were tempted to label it the "final" version, but there's a chance Sean Phillips might change the cover art for the final trade paperback collection.

Not once does a cover feel like a wasted opportunity, as every cover fits with the issue, and any one of them could almost be a movie poster.  In its simplicity, the artwork is clearly a drawing rather than a watercolor painting or a Photoshop job, but the drawing is never cartoony, and each cover is all the more striking for its limited color palette.

It's hard to pick a single favorite, though I do strongly favor the covers for #11, #18, #19, and #23.

On Twitter, fans have mentioned that they would love to see a print of this montage.  That's really Ed and Sean's call, and in the meantime this image is my laptop's wallpaper even if it's doesn't occupy any physical space.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: Tom's Song and Hank's Book.

Fatale #19
released January 8, 2014
no preview available

The year opened with a bang  for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  We had the conclusion of Book 4, "Pray for Rain;" the first deluxe hardcover was announced for March; and in the back pages of issue #19, Brubaker alluded to a big announcement for that very next day, at the 2014 Image Expo.  We covered the breaking news at length:  Brubaker and Phillips' five-year deal at Image, to produce whatever they want; the conclusion of Fatale with issue #24; and the first series under the five-year contract, The Fade Out.

Fatale #19 was eventful as well, with the Seattle story colliding head-on into Nicolas' present-day troubles.  The first time I read the arc in monthly issues, I missed some of the key details, misreading that the song for the violent video shoot was for the song Jo inspired Tom to write.  It wasn't:  the video was for another song entirely, evidently produced from old, remastered demos while Tom was lost in his own world. 

Amsterdam had a single hit, a song called "Flow My Tears."  A deal with a major record label, Sub-track Records (acquired by the Bishop), led to the band's purchasing a mansion with a detached garage, but by the time they encountered Jo, the band could barely afford the property taxes.  With the songwriter Tom lost in his own world and the band facing both bankruptcy and irrelevance as a one-hit wonder, Amsterdam fell back on old demos, being remastered for the next release.  Presumably the video is for one of the remastered demos.

The video never saw the light of day:  the Bishop got a hold of the video and killed everyone who had seen it, keeping the display of Jo's power to himself.

Tom's song also disappeared, for an entirely different reason:  Jo appears to have recovered the demo tape when she went back to the mansion and rescued Lance from the serial killer Wulf.

That song that Nicolas remembers Amsterdam for is probably "Flow My Tears," their one and only hit.  The song went back onto the charts after the massacre at the mansion, the "satanic sex murder" for which Lance was blamed.

(Presumably those remastered demos were released posthumously to capitalize on the scandal -- released, that is, without the demo for Jo's song and without Jo's video.)

In Nicolas' words, Amsterdam was notorious for being "the grunge band who worshipped the devil" and whose lead singer "murdered his friends and disappeared."  Like Tom's girlfriend Darcy, the Seattle police officer Wulf was probably considered a victim of the killing spree, and his numerous murders probably went unsolved.

Josephine probably recovered the demo tape to protect herself, so -- unlike the Bishop's eyes and the Bishop's book from the first two arcs -- this song is probably not central to the series' conclusion.  "Pray for Rain" differs from the first two arcs in other ways as well:  there's no direct encounter between Josephine and the Bishop, altering Jo's trajectory and disfiguring the Bishop further.

Clearly, the arc is still important to the overall story, not just because of where Nicolas begins in the final arc, but because Lance apparently has more of a role to play in the Bishop's plans for tracking and trapping Josephine.

This arc also probably revealed as much as we'll ever know about the fate of Hank Raines' early novel, "The Losing Side of Eternity."   Lance published the book, telling Nicolas that he removed the passages that echoed Tom's song, as a way to protect Josephine.

How did he get the manuscript?  Did he send the unnamed woman to find and seduce Dominic and take the manuscript, only to abduct him later?  That seems too convoluted and too much of a team effort for the loner that Lance had become, so I'm guessing the woman ripped off Dominic on her own, and Lance found her later, perhaps as she was trying to figure out what to do with the manuscript.  

Lance murdered the woman for the manuscript, and he apparently found out that Dominic was falsely accused of the woman's murder.  He edited the manuscript and had the book printed by a small publisher who would claim to have bought the book from Nicolas:  either Lance ran the publishing company or (more likely) he impersonated Nicolas, selling the manuscript and shipping copies of the book to fund and obscure his plan to find Josephine.

Pretending to be Nicolas helped ensure the open-and-shut case against the real Nicolas Lash, keeping him in custody until Lance broke him out for his own purposes.

The story arc ends with Nicolas in an even worse place than where he began:  facing torture in Lance's basement rather than facing prosecution for a murder he didn't commit.

Help will come in the next issue, but we still won't know until the series' end whether that was a true rescue or just a temporary reprieve.

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Bullets: Fatale Finale Preview, Fade Out Glimpses, Velvet, Void, and Much More.

We interrupt our month-long look back at Fatale to cover the just-released preview of the final issue, along with quite a few items we would have otherwise missed.  We'll look at Fatale #19 later this evening:  for now, keep reading for some early looks at the interior art of The Fade Out, the latest issue of Ed Brubaker's other creator-owned comic, and Sean Phillips' sci-fi thriller.

• Fatale #24 Preview, Confirmed for July 30th Release.   After posting some gruesome inkwork on his blog, Sean Phillips announced that he finished his work on Fatale around June 23rd, finishing the 586th page of the horror-noir series -- implying that the final, extra-long issue has 31 pages of story.  He then posted two pieces of artwork for the extra features in the Fatale finale, for an essay by Jess Nevins on "fallen heroes and redeemed villains."

On Twitter today, Phillips announced that his "comp copies" of Fatale #24 have just arrived, meaning that the issue is "probably out next week."  The accompanying image didn't provide a clear look, but the cover has clearly changed; it appears to be the solicited artwork, significantly recolored, as shown in the comparison above.

Just in the last hour, Comic Book Resources has posted a five-page preview of Fatale #24, along with the other Image books released in the next two weeks.  The preview confirms both the recolored cover and the July 30th release date.  And the previewed interior pages use the stylistic art of stained glass or an illuminated manuscript to shed light on the story of the owl and the ribbon around the world and the ritual of the Consort, and it must be seen to be believed.

• First Interior Art, More Cover Artwork, and Retailer Promo for The Fade Out.  For Phillips, the "new project" of The Fade Out evidently began on June 30th, with a scene set at a "wild party," and over the month of July, his blog has featured a couple looks at panels in-progress.  He's trying his hand at digital inking while maintaining the look and feel of his "scruffy, analogue inks."

In consecutive days, Sean also posted the completed cover art for The Fade Out #3 and "cover detail" for another work in-progress.  For the former, the solicitation gives us a scheduled release date of October 29th.  With the latter, a close look at the title bar in the screenshot confirms that the troubled soldier will appear on the cover for issue #4.

On Twitter, both Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker provided a look at retail posters that should soon be appearing in stores promoting the new period-piece crime comic with a very simple description.

Fame. Sex. Death.  That's Entertainment.

The poster points to an August release for issue #1, and fans may want to ask their local shops for the poster once they're done with it.

• Preview for Velvet #6, Out This Week.  Tomorrow sees the release of the latest issue of Velvet, Brubaker's espionage comic with long-time collaborator Steve Epting.  Comicosity has a five-page preview.  

It's the beginning of a new arc, called "The Secret Lives of Dead Men," and Brubaker has tweeted that the cover art for these issues is meant to evoke "70s crime novels."

• Phillips' Void Preview, at SDCC and Out in September.  Sunday, Titan Comics announced that Sean Phillips' Void will be available exclusively at booth #5537 at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend.  I believe we missed the original press release in February, but Titan Comics is publishing a deluxe hardcover of this sci-fi  thriller, translated into English from a script by French writer Henrik Hanna with (top-billing) art by Phillips.

Phillips' blog has a few entries on the graphic novel, with several previews of pages in various stages of completion and a more complete look at the cover artwork.

In 2011, he described the project as his first sci-fi work, created for Delcourt in France, which is probably why we missed it:  the book was completed in June, 2012, and released that October, and we didn't realize that -- like Seven Psychopaths before it -- it would be translated into English.

The book tells the story of "the sole survivor of an interstellar prison ship," and Giant Freakin Robot has a feature on the book, with a four-page preview.  The book is scheduled to reach retailers in September.

• Brubaker Featured in Bendis' New Book on Writing.  I've noticed in online ads that Brian Michael Bendis has a new book out, on sale today:  Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels.   The book has "tips and insights from other working writers, artists, and editors provid[ing] a rare, extensive look behind the creative curtain of the comics industry."  

Between the index available online and the Amazon preview of the book, it's clear that Ed Brubaker is featured in an eight-page spotlight, in an interview Bendis conducted while Brubaker was working on Captain America.

• Brubaker Interviews.  Ed Brubaker has also made himself available for a number of online interviews in the last few weeks.  In a June 24th feature, Paste Magazine talks with Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Kieron Gillen, Jim Starlin, and others  about "the creator-owned comic book renaissance."  Brubaker mentions the difficulties in keeping Sleeper from being cancelled, the benefits of publishing work through Image Comics, and retailers' positive reaction to the influx of creator-owned work.

On July 1st, Wired posted an extensive interview with Brubaker about Velvet, upon the release of the first trade paperback collection.  He mentions inspirations for the story as wide-ranging as 40-year-old British television and his own family's history in intelligence, and he discusses how the main character's age and experience are integral to the story he's telling.

And just yesterday, the podcast 3 Chicks Review Comics posted their latest show, which features "a super long interview with the fantastic (and prolific) Ed Brubaker," on subjects ranging from Gotham Central and Captain America to Fatale, Velvet, and The Fade Out.

• Sean Phillips at Lakes International Comics Art Festival.  Phillips is attending the Comics Art Festival in Kendal, England, on October 17-19, returning as a featured creator.  His featured event is Divas and Fatales with fellow artist Rian Hughes.  

"In a special burlesque-inspired event, Sean and Rian draw a live model and demonstrate the art of creating a fully-formed character before your eyes."

Alex Valente has recently posted a Comics Art Festival poster focusing on this featured event.

• Fatale Reviews.  Over the last few weeks, we've also seen a few features on Fatale as the series draws to a close.  The AV Club made issue #23 its Big Issue for the week, late in June, drawing particular attention to the increasingly "trippy" artwork and to Nicolas' transition from obsession and infatuation to love and affection.

On July 2nd, Geekocracy kicked off a book club with a live streaming discussion of Fatale Book 1, "Death Chases Me."  They subsequently posted the 47-minute video of Masks & More #1.

And, just now, This Is Infamous posted an essay on the end of Fatale, speculating on its possible endings and examining the theme of inevitability in the book and the genre of noir which it encapsulates.

• Recommendations.  Especially through retweets, Ed Brubaker has recommended quite a few things worth reading, which we're reiterating here.
  • The National Post interviewed the "newly anointed queen of noir" Megan Abbott, who provided the introduction for the first deluxe volume of Fatale.
  • Open Culture lists film noir's five essential rules,  embedding an hour-long BBC documentary on the subject.  Abbott's introduction to the first deluxe hardcover argues that Fatale subverts the first rule -- "Choose a Dame with a Past and a Hero with No Future" -- by making Josephine much more than a femme fatale.
  • IDW has announced plans to publish the Italian comic-book adventures of Corto Maltese, a perennial best-seller in Europe which have never been comprehensively translated into English and collected for American readers.  The series will be released in 12 paperback volumes starting this December and subsequently in six hardcover volumes each collecting two trade editions.
  • Rick Remender is about to release another creator-owned sci-fi comic, Low, with artist Greg Tocchini.  Published by Image Comics, the futuristic story is about a mission sent from an undersea sanctuary to recover a probe that has landed on Earth's desolate surface.
For myself, I'm really looking forward to Tom Scioli's eccentric work on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, having already read (and re-read) issue #0 given away on Free Comic Book Day.  Issue #1 is out tomorrow, and CBR has a five-page preview.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The Criminal Element.

Fatale #18
released November 6, 2013
following a five-page preview

Fatale #18 was the eighth and final issue released in 2013, and it finds the amnesiac "Jane Doe" remembering her cursed life as Josephine, but not before releasing her power with deadly results, drawing both the Bishop and the serial killer Wulf.

Twice in this issue, the staid page layout also runs out of control, spilling into angular, two-page spreads.

When we first mentioned the preview for this issue, we noted that it began with "that common conundrum in crime stories: what to do with the body."  The series has all sorts of more mundane crime tropes, including crooked cops and organized crime, and it's worth noticing that this criminal element isn't always introduced by Josephine and her curse.

At the beginning of "The Devil's Business," Miles was working on a desperate (and rather pathetic) plan of scoring some drugs as entry into an exclusive Hollywood party, and at the beginning of this arc, "Pray for Rain," Lance had just committed his first bank robbery to finance his bankrupt band's music video. 

Jo might have caused the criminality to escalate, inducing a jealous Lance to commit a possibly murderous assault during their second robbery, but here she didn't corrupt perfect men.  They were corrupted long before she entered the picture.

Jo's power seemed almost to redeem the anti-hero Miles, who died before the curse took its toll.  In its upcoming final chapter, this arc reveals that her power drove Lance to madness.

Nicolas Lash wasn't evidently a criminal before meeting Jo, being wrongly accused of murder, then escaping custody with the man called Nelson, but he'll probably follow either Miles or Lance to one tragic end or another.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: The Metastasizing Monster.

Fatale #17
released September 25, 2013
following a five-page preview

With Fatale #17, we see the return of the story's monstrous antagonist, the Bishop.  His real name appears to be Sommerset, and I believe this is the first use of that name, which is mentioned again in issue #22; Hans, the name used in the 70's, may have just been an alias.

The Bishop's position as a Nazi officer was lost at the end of the war -- and after Booker rescued Jo from the first failed ritual -- but the Bishop's earthly power then grew as he became more physically disfigured from his encounters with Josephine.

He ran an obscure cult in the 1950's; running the Method Church in the 70's, he attracted a following in Hollywood and apparently had a run-in with Charles Manson; by the time we see him again in the mid-90's, he's flying a corporate jet with an interest in quite a few businesses, especially in entertainment.  At the same time, he had become "blind, partly crippled, and covered in burns."

Hunting Josephine across the decades, even sensing her presence when she wasn't in hiding, the Bishop had grown both more powerful and more grotesque, even as his quarry had herself become more knowledgeable of his occult secrets.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

30 Days of Fatale: Crosswords and Sudoku.

Fatale #16
released August 7, 2013
following a five-page preview

Fatale #16 was the second of two issues to feature cover art different from what was solicited.  The original cover featured Nicolas Lash, but he was replaced with Lance since Nicolas' present-day story wasn't continued in this issue.  Sean Phillips originally planned to reuse the art in another issue, and the advance cover at Amazon suggests that it may have been considered for the last trade paperback, but it will probably be printed nowhere except perhaps as part of the bonus features of a deluxe hardcover.

The issue continues the arc "Pray For Rain," and the issue reminds me of the different approaches to works of literature -- books, comic books, plays, and movies.  Some works are like crossword puzzles, where you need to bring a lot of information with you to make sense of what you have, and some works are like sudoku puzzles where all the information you need is presented to you.

I can understand needing annotations to understand Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales -- or an extensive dictionary to understand Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey novels, set in during the Napoleonic Wars and written to match the era -- but generally I prefer sudoku-like works, where at least the basic narrative and the character's motivations are explicit in the work itself, even if one must closely read (and re-read) the work to catch all the nuances.

It was fun to examine "The Last of the Innocent" to find analogues to the characters in Archie comics and other works, and it was good seeing Teeg Lawless again, but it wasn't necessary to have read Archie or indeed any of the other self-contained Criminal stories to follow the plot.  It sounds like Jess Nevins' annotations to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen heightens the enjoyment but isn't strictly necessary to read Alan Moore's books, and my biggest problem with Grant Morrison's Final Crisis was the apparent Ph.D in DC history one needed to get even the vaguest notion of what was going on.

Overall, Fatale appears to be quite self-contained:  the mysteries that can be answered, can be answered from clues in the story itself.

That doesn't mean there aren't allusions to other works and figures in history, and Fatale #16 has more than most other issues.

Set in Seattle, 1995, the issue alludes to the 1994 death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain; the movies of Ray Harryhausen, who used stop-motion effects to bring classic myths to life; the writer Carlos Castaneda, who focused on shamanism and sorcery; and the music of The Walker Brothers, from the 60's and 70's -- their song "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" can be heard here -- and Scott Walker, especially his acclaimed 1984 solo album Climate of Hunter.

The issue also lets us get to know the members of the rock band Amsterdam, without clunky exposition:  Lance, who has resorted to robbery to finance their next music video; Jon, the undersized and fearless guitarist; Tom, the withdrawn songwriter who dances the line between genius and madness; Darcy, his girlfriend; and Skip, the medical student.

Every one of them is deeply affected by Josephine -- "Jane Doe," as she calls herself in her state of amnesia -- and each is affected differently; only Darcy is immune, but she is resentful of the effect she has on the guys.  Each of these five-issue arcs shows Jo's influence on more than one man, and in this arc her power is overwhelming an entire house of bandmates as well as the serial killer Wulf and her friend Gavin.

About Gavin... on the next to last page of this issue, we discover that Jo and Gavin came to Seattle to find some rare occult books, sent by a mysterious "librarian" whom we won't meet for another five issues.

All the pieces of the puzzle are here; it's just not always easy to put them together.

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