Just as in any good horror story, an inheritance will damn you, and Nicholas Lash is damned from the moment he inherits the estate of his late godfather, the pulp detective novelist, Dominic Haines. One half of the inheritance is an unpublished manuscript that it appears that all too neat men are prepared to kill for and the other is Jo, a women whose allure might be enough to save Nicholas, but not before embracing him in a luridly dark and dread mystery to which the manuscript might just have the answers…
If this sounds like classic hard boiled fiction, or even Film Noir, then that is because it is. It is the set up for the on-going comic book series Fatale, whose first five issues are collected in Image Comics’ Death Chases Me. Written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Philips, whose similarly hard edged collaborations on Criminal, Incognito, and Sleeper are highly regarded, Fatale brings a new element to a story type that normally dwells on the destructive impulses of its protagonists – horror! Specifically, that of Lovecraftian horror. Unnaturally, this is a perfect fit, the hard boiled crime genre redolent with shadows from which this horror can and does step in Fatale Book One: Death Chases Me. It constantly lurks around the corner or down the next ally as the story delves, if not into the contents of Dominic Haines’ unpublished manuscript, then at least the events of his life during the 1950s before he became a novelist.
Here Haines’ story parallels that of his godson’s as we see him encounter a familiar figure for the first time – Jo or as she styles herself then, Josephine, and like Nicholas, fall into her enthrallment. Yet she is in transition, moving on from one “victim” to the next, for as we see Haines falling for her, we also follow Booker, a San Francisco police detective both worn out by, and desperate for her, attempting find his own way to redemption. If we see both Nicholas and his godfather fall for Josephine’s charms at the beginning of their relationships with her, then Booker is at the end. As to what or who Josephine is, Death Chases Me never reveals her nature, although it gives hints. With the beginning of the second volume of Fatale already available in comic book form, there are plenty of revelations to come.
Fatale’s use of the Lovecraftian is fourfold. First in the sense of detachment that many of its characters feel, this feeling growing and fading as their orbit around Josephine oscillates; second, in their feelings of helplessness, especially in face of unanswered questions and the shocks to their sanity as the story progresses; and third, in if not her questionable parentage, then at least in Josephine’s uncertain origins. Of course, many of these elements come as part of classic hard boiled fiction, but Fatale’s fourth use of the Lovecraftian is perhaps the most obvious in a modern sense – tentacles! Yet Brubaker never overflails these tentacles, despite the cover from the first issue – a be-suited Cthulhoid creature with a tommy gun! Whilst tentacles do make an appearance, his treatment of the genre in Fatale is much more subtle than that, possessing a deceivingly human face. As much as the Mythos entities are inimical to the characters in Fatale, that they are prepared to deal with, and bargain with mankind, it suggests the identity in control here, Nyarlathotep, but then no actual Mythos creature is named, so the reader is left to guess.
In collecting Fatale’s first five issues, there is just the one downside. Death Chases Me does not include the essays that came with each issue. They included pieces by Jess Nevins on both Poe and Lovecraft, and each made for an excellent examination of some elements within the series. Nevertheless, this collection neatly captures the story’s vibrant action, its long shadows, and Dave Stewart’s deep colours that alternately set the mood and shock the eye.
It is interesting to note that the author is not only an aficionado of Lovecraft’s works, but has also played Call of Cthulhu, for Fatale Book One: Death Chases Me feels as much like a roleplaying scenario as it does a story. For Fatale shows you just enough of its horror to want to know more. On the strength of this first collection, it almost does not matter if its final denouement – whenever that comes – does not live up to the journey. Taking that journey in the company of our mystery femme Fatale, Josephine is going to be satisfying salacious.