Comic Book Fix: Reviews – Fatale #1 and The Punisher #7
Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 January 2012 08:40 Written by david golbitz Wednesday, 18 January 2012 11:00
In which I review two of my favorite books of the past couple weeks: Fatale #1, the new “horror noir” from the Eisner award-winning team behind Criminal and Incognito: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; and The Punisher #7, by not-frequent-enough collaborators Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.
Fatale #1 (Image), by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have worked together a lot over the years, from their first collaboration more than a decade ago on 2001′s Batman: Gotham Noir to their overlooked 2003-05 Wildstorm series Sleeper to their more recent creator-owned series, Criminal and Incognito. The pair has become so synonymous with dark, gritty, brilliant comics, you know you’re going to be in for a wild, wonderful ride through the brutal underworld of humanity when you see their names on the cover. Brubaker and Phillips are like the Lee and Kirby of comic book noir (only with a more evenly split workload), and their latest project, Fatale, is everything you already love about their work, with a splash of Lovecraft thrown into the mix.
Fatale begins ordinarily enough, at the sparsely-attended, rain-soaked funeral of trashy pulp novelist Dominic Raines. Our narrator is Nicholas Lash, the executor of Raines’ estate and our eyes and ears for the madness that is to come. When the funeral ends, as Lash is pondering the strange symbols carved into Raines’ headstone (the writer was an atheist, after all), he is approached by a stunning young woman who introduces herself as “Jo.” She explains that those same symbols are also on her grandmother’s headstone, that her grandmother and Raines were lovers once and the symbol was something private between the two of them. And with that, she’s gone, leaving Lash standing in the downpour, feeling “like some high school kid again. Dumbstruck.”
Later, at Raines’ home, Lash discovers a lost manuscript dated before Raines’ first published novel, but his musings of cashing in are interrupted when a car pulls up outside. Shadowy men in dark overcoats, brandishing guns, emerge and Lash knows he’s already in over his head. As he tries to make his way out of the house, Jo miraculously appears. She blasts one of the intruders and hustles Lash into her car, leading to a high-speed chase worthy of Popeye Doyle that ends in a fiery explosion.
Lash wakes up five days later in a hospital, missing half his right leg and wondering what in the hell just happened to his life. As he flips through Raines’ manuscript, an old black & white photo falls out. A photo of Raines and a young woman who looks remarkably like Jo, as if she hasn’t aged a day in more than 50 years.
And that’s just the prologue.
What follows is the beginnings of an old-fashioned pulp thriller. A grisly murder scene, crooked cops, an intrepid reporter, an occult conspiracy and a beautiful femme fatale smack in the middle of the whole thing.
Brubaker weaves a mystery with the best of them and in this first issue he sets up the pieces and introduces a tantalizing puzzle. And Phillips’ art is as gorgeous as ever, crisp lines and black, inky shadows. Fans of previous Brubaker/Phillips books will not be disappointed by their latest collaboration. And readers new to their work will find a taut, gripping thriller with the promise of something horrific coming just down the pike. The pair’s previous book, Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, made my “Best of 2011″ list, and if this first issue is a true indication, Fatale is well on its way to a spot on my “Best of 2012″ list as well.
The Punisher #7 (Marvel), by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
The artist for Ed Brubaker’s seminal 1999 Vertigo miniseries Scene of the Crime was Michael Lark. When Brubaker teamed up with Greg Rucka to launch their Eisner award-winning Homicide-in-the-DCU series Gotham Central, Michael Lark was the only artist the two writers wanted for the book, and they waited nearly a year for him to become available. Later, when Ed Brubaker took over Daredevil from Brian Michael Bendis, he brought Michael Lark on board as the book’s main artist. So to say that Michael Lark knows how to draw crime stories would be an understatement of epic proportions. Lark’s moody, intricate pencils, often masterfully inked by Stefano Gaudiano, evoke the mean, crime-ridden streets of TV shows like The Wire, giving his books a sense of weighty realism often lacking in mainstream superhero comics.
So anytime Lark re-teams with one of his Gotham Central collaborators is a cause for celebration and Greg Rucka’s The Punisher is a perfect match for Lark’s estimable talents.
Picking up in the aftermath of last issue’s bloodbath, The Punisher #7 is largely a two-man play, a dialogue between grizzled veteran Det. Oscar Clemons and his young partner and Iraq war veteran, Det. Walter Bolt. Think of them as Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in Se7en, but instead of trying to catch the serial killer known as John Doe, they’re tasked with tracking down Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, and bringing him in.
Well, actually, Clemons and Bolt are investigating a crime syndicate known as The Exchange, but with Castle killing members of The Exchange left and right, you can see how their paths are bound to cross one or twice.
Clemons and Bolt are sent by their captain to the scene of issue #6′s massacre, a ski resort in upstart New York. The bodies are believed to be those of Exchange members. The entire issue follows the two detectives as they investigate the crime scene. The Punisher doesn’t appear at all in this issue, save for a brief flashback used to illustrate why Clemons is hellbent on bringing Frank Castle to justice. In fact, Castle has been largely absent for much of Rucka’s series, popping up here and there to shoot a mobster or two. Rucka has taken the character back to urban myth territory. The Punisher exists. Cops know he exists. Criminals know he exists. But he stays out of the limelight, striking and then slinking back into the darkness. And it’s a marvelous decision on Rucka’s part, to use The Punisher as a bogeyman and instead focusing on the people around him, those caught in his gravity well, being pulled inexorably closer to him.
People like Rachel Cole-Alves, a Marine who, on her wedding day, was caught in a firefight between rival gangs, including The Exchange. Her entire wedding party was killed, including her new husband and fellow Marine. Rachel, who survived multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, found her life torn asunder on what should have been the happiest day of her life. Unable to cope with her grief, or perhaps coping the only way she knows how, she begins her own war against those who ripped her husband away from her. It was only a matter of time before she came face-to-face with Frank Castle, whose own well-documented tragedy put him on a path of vengeance and bloodshed. Imagine The Punisher’s surprise when he finds a female version of himself mercilessly mowing down Exchange members at that ski resort.
Rucka is known for writing strong female characters, from Bridgett Logan to Tara Chace to Dex Parios to Batwoman. And the more we learn about Rachel Cole-Alves the more she fits the mold of a Rucka woman: strong, willful, touched by tragedy, damaged, determined. But despite his own demons, or maybe because of them, I get the feeling Frank Castle won’t let Rachel follow him down his dark path. Not for very long, anyway.
Michael Lark’s pencils are tight and detailed, a perfect complement to Rucka’s writing. Each of the artists on Rucka’s The Punisher run have distinct styles, from regular artist Marco Checcetto, who returns will issue #8, to issue #6 fill-ins Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) and Matthew Clark (Felon, Adventures of Superman), but they all share an aesthetic of realism that Rucka’s darker stories demand.
The Punisher might exist in a superhuman world, but he is all-too-human, his world all too bleak. Rucka and his all-star team of artists are the perfect choices for this brutal, violent, human character.
Top Picks of the Week
- Batman #5 (DC Comics), by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
- Danger Girl: Revolver #1 (IDW), by Andy Hartnell and Chris Madden
- Memorial #2 (IDW), by Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis
- Prophet #21 (Image), by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy
- Wasteland #33 (Oni Press), by Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood
- Wonder Woman #5 (DC), by Brian Azzarello and Tony Akins
- Review: Fatale #1 (readrant.wordpress.com)
- Why ‘Fatale’ comic book sold out everywhere (geekout.blogs.cnn.com)
- Review: The Punisher #7 (readrant.wordpress.com)
- In this week’s comics, Wolverine engages in psychic warfare and Ed Brubaker pens gangster horror! (io9.com)
- Preview – Fatale #1 (graphicpolicy.com)