FATALE has always been good for the deep draw, but it's reaching a point where the emotional tension is almost palpable, like pheromones are wafting off the pages. Everything is intoxicating and dark -- the lines, the colors, Jo. Her influence, by issue #16, is so potent that even men she hasn't touched are drawn into obsession, and just as one man's attention can turn dangerous, a web of haunted admirers is certain to end in nothing but danger.
The nineties and grunge are a surprising setting for a femme fatale, but it's smooth rather than juxtaposed. It's a leap from the vintage beginnings of the series, but it works well, largely due to the visual consistency of the book, and of Jo herself. Jo is timeless; she's a chameleon, and she's drawn that way. Sean Phillips keeps her looking hauntingly without age, and distinctly herself, but never out of place, no matter where and when she is. Elizabeth Breitweiser colors her with a flawlessly smooth palette, porcelain tinged with dark in just the right places.
In this issue, we see Jo acting almost pragmatically in her affairs; while Lance is past the point of no return emotionally, Jo makes herself and her body available to his artistically-stunted bandmate. Her motives are intriguingly pure, even as the results are destructive -- It's a means to an end that should represent Lance's happiness (were it not for the ugly emotional consequences of how that end was achieved). The emotional entanglements are complex, but this is Jo at her simplest; wreaking devastation even as she tries to be a good person. The tension, as noted above, is gut-wrenchingly real.
The more men who fall under Jo's spell at any given time, the more this book edges towards character soup territory. It's still pretty clear -- for now -- who's up to what (and if you can't remember someone, there's a 9 in 10 chance that he's maddeningly obsessed with Jo), but I'm hoping to see some escalation (read: violent endings for some of these dudes) before I can't keep track of names anymore.
Brubaker and Phillips have approached the femme fatale with such fervor and depth that FATALE is turning into a master class on the archetype. It doesn't matter that Jo's game ultimately plays out the same way with so many men; the repetition is welcome, rather than stale, because there's a twisted comfort in seeing it happen time and again, reinforcing her sexy, destructive role and highlighting the hopelessness of remarkable and unremarkable men alike. It's impossible to avert our eyes at the impending disaster -- possibly because we're charmed by Jo, too.