After the incredibly strong stand-alone story in the previous issue, it felt like "Fatale" #12 had a lot to live up to. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips show here they're up to the challenge; "Fatale" #12 is another fantastic comic that not only serves as a good jumping on point, but gives us a hint or two about what's in store for poor Josephine in the present day.
"Fatale" #12 is set in 1286 AD, where we meet a woman named Mathilda who has the same sort of "femme fatale" curse that Josephine holds in the present day. Brubaker and Phillips presemt a story here that shows what happens when Mathilda thinks she's finally found a way to break the cycle of obsession and destruction that happens whenever she's around humanity, though. In doing so, it's that much more emotionally gripping a story.
Brubaker quickly establishes Mathilda as a character -- her struggle to try and live a normal life, and the awful things that have happened to her up until now. She's a person who in her own words was ready to die, so watching her find a possible redemption and quiet life away from the swirling storm of chaos is a story that draws the reader in quickly. Brubaker is careful to always focus the story squarely on her; it's smart because it lets us empathize with her plight and desire to get away from it all. And as things unfold between Mathilda and Ganix, it's all the more pleasurable because we see it all from Mathilda's perspective. Brubaker is able to give us a sense of peace settling onto Mathilda, and that's such a strange emotion for "Fatale" that long-time readers can't help but be a little spooked.
Phillips' art contributes to that; the early images of Mathilda being captured and tortured are genuinely disturbing, in part because once again the main focus is squarely on Mathilda. You can see the pain and terror in her face, or see her body squirm as a poker is brought near it. As she stumbles through the forest, her face is then covered in shadow; that darkness makes her wandering seem that much more a mystery because we can't see her, just like she can't see the path that she's on. Once she's rescued by Ganix, those shadows lift and the clean, uncluttered face of Mathilda emerges once more. And over time, just like with Brubaker's narration, the art brings a sense of peace to the comic.
Of course, all of this makes the finale to "Fatale" #12 that much more gripping, as Brubaker and Phillips pull the rug out from underneath Mathilda and we see the beginning of the end of her story. But as always, they know that sometimes getting only half the story can ultimately be that much more gripping. Not only does it leave us as readers on the hook to wonder how it ended, but until then it lets our minds fill in the gaps. And as dark and dangerous as Brubaker and Phillips can get, what we come up with will no doubt aim to rival that.
"Fatale" #12 is a great example of how to write a stand-alone issue. You don't need to know anything about "Fatale" to read and enjoy this comic. For those who have read the previous issues, though, it provides some hints about what's still to come and what's behind the big mysteries of the series. With an ending that is both conclusion and also slightly unresolved, it is both satisfying and also draws the reader back for more to find out what happens next. Once again, a job well done by Brubaker and Phillips. "Fatale" #12 is a top-notch comic.