After an extremely strong series of four one-offs where "Fatale" tracked Josephine through different time periods, "Fatale" #15 has Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips return to a more recent era. While it's great to have the main storyline finally up and running again, I have to admit that after four amazing issues, an issue that's merely good just won't quite be the same.
In the prologue, Brubaker and Phillips finally check in on poor Nicolas Lash, who presents one of the worst ways ever to try and escape from prison -- but the main thrust of the story is in 1995 Seattle at the height of the music scene and right as everything was starting to crumble for the explosion of grunge musicians. Lance the desperate musician is the sort of character that readers can't help but like right off the bat, perhaps because it's the sort of story that you find yourself wishing was true. (Why there hasn't been a movie about desperate grunge artists robbing banks to stay afloat until they finish their next album is beyond me, but I hope Brubaker and Phillips make a lot of money off this concept.) Honestly, we could just follow Lance and the rest of the band and this would already be a fun comic -- but of course, in walks Josephine, and that's when things start getting dangerous.
I like that at this point, Brubaker doesn't make any pretense about what happens when Josephine enters a new situation. The cracks are showing quickly here, and the carnage is already swirling around off-stage. He's able to dispense with that part of the mystery, and jump right into the effects. Having a band that's hanging on by their fingernails to stick around long enough for more success is a great place to put someone as volatile as Josephine, but even more importantly it feels like Brubaker really understands the scene that he's writing about. It has a voice through the Lance-focused narration that is both resigned and hopeful, and I'm looking forward to seeing just where it goes from here.
Phillips's art is as nice as ever. He doesn't get any huge splashy scenes to draw this issue (unless you count the gruesome cellar at the end), but Phillips always makes everything count. Josephine pleading with Lance to not call the police is a subtle scene but I like how well it's staged, for example; the ways that she and he are facing each other, the grabbing of the arms, it all feels natural and not posed. I also appreciate that Phillips is the sort of artist who can draw a naked character and not have it designed to titillate in any way, shape, or form; it's very matter-of-fact, and in doing so robs it of that factor. As always, this is very well laid out and executed too; the page structure might be simple, but it's immensely effective.
"Fatale" #15 is the sort of issue where it's good, but the greatness comes when you sit down with a bunch of issues and see how it all fits together. Of that, I've got no doubt. If you've never read "Fatale" before, it also feels like a good place to give it a try for yourself and see if you like it. But when you're done? Pick up "Fatale" #11-14 (which were just collected in the third trade paperback), and you'll get an idea of why people are so crazy for this series. This issue is good, but the series as a whole is just plain great.