As the series roars towards its conclusion, "Fatale" #21 finally shows Josephine's lair, so to speak, courtesy Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. But as Nicolas learns here, there's still a lot we don't know about Jo. Unfortunately, the learning process can prove to be fatal.
I love the fact that Brubaker isn't presenting a simple lump of exposition -- that would certainly be the easiest route, but it would hardly be the most interesting one. Instead, readers learn alongside Nicolas, as Jo takes him to her hideout, showcasing a library that will have a lot of the readership drooling in envy. But of course, nothing's as simple as that, especially if you're a man and Jo is involved. It's an interesting balance that Brubaker has to strike here; because of Jo's siren call, it's a less-than-clearheaded Nicolas who is being led along by his nose (or something else). He can't push too hard for answers to the questions that are plaguing both him and us, because as soon as he's near Jo, everything changes. "Fatale" #21 makes it work, though, both by giving Nicolas pauses of lucidity, as well as the hint of that voice in the back of Nicolas's head screaming when they head into the party and readers start to learn just what Jo needs Nicolas for.
Both Brubaker and Phillips bring a wonderful sense of doom, horror and dread to the pages of "Fatale" #21. The party scene's opening is creepy rather than titillating even though there's all the flesh on display. It's in part because of the narration from Nicolas, to be certain, but also because of how Phillips draws it. With people being used by some of the attendees, and everything half-shadowed and hidden, you don't ever get a feeling of fun or enjoyment out of that moment. It's a lot of people being nameless, identity-free beings that can be discarded, and Brubaker and Phillips bring that to the page perfectly.
Then, there's the ending scene with the statue, as the duo once more bring the story to a pivot point where things go from creepy to downright bad. The tight focus on Nicolas' face as the sequence begins is part of what sells it; readers know what's going on, but all the details are hidden so that the mind has to fill in the gaps. Add in the glazed expression on Nicolas' face and the series has crossed the point of no return. Whatever's left, no one's hands will be clean. Once you add in the splatters and then the look of disgust and confusion -- well, it's hard to keep from feeling a little unclean yourself as you get to the end of that sequence.
"Fatale" #21 continues to turn out strong issue after strong issue, and while I'm sad to see the book almost at an end, it's creating such great stories I can't complain. Brubaker and Phillips's "Fatale" is their best collaboration to date. "Fatale's" mix of cults, mystery and horror wins every time.