Review: Ed Brubaker And Sean Phillips Reunite For The Noir Thriller “Fatale”

Also, Animal Man continues strong and Uncanny X-Force transports us back to the Age of Apocalypse.

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In a tight economy, it's not always clear what you should spend your hard-earned money on, and with comic books getting more and more expensive, your dollar doesn’t go as far at the comic shop as it did in the past. We here at Complex feel your pain, so we're providing you with a rundown of the best comics coming out on January 4, 2012.

Reviews by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)

Fatale #1

What it’s about: Most people might recognize Ed Brubaker as the writer who revived Captain America, rejuvenated Batman, and created one of the best series in the history of the industry, Gotham Central, but it’s his non-superhero work that might be among the best of his career. Along with artist Sean Phillips, Brubaker has unleashed indie noir tales like Criminal and Incognito onto the comic book world, solidifying himself as a writer capable of more than just capes and masks.

And now, Brubaker and Phillips are reuniting for the Image series, Fatale. Combining the noir flavor from their previous works with fresher horror elements, Fatale is a completely unique title that offers an intriguing, fast-paced mystery.

The story begins in the present at an ominous funeral where the deceased’s godson is confronted by a mysterious woman named Jo, who has a connection to his famous godfather. From there, we're transported back to the ‘50s, where Jo is apparently alive and well, and sleeping with a man named Walter Booker, who may or may not be an immortal demon stalking the Earth. While it’s still early in the series, Brubaker has effectively set up all of the players in this bizarre narrative, and Phillips’ art continues to impress with his use of heavy inks and lighting that look ripped straight from noir flicks like The Killing or The Maltese Falcon. It’s not clear where this story is going, but this debut issue is good enough to convince us to go along for the ride.

Action Comics #5

What it’s about: There's no doubt that, so far, DC’s “New 52” initiative has been a success, but certain books are simply head-and-shoulders above the rest. Grant Morrison’s Action Comics is an example of a revamped title that doesn't just rehash old stories, but, rather, expands upon the Superman mythology and propels the character into the 21st century.

After years of dull stories that lacked any interesting conflicts, Morrison’s new take on the Man of Steel presents a deeply flawed and vulnerable hero who is the furthest thing possible from Earth’s savior. After 70-plus years in comics, Morrison has found a way to make Supes compelling again.

What to expect this month: In this mammoth 40-page issue, Metropolis comes under attack from a mysterious alien threat that has ties to Superman’s birthplanet of Krypton. This issue will also tell the story of Superman’s new origin that will fit in with the rest of the “New 52” universe.

Although it has been told countless times before, the story of baby Kal-El traveling across the galaxy like an intergalactic Moses never gets old. And with Andy Kubert providing the art, this also might be one of the most beautiful retellings yet.

Animal Man #5

What it’s about: Injecting an indie feel into a mainstream property, Animal Man has quickly captured the attention of both hardcore and casual comic book fans with its deep plots, distinctive art, and horror characteristics. Focusing on Buddy Baker, a.k.a. Animal Man, and his family, writer Jeff Lemire has given this long-forgotten character new life by focusing on storytelling rather than publicity stunts.

Throughout the series’ first four issues, Animal Man has set up an expansive world that Baker is just now coming to grips with. As he deals with the manifestation of his daughter’s own superpowers, he must also combat the “rot” which is attempting to infiltrate the world of nature and destroy it from the inside out.

What to expect this month: Teamed up with his prepubescent daughter and a judgmental talking cat, Animal Man has to race against the clock to stop the third “hunter” from slaughtering his wife and son. But, as things often go in this world, the fight doesn’t really end well for the Baker family as a new threat rears its ugly head.

This issue serves as the conclusion to the first story arc on the title, but it will also set up future storylines, as well as the eventual crossover with Swamp Thing.

Defenders #2

What it’s about: 2011 was a year of revivals for Marvel. From The Incredible Hulk to Daredevil and Punisher, the company did a great job of bringing underappreciated properties back to life by teaming them up with talented creators. The most recent example of this is the new Defenders series written by Matt Fraction, with art by Terry Dodson.

The original Defenders were basically a group of misfit heroes that were meant to counterbalance the professionalism and cohesiveness of the Avengers. This new series is no different as Fraction has assembled a team of the flotsam and jetsam from the Marvel universe into one dysfunctional team.

What to expect this month: The team attempts to stop a member of the Endless, from Fraction’s Fear Itself, from unleashing panic and terror upon the Earth, but an ambush by a group of mutated animals left them scattered and Iron Fist severely wounded. The team is still up against the clock to stop this supernatural foe, even if the members begin to drop like flies.

It’s no secret that most comic books depend on plot and art to really grab audiences, but Fraction’s strength here is the balance he strikes between the difference personalities on the team and how they interact with each other. 

Uncanny X-Force #19.1

What it’s about: With X-Men books stuck in their own storylines and continuity in recent years, it’s been difficult for casual fans to get their mutant fix without the aid of a Marvel encyclopedia to help them navigate the convoluted history of these characters. However, writer Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force has been a blessing for fans looking for a more streamlined approach to Marvel’s Merry Mutants.

Focusing on a team of maladjusted mutants, including Wolverine, Deadpool, Archangel, and Psylocke, Uncanny X-Force concentrates on telling good stories that are easy to follow even for comic book novices. And with such a mix of extreme personalities, the character dynamics in this book are reminiscent of the days when Chris Claremont and John Byrne presented the X-Men as squabbling roommates rather than a bland super team.

What to expect this month: There's no better time to start reading Uncanny X-Force than here. In this issue, Rick Remender takes a look back at the alternate reality that dominated the ‘90s called the Age of Apocalypse, during which a mutant known as Apocalypse is Earth's unrivaled ruler.

There's also a human resistance force obsessed with taking down Apocalypse’s successor, Weapon X, a.k.a. Wolverine. But aside from that, issue #19.1 will set up a new series that will be take place in this timeline, as well as future X-Force issues. Here's a great chance for fans to start on the ground floor of a brand new story that's sure to be one of the best X-Men related comics to come out all year.

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