Manchette’s Fatale (Titan HC 2015 edition) – Max Cabanes and Doug Headline

4 out of 5

A pretty brutal noir tale given a rather gorgeous, patient, European take suffers a bit from what I’d suppose are adaptation woes, congesting a lot of plot into smaller sequences.

I’m not familiar with Jean-Patrick Manchette, but his work is certainly of interest after reading this comic version of Fatale, as the appealingly cold narration is assumedly taken from the source, as would be some of the interesting twists on the genre.

Would-be fatale Aimée Joubert, in our opening, kills her way out of one situation, smiling all the while, then hops a train to somewhere random to gluttonously revel in the monetary spoils of some unseen plotting.  Manchette / Cabanaes and Headline spare no emotion in showing us exactly the type of personality Joubert is: she’s fully indulgent with pampering herself to the point of frenzy.  And yet, by avoiding an internal monologue and having a distant narrator moderate these scenes (with what’s shown and what’s told very effectively balanced by our comic adapters), Fatale avoids turning her into a cartoon character, or turning us against her, exactly.  She’s a brutal curiosity.

And her fun is done very quickly before she’s off to what’s undoubtedly a repeat of the same in another location: Bléville, where she immediately and expertly begins navigating through the power players in the town to figure her angle, which she finds in local crazy crank Baron Jules.  But it’s noir: things don’t quite play out how they should.  However, this isn’t simply a matter of things going wrong, rather a fairly ingeniously subtle changeup that has Aimee approaching things differently than she planned.  Which, again, would be credited to Manchette, but Cabanes and Headline give it personality and weight in the comic.

…Which is gorgeous.  The art has a wonderful sense of cinema and reality, dry to match the narration in that flashy angles and setups are avoided, and yet bristling with an undercurrent of emotion thanks to subtle acting from Aimee, juxtaposed against the animated Baron.  As mentioned, the show and tell is impressive; I kept comparing what was written out to what I was seeing and was pleased to discover how little crossover there was; how effectively one informed the other – as it should be.

That being said, even though the sections of the story – the setup, the plotting, the unraveling – are given ample page space for about 140 total pages, the transitions feel rather sudden.  So we go from sly Aimée, gathering intel, to escalation-Aimée, and as soon as we settle into that personality change, her intensity during the last section doesn’t exactly sync up with what came before.  But we know the intention thanks to the character work, so you can kind of fill in the missing sections yourself, although of course that’s not ideal.

Titan’s over-sized HC presentation is handsome, with a clear, bright printing on thick stock.  I do wish there had been a bit of a blurb about Manchette, just to give it some context, but that’s neither here nor there.  Overall, this is a pretty fantastic crime tale – adaptation or not – that doesn’t spare us the grit the genre can excel at.