Two unexpectedly Lovecraftian tales: Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest Fatale, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

I didn't know much about either of these books before picking them up, so it was a bit of a surprise to read 'em one after the other and discover that they are BOTH set in Lovecraft-inspired universes.

In Cherie Priest's Maplecroft, Lizzie Borden did indeed kill her father and her stepmother. But there were extenuating circumstances, in that Andrew and Abby Borden had been infected by... A MYSTERIOUS SOMETHING that that slowly transformed them into dangerous, murderous, ocean-loving beasts.

Of course, the other residents of Fall River, Massachusetts know nothing of this, so despite Lizbeth's acquittal, she is still treated as a pariah. Despite that, she doesn't leave town: the danger is far from over, and she and her axe are the only things standing between Fall River and A WATERY DOOM.

Pros: It reads like an after-the-fact compilation of statements, letters, recollections, and telegrams. The voices and perspectives are varied and distinct, with Emma, especially, as a stand-out character—her frustration with her physical limitations; her jealousy/dislike of Lizbeth's relationship with Nance; her intelligence, her desire for intellectual respect, her craving for human connection—it's striking that she's easily one of the strongest characters in the book, despite being weakened by consumption and almost entirely bedridden. Priest integrates TONS of the Borden history into the book, from details about the original killings to much of the real-life aftermath (the move across town to Maplecroft; Lizbeth's relationship with actress Nance O'Neil) but she's also very willing to NOT get roped in by historical details, either (the fate of Nance in the book vs. real life—TOTALLY DIFFERENT).

And—especially important in a Lovecraftian universe—atmosphere-wise, she totally nails it. Characters descend into madness (some are very aware of what is happening, some less so); the infection spreads across town, affecting people in ways that feel both inevitable AND unpredictable; there's a strong rhythm in much of her prose that's fitting given all of the water imagery and the Lovecraft flavor.

Cons: Despite the strength of the voices and the character development, I didn't connect emotionally with the book AT ALL. I don't think that's a miss on Priest's part, though, I think it's probably just some sort of personal disconnect.


Premise? Josephine is a classic femme fatale archetype: men bend over backwards to get into her good graces (and if they're lucky, into her pants), and it always, ALWAYS ends up going badly for them.

There's more to her—and her story, and her predecessors, and their stories—than that, though: see, she's immortal. Or, well, immortal-ish. And she—and her pursuers—are part of an ancient battle, all connected to a tentacled evil from another world.

Artwork? Love it. The faces are super-expressive; the moments of horror are swift, surprising, and often gruesome; although there's a lot of nudity and sex (and in some cases, attempted sexual violence), it's not exploitative and it's important to the story and to the characters.

Writing? Also loved it. There are long, multi-issue arcs as well as one-shots, but they all flow together into a cohesive whole. There's a fantastic noir atmosphere and sensibility, and the fantasy and horror is integrated into it all just perfectly. Jo, as a character, is seen as an object by almost every single other person that she encounters, but the writer doesn't treat her as such. There are things about herself, her power, and her fate that she doesn't have control over, but she's an actOR, not an actEE. Even when she has amnesia. There's loads of FOOD FOR THOUGHT about sexuality, sexual power, loneliness, fate, love, ownership (of things, people, and our own behavior), and... all sorts of other things that I'm sure I'm forgetting.

Keep going? Um. As I read the entire 24-issue run over the course of a few days, I can't. BECAUSE IT'S ALL OVER AND I DON'T HAVE ANY LEFT. But clearly it was a good fit for me. And now I have The Fade-Out to look forward to, so yay!

Book sources: Maplecroft, finished copy from the publisher; Fatale, finished digital copies bought via Comixology.