In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Publisher William Gaines’s EC Comics began a new line of titles that included several different genres, most notably crime and horror. The comics featured stunning art and tightly plotted tales that often incorporated twist endings. They were violent, lurid, and fun, so naturally they incensed alarmist academics and politicians looking for something to blame all of society’s ills on. In 1954, a number of publishers banded together to create the Comics Code Authority as a way of satisfying a hysterical public that believed comic books were turning adolescents into violent criminals
The Comics Code Authority contained strict regulations on what could be published in Code-approved books and these regulations basically prohibited EC from continuing to publish most of their best selling crime and horror titles. As time wore on though the code began to become looser and gradually lost power. These days, there are a number of crime and horror comics. There are even a few titles that combine those two genres together to tell fun, frightening, and intriguing stories. Tim Seeley’s long-running Hack/Slash series and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s fifteen-issue epic Fatale both exemplify this kind of work, though in very different ways.
Seeley’s Hack/Slash series was born in 2004 out of his love for good and so-bad-they’re-good horror films, specifically those of the slasher sub-genre like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. These tend to involve some form of serial killer stalking a group of restless teenagers until one of their number, usually a female, fights back and destroys the killer.
In Hack/Slash, Seeley embraces the idea of the final girl with his protagonist Cassandra “Cassie” Hack, whose mother became infamous when she was revealed to be the “Lunch Lady”; a serial killer who dismembered people that were mean to her daughter and put their remains in the school lunch. Cassie’s mother killed herself when her identity was discovered, but that didn’t end her reign of terror. The Lunch Lady came back from the grave as an undead slasher and it was up to Cassie to put her mother down for good.
This is merely the start of Cassie’s career as a slasher slayer, because the Lunch Lady is not a one-time phenomenon. Vicious undead killers rise up all across the country and Cassie decides she must be the one to put them back in their graves. She’s assisted in her quest by Vlad, a hulking, misshapen man with a mysterious origin and kind heart.
Hack/Slash embraces the lurid sex and spectacular over-the-top violence that make the slasher genre so much fun, and these elements are perfectly complemented by Seeley’s wicked sense of humor. Not to be overlooked, however, is the fact that Hack/Slash has genuine heart, which comes from the friendship between Cassie and Vlad; an emotionally damaged girl and a naive gentle giant trying to do some good in a scary and confusing world.
For those of you who prefer your crime stories less episodic, there is an ongoing narrative to Hack/Slash: the mystery behind what’s causing the slashers to rise. Over the years, Seeley and a number of different artists have developed that plot line and it’s one that will be resolved as Seeley brings the book to a close over the next couple of years.
In Fatale, the acclaimed creative team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips are telling a decidedly darker, but just as enjoyable tale. The duo have a knack for telling straight up crime stories as well as blending crime tales with other genres. For Fatale they take a noirish crime story and blend it with the horror and terror found in stories of writers like H.P. Lovecraft.
Brubaker also wants Fatale to be a different and more sympathetic look at the Femme Fatale archetype. The title character is a mysterious woman named Josephine, who doesn’t appear to age. Men have a habit of falling dangerously love with Jo and in 1956 she has to use one lover, a reporter, to help her free herself from the thrall of another: a crooked, terminally ill, cop. Things get even more complicated when the dirty cop offers Jo up to demonic man named Mister Bishop and his army of strange followers. The other portion of the story details what happens when the godson of the reporter who helped Jo in 1956 runs afoul of her in the present day
The world of Fatale is mysterious, moody, and menacing. It’s populated with intriguing heroes with personality defects and flaws, as well as villains with noble streaks, like Walter Booker, a corrupt cop who reminds me of Hank Quinlan, Orson Welles’s immortal character from Touch of Evil.
So if you like your crime stories macabre, violent, and beautifully drawn, do yourself a favor and pick up Hack/Slash and Fatale. Both titles are creator-owned books published by Image Comics. Hack/Slash is currently on the 14th issue of its second volume, but for readers looking to start at the beginning a wealth of collected editions are available. I recommend the Omnibus editions for those who want to catch up quickly. Fatale started in January and the fifth issue just hit stores. If you’re lucky your local comics retailer might still have some later printings of the first issues and all five issues are available digitally via the Image and Comixology Apps.