Noir tales have a lot of common essential imagery and set pieces; smoky parlours; rain slicked pavements lit up by street lamps; the amoral protagonist molded by the corrupt world they live in. All these and more are present in almost every popular Noir tale, be it in cinema, or in a paperback. Few things however, are quite so memorable as the leading lady, the ‘Femme Fatale’, the Kitty Collins, Selina Kyle or Lynn Bracken. Whatever else may happen in the story, whoever the heroes or villains, these are the women that stick out long after the story is over and are often key to the most poignant images on-screen or in promotional art.
It’s a shame then, that far too often, the role of Femme Fatale (Or Femmy Fay-ta-lee as one of my more pronunciationally impaired mates says) has become a 2D character with little more basis than the trope she represents. Luckily, all hope is not lost, because this week on Back Issues, we’ll be taking a look at some serious dames to kill for.
Josephine – Fatale
In Fatale, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips delivered the perfect fusion of Noir and Lovecraftian Horror that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The story is told through the eyes of a few different men, but there’s never any question that Josephine is both the main character and Femme Fatale all rolled into one. A mysterious woman, Josephine keeps to herself as much as possible, although that is never easy as something about Jo draws out an obsession in men, whether she wants it or not. As well as that, she seems to pop up at various times, some decades apart, never ageing as if she is somehow immortal. As Fatale unfolds, Josephine’s story is revealed along with all the detectives, movie stars and satanic cults she’s crossed paths with across the ages.
Selina Kyle – Catwoman
Almost certainly the First Lady when it comes to Femme Fatales in mainstream superhero comics; if you haven’t heard of Selina Kyle, politely escort yourself off the premises or our Editor-in-Chief may well have you hunted. Selina plays Femme Fatale to the most Noir of DC’s main superhero roster, the Batman. The Dark Knight Detective’s Rogue Gallery features its fair share of female players, but few among them are quite as iconic as Catwoman, and none play the role of Femme Fatale so well (Except perhaps for Talia Al-Ghul). First appearing all the way back in Batman #1, Catwoman has been around almost as long as Batman and has been more important to the development of the series than almost any other character in the series. At different times playing both adversary and lover to Mr. Wayne, Ms. Kyle is well able to hold her own with any superhero or villain you could name.
Ava Lord – Sin City
Sin City by Frank Miller features plenty of female characters, most of whom display some facet of the Femme Fatale archetype. Wendy, Gail and Lucille could each be considered a Femme Fatale in their own way, but none of them quite earn the title so well as Ava Lord. Ava is seductive, manipulative and powerful, playing the perfect foil to Dwight McCarthy. While she only appears in the overall plot of Sin City for a small stretch, she’s integral to the plot of A Dame to Kill For, being the titular Dame in question. At times seeming like a defenceless girl, eager to escape her current life and at others worshipped like a queen by her bodyguard, you can’t be sure who the real Ava is. Even Dwight, who despises the ‘manipulative bitch’, can’t quite break free of the spell she casts.
Velvet Templeton – Velvet
For the final entry in the list we’re back in the world of Ed Brubaker, this time paired with Steve Epting on art, for the story of Velvet Templeton. Velvet at first seems to tell the story of the Moneypenny character, introduced as the secretary to the director of a British spy agency, but as it turns out, this Moneypenny is really the James Bond of the story. After delving too deep into the case of n agent who was KIA, Velvet finds herself framed for his death and on the run from her former employer. Equal parts Nikita and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Velvet has an excellent mix of action and slow burning plot, giving Velvet the opportunity to show off her considerable skills when it comes to deciphering who set her up for the fall, and when taking out an entire squad sent to hunt her down.
Disagree with someone’s right to be featured above? Or have a character in mind that you feel has been excluded from the list? Let us know in the comments!