Manchette’s Fatale (2014)

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I wanted to read Manchette’s Fatale because Jacques Tardi never finished his and Jean-Patrick Manchette’s adaptation of Manchette’s novel. They only did a few pages, and I got curious about where the story was going. And while the novel’s been translated to English… well, I mean, I don’t read read anymore. Come on. So I figured another completed comic adaptation. I maybe should’ve gone with the prose.

There’s nothing wrong with Doug Headline and Max Cabanes’s adaptation. The finale’s protracted, but it’s never tedious. Cabanes’s art is always good enough to carry it, as the roosters come to roost and discover they may be in over their heads. But Headline’s adapting of the novel is just to present big blocks of prose, often to carry scene transitions or scene setups. On rare occasions, dialogue exchanges are summarized. Most of the prose blocks are for exposition and characters’ internal thoughts or feelings. There are many prose blocks, however, and “most” just means more than fifty percent. Headline’s script leverages Manchette’s source novel—down to the prose itself—and Cabanes’s illustrative talents.

In other words, it’s an exceedingly pointless adaptation. The illustrations mainly accompany text, whether prose or dialogue, and there’s very little solely executed visually. There are a handful of big scenes—but ones Tardi already did in his adaptation (the femme fatale protagonist slathering herself in sauerkraut to celebrate a murder, the town miscreant peeing on the well-to-do’s floors), and they compare poorly. If Cabanes brought real personality to it instead of competent illustration—ditto Headline’s script—there might be something there.

Worse, the sauerkraut and retributive urination both come up later on in the dialogue, retroactively lessening the effect. Despite Manchette having no problem keeping the reader in the dark about the lead’s activities—specifically when setting up the big score—and doling out hints until the dramatic reveal, Headline’s too into exposition to let moments go without examination. Until the big score and fallout, which takes up at least the last quarter—though maybe just the final third (it’s interminable), Fatale’s mostly a character study of its protagonist. We learn more and more about her as things go on—including a backstory reveal road trip—and nothing about the big score itself. There are well-drawn caricatures with names and jobs and secrets. They only matter because they’re potential fodder for the protagonist. Or for Headline to needlessly expound about.

Fatale’s a compelling, well-illustrated thriller. But, unfortunately, nothing is exciting about it. Cabanes’s characters look good but disappoint.

Awkwardly, I just discovered Headline’s Manchette’s son. Whoops. And the source novel(la) is under a hundred pages. So maybe just go with the prose.

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