The Encomium of Josephine: The Exoneration of a Disastrous Woman
In the series Fatale, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips published by Image Comics; the main character Josephine, or “Jo,” is a moral gray area. Is she a hero, or a villain?
To begin, there should be no ambiguity regarding the meaning of the term, “femme fatale,” which translated from French literally reads, “disastrous woman.” The dictionary goes on to define the term as, “a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations,” or “a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery.” Using this definition as a rubric, how does Brubaker’s leading lady, Jo, stack up?
Jo is certainly mysterious; she is certainly beautiful. She has power and influence over the stronger sex, which she seems capable of wielding to various degrees of accuracy and deadliness. She does seem to enact Murphy’s Law on the men who cross her path. Once she is a part of their lives; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. However, to this point in the series, Brubaker has lead us to see Jo as a reluctant vessel for this power. While manipulating the men who surround her, she often develops strong feelings of affection, if not love, for them. When calamity consumes her lovers, she seems to feel genuine remorse and sorrow. So, that leads naturally to the next question I will ask: is there such a thing as a reluctant femme fatale; or does the term by definition imply intent?
Case Study: Helen of Troy
“…she had godlike beauty, which having received she not inconspicuously retained. She produced the greatest erotic desires in most men. For one body many bodies of men came together…”
-Gorgias “The Encomium of Helen”
According to ancient Greek legend, Helen was the most beautiful woman ever to have lived. She belonged to Sparta; she was their queen. Her lover, Paris, was a Trojan prince. He took her away with him, to live happily ever after. As is so often the case when a young man takes a bride, an epic war broke out; taking the lives of countless men, destroying families and permanently altering history. Helen has been given the monicker, “The face that launched a thousand ships.” She has been vilified and berated for centuries.
Was she to blame for the effect she had on the men of her day?
Between 480-380 B.C.E. a Greek Sophist, called Gorgias, set out to accomplish the great feat of exonerating Helen in his speech, “The Encomium of Helen.” He posited that Helen’s actions (leaving Sparta and starting the Trojan War) were the result of one of four things: fate, force, persuasion, or love; and the if any of these were the culprit, she was blameless. Could the same be said for Josephine, the heroine in Fatale?
“For the will of a god cannot be hindered by human forethought.” – Gorgias
It is clear that Jo is a piece of a much larger puzzle. Brubaker takes care to establish that she is cursed, and this curse touches every facet of her existence.
There are worldly forces controlling her fate…
And that the rules of this mortal existence do not apply to her.
“But if she was abducted by force, unlawfully constrained and unjustly victimized, it is clear on the one hand that the abductor, as victimizer, committed injustice…” – Gorgias
It is clear time and again, that Jo is motivated by her fear of violence and victimization. The consequences she would face if she fell into the hands of her adversaries are great enough that she will do anything to avoid facing them. Her fear suppresses her conscience. The threat of violence is tantamount to force in this case.
“Persuasion belonging to discourse shapes the soul at will,” – Gorgias
The truth is, we still do not know how Jo came by the power she possesses. Did she willingly acquiesce, was she tricked into it, or did she come into existence already endowed with this fatal beauty? The panel above seems to indicate that she was somehow initiated into this life.
However, we learn later that she was not fully educated on her power, or the potential harm she could generate. This might suggest that there was an element of trickery or deception in her initial encounter which led to her acquiring this power. If she was deceived in the beginning and not made fully aware of the devastation she could cause; can she be held responsible?
“If Love, being a god, has the divine power of gods, how could the weaker being have the power to reject this and to ward it off?” – Gorgias
Time and again, Jo thinks of her affectionate feelings for the men who come in and out of her life. She never takes for granted those who come to her assistance, and seems genuinely invested in her partners.
She never discounts the sincerity and earnestness of her lovers feelings for her. In fact, she seems as incapable of stopping herself from reciprocating those feelings as she is of inspiring them.
Jo even puts herself in harms way to protect those who love her, braving bullets and a fiery crash to save Nicholas Lash.
How then is it necessary to regard as just the blame of Helen, who either passionately in love or persuaded by discourse or abducted by force or constrained by divine constraints did the things she did, escaping responsibility every way? By this discourse I have removed infamy from a woman… – Gorgias
Jo is a force of nature, not a malicious temptress praying on the innocent. Find it in your heart to pardon her, and pick up this beautiful series from Image comics here: http://www.comixology.com/Fatale-1/digital-comic/NOV110354
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