The Fade Out #1
Story by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Cover by Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Modern noir masterminds Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips begin their five-year deal with Image with the release of the first issue of The Fade Out, a sprawling saga of corruption and redemption set against a gritty West Coast backdrop. As the premiere storytellers of crime/noir comics, Fade Out actually marks their first trip into Hollywoodland, the never-innocent city of illusions. The Fade Out sees them return to the familiar conventions of ‘classic’ crime noir, and weaves a tangled web through the underbelly of a 1940’s film industry. In addition to unsettling narrative themes of ambiguity and violent death, certain stylistic characteristics immediately spring out: stark, angular shadows; the isolated feel of modern cities; conflicted anti-heroes and boiled down dialogue. The multi-layered plot grabs you immediately — and Brubaker’s achievement as a writer cannot be overrated. This first issue moves swiftly from scene to scene, yet finds ample time to quickly define his characters. More importantly, it is quick to establish a mystery, making readers eager to check in, come issue #2.
The Fade Out #1 tells the story of Charlie Parish, a struggling screenplay writer who finds himself smack in the middle of the murder of a Hollywood starlet named Valeria Sommers. The story is framed from the perspective of Charlie, a man plagued with nightmares from the war, and now struggling to hide a dark and terrible secret. Luckily for him, a power crazed Hollywood mogul and his security chief will do anything to avoid another scandal, including a cover up that frames the crime as an act of suicide. That’s just the beginning, as Brubaker’s script quickly establishes the central conflict before moving on to introduce the key players. Via Charlie’s quintessential, hard-boiled third-person narration and various flashbacks, we meet a heap of players including Earl Rath (an Errol Flynn lookalike and movie star womanizer) – Gil Mason (one time writer and full time alcoholic) – Dotty Quinn (publicity girl and all around sweetheart) – Phil Brodsky ( the studio’s Head of Security), and the aforementioned Valeria Sommers, an up and coming actress killed before her time. The majority of the cast comes across as the usual noir stereotypes – a collection of tough guys, femme-fatales and corrupt businessmen, but everyone seems to hold some dark secret that makes them necessary in telling the bigger story. And while our protagonist fits the mold of a noir anti-hero, he quickly becomes a likeable and sympathetic character, and someone we can root for. For a first issue, The Fade Out #1 is quick to establish many subtle, subliminal clues between the flashbacks and realtime sequences; Every page is loaded with rich painstaking detail, making this the most ambitious series yet from the award-winning duo.
Along with noir’s distinctive characters, shadowy visuals, labyrinthine plots, and cynical, hopeless tone, it is the dialogue that makes it so fascinating. Brubaker pulls from the decades-old lineage of hardboiled tough guys channelling the likes of Sam Spade, Walter Neff and Joe Gillis. Tension and suspense are increased by the use of Charlie’s inner monologues and flashbacks, in that the audience is always cognizant of impending doom. The seamless connection and disconnection, between the thoughts of a character and what we see on the page is brilliant. The voice over in this issue isn’t used to tell us what we are seeing, rather tell us what we aren’t seeing. More so, it lulls the reader into a false sense of security. Notes of racism, sexism, and anti-semitism are also peripherally present, but this allows for Brubaker and Phillips to naturally explore a time and place where these behaviours were socially acceptable.
The artwork for The Fade Out is exquisite. Each panel is framed, and lit much like a movie from the late 40s, and as you are reading, you can’t help but visualize it on the big screen. Sean Phillips is indisputably one of the most talented artists in the business, and when it comes to depicting gritty, realistic settings, he’s the best. Phillips’ character designs are so photo-realistic that one Tyler Graves looks like an young Montgomery Clift reincarnated in animated form. Of course, Phillips brings his gritty, shadowy realism to the series, but there is so much more to the beauty of these drawings. Give it a quick second read and notice the more subtle exchanges between each character. The level of detail and the attention to every line of dialogue speaks to the effort to capture 1940s Hollywood as accurately as possible – so much so – they hired Amy Condit (a Hollywood expert who manages the L.A. Police museum), as a research assistant. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Breitweiser must also be given credit for her fabulous work as the colourist. The common thread of film noir lighting is low key lighting – a style called Chiaroscuro in the art world. Breitweiser and Philips seem to capture this look seamlessly on every page, emphasizing shadows and harsh lighting to create a sense of depth and volume in the drawings that makie this a worthwhile piece of eye candy.
The plot per-say is familiar, but the emphasis on every character is much appreciated. There’s something to appreciate around every corner — most of all, visuals to astound and amaze. Mostly, though, the book comes across like the fever dream of an artist who’s been up all night watching every black-and-white crime movie made in the 4o’s.
Fade Out isn’t quite up there with classic Hollywood noirs, but it’s the closest thing since Chinatown. This is a wonderfully entertaining start to a very promising new series in which dark secrets; the mystery and allure of Hollywood; double-crossing; and secret alliances, are all but some of the ingredients found. And while it may be premature to say, admiration will most likely extend for years to come.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips will always be remembered as one of the greatest teams in comics’ canon. Their work is unmistakable, and consistent in quality since their early days working on the indie crime series Sleeper, to the modern masterpiece that is Criminal. Like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, they can do no wrong when working side by side.
– Ricky D
It is worth noting that – as in their previous works together – Brubaker and Philips offer extra material in the print edition of the comic including an essay from Bad Ass Digest co-publisher and film critic Devin Faraci. As an added bonus to this exciting launch, the first issue is also printed as an oversized “movie magazine replica” variant edition with 8 extra pages.