Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Using the murder of a Hollywood starlet as a catalyst to expose the web of dark secrets that runs through the City of Angels, the award-winning team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have put together the most intriguing comic of 2014. Brubaker & Phillips’ new crime noir is just getting started, but it’s already destined to be a cult classic. Brubaker’s name has been synonymous with the noir genre from the very start of his career, but The Fade Out is different from his books that came before it. Set in the Hollywoodland era of the 1940s, with painstaking attention to historical detail, The Fade Out relishes in classic Hollywood tropes – so much so – that every page looks like a storyboard from an Anthony Mann film. This is clearly, a labor of love from its creative team who go the extra mile by assembling a series of supplementary content that really helps readers get into the mind set of the time.
After selling out of The Fade Out‘s debut issue last month, this seedy murder mystery continues with Charlie dealing with the aftermath of the death of Valeria Sommers. At the center of this issue is the relationship between Charlie and his partner Gil .Brubaker presents Gil as an alcoholic devastated by his professional blacklisting while being investigated for communism. For the unfamiliar, the Hollywood blacklist was rooted in events of the 1930s and the early 1940s, encompassing the height of the Great Depression and World War II. The U.S. government began turning its attention to the possible links between Hollywood and the party during this period and many screenwriters, producers, and directors were banned. In this second issue, we learn that Gil has been working as a ghost writer for Charlie. The two support one another both financially and artistically. Despite his addiction, Gl remains a proficient author of successful screenplays and uses Charlie’s name to allow his work to be sold and brought to life on the big screen. Gil may be a drunk, but he’s a talented drunk, but for Charlie, he’s a mere typist who’s experiences in the war have left him with a prolonged writers block. Second issues generally end up being slower-paced than first issues, but Brubacer does a superb job in sketching out the main cast here. If anything, in this issue we start to get a larger sense of emotional damage our protagonist Charlie Parish carries with him. Charlie is more or less an anti-social loner that is subject to existential angst. He’s burdened with a sense of guilt, desperation, and frustration. Much like Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, Charlie is a nice guy, modestly successful, but a man with a faint smell of cynical opportunism within his persona. While he may be our protagonist, he can’t be trusted, and so we sense that his fall from grace isn’t from a great moral height. The highlight of this issue is the climactic brawl between Charlie and Gil Mason. Each powerful punch is so well illustrated, you think you can feel each blow. It’s a brutal moment between two old friends whose friendship seems nearing an end.
The first three pages of issue 2 take place at the funeral of starlet Valeria Sommers where meet Victor Thursby, the founder of Victory Street Pictures, and Jack “Flapjack” Jones (one-time child star from the Krazy Kids series). Even without words, the reader can sense the tension between characters and the sadness they feel through the art-work of Phillips. It’s a truly marvelous feat exemplified best later on when Thursby hugs the theater screen, grieving the loss of the young actress. Brubaker is a fine writer but give credit where credit is due: the art team really emphasizes the book’s subtle emotional moments. Like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, Valeria is a mystery and remembered differently by different people. Part of the fun in reading The Fade Out is discovering exactly who Valeria Somers actually was.
As noted in my review of the first issue, Phillips’ art in this series is something to behold. The attention to detail to create a realistic looking 1940’s Hollywood is amazing. Phillips has been a regular collaborator of Brubaker’s for quite a while now, but this is the first time they’ve worked with Elizabeth Breitweiser, and her work here is a blessing. Everything from the backgrounds, landscapes, dutch angles, heavy shadows, low-key lighting, and depth of field captures the era and look of noir perfectly. This issue also masters the art of juxtaposition juggling between multiple timelines and subplots seamlessly. Along with the third person narrative, Brubaker and co. communicate subtle relationships between characters, plot, and an overall arching theme of corruption.
We’ve only just started the reel of a hack writer who’s smack dab in the middle of the biggest story of his life. Ed Brubaker’s darker than dark drama about the inner workings of Hollywood at a crucial phase of the industry’s change is essential reading and further proof that Brubaker and Sean Phillips are two of the industry’s best, performing at the top of their game. The Fade Out #2 is an issue designed to set up the many things to come. It advances the plot a few inches forward while exploring the backgrounds of Gil, Charlie, and Victory Street Pictures. The dead body is just but one mystery – there’s still so much to learn…
– Ricky D