Movies, murder, and mystery ooze from the pages of Image Comic’s new title The Fade Out #1 written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips.
Nothing’s quite as it appears to be in 1940’s Los Angeles. “This was just how it was here…” says Hollywood scribe by day and booze-hound by night Charlie Parish. “…something in the air makes it easier to believe the lies.” Charlie wakes up early one morning with a hell of hangover and little recollection of the party the night before, but before he can piece too much together he discovers the strangled corpse of the Valeria Sommers, the lead actress of the film he’s writing. After erasing all evidence of his presence at the scene of the crime, Charlie returns to the studio, shaken and ready to forget what he’d seen. But when the starlet’s death is framed as a suicide instead of a murder, staying quiet may be too difficult to bear.
Brubaker and Phillip’s partnership spans over ten years and half a dozen comics together, and even Locke and Key writer Joe Hill compares their union to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, calling them “unmatched masters of a certain kind of storytelling”. But honestly I never really understood the hype. Sure, I enjoyed what I’ve read of Criminal and Sleeper, but I never saw them as the once-in-a-generation, revelatory collaboration the rest of the industry made them out to be. They just didn’t click with me the way they did with thousands of other readers and critics, and I always considered Steve Epting to be Brubaker’s superior go-to artist. That is, until I read The Fade Out.
Maybe it was the setting, the behind the scenes look at a period in history idealized by our culture through a lens of corruption and debauchery. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for plots that in heavily involve the film industry (which would explain my love for The Auteur). Or maybe the comic gets a special edge from some brilliant coloring by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: I think The Fade Out absolutely rules.
Phillip’s art is nothing short of phenomenal here. He’s got a masterful grasp of the human body where movement, gesture, and facial expression look completely natural, his ability to work with shadow is hard to match, and Brubaker’s portrayal of both the beauty and the moral decay is matched perfectly.
Brubaker is also at the top of his game. There’s more than a little truth to the Scorsese-De Niro comparison, as both teams seem to be obsessed with crime, debauchery, and the seductive power of, well, power. Each character is immediately interesting and relatable (even if they’re despicable), and feel like fully-fleshed human beings. The relationship between Charlie and Gil, a fellow writer blacklisted from Hollywood for being a possible communist sympathizer, is particularly compelling. There’s also a great sense of place and time. References are made to the rise of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby are name-dropped, the dialogue is spot-on for the era, and the best part is that none of it feels forced. Plus, even without all the window-dressing, the story itself is well-told enough that you don’t need to know too much about of the history of American politics and film.
I have not one negative word to say about The Fade Out #1. The dark story and the gritty art blend perfectly to deliver a tale both immoral and compulsively readable. And to add to all that, the back pages are filled with enough goodies to make this comic well worth the $3.50 price tag. Brubaker, Phillips, you have my attention. Let’s see where this thing goes.