The first project from their groundbreaking five-year deal at Image will have Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips fans, old and new, at the edge of their seats, as they weave an epic crime story unlike anything they’ve done before.
Hollywood – 1948. A noir film stuck in endless reshoots. A writer plagued with nightmares from the war and a dangerous secret. An up-and-coming starlet’s suspicious death. A maniacal Studio Mogul and his Security Chief who will do anything to keep the cameras rolling before the Post-War boom days come crashing down. The Fade Out is the most ambitious series yet from the award-winning Noir Masters.
Brubaker and Phillips know how to kick off a damn great comic book.
Less than a month after the end of their brilliant (to me) run of Fatale, we’re treated to issue number one of The Fade Out. Set in Hollywood, 1948, we follow the story of screenwriter Charlie Parish and a suspicious murder that is sure to change his life. At the outset, this book proudly displays elements of our favorite works from this creative team, but also promises so much more. We get the Criminal angle from a murder and subsequent cover up; we see traces of Incognito with a protagonist whose past may come to haunt him; a reminder of Sleeper shows itself with a head of security who may or may not know the truth as he shouts orders. We even get a glimpse of Fatale from a dream sequence of supernatural faceless horrors. Elements from each of these great works are on full display in this opening issue and I couldn’t be more excited to see where things go.
The brilliance in the introduction to The Fade Out lies in Brubaker and Phillips’ ability to set the scene. With ease, the reader is brought into the world of Tinseltown in 1948 – the parties, the films, and the scandal. Few other creators are able to pull off this total immersion, and it makes the characters we’re introduced to all that more believable (but not any more trustworthy). Whether its the seemingly naive Val or the perpetually drunk Gil, every introduction leads us further to the conclusion that corruption is at the heart of everything to come. Peripheral characters such as Flapjack and German director Schmitt build upon this immersive experience even more, opening up a window to the past where minority actors are treated with contempt and Germans are still seen as heartless. No one will be safe here.
Like all good crime stories, the details embedded in each panel open up a world where anything is possible and anyone can be accountable. Every line spoken may or may not be the most important element to focus on, making us as readers crave more to figure out the puzzle. Was someone trying to set Charlie up, or did he just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? Who could it be and what are their motives? The groundwork is quickly laid for a mystery that will, I hope, touch every character in this large cast and open up doors we’ve only seen the slightest glimmer of.
Let me touch quickly on the art: put simply, it’s everything I expect out of Sean Phillips. I can’t say it’s anything particularly groundbreaking since his work on Criminal, Incognito, or even Fatale, but it does a great job of portraying a bright young Hollywood that is plagued by a seedy underbelly. The most notably different art comes from the scenes where Charlie is thinking about the horrors of Hollywood past, where coverups and dishonesty were par for the course. This helps the reader travel through time with Charlie, and I thought it was an effective changeup. I also loved the ethereal feel of Charlie’s visions as he starts to piece together the events of his drunken night – the painted feel helped us better experience the extent of Charlie’s impairment while building upon the obscurity of the night’s events.
I’ll wrap up this review by saying this book is primed to be the best crime story I’ve seen since… Criminal, maybe. We’ve got a highly untrustworthy cast of characters, a naive dead girl, and a lot of questions to be answered. What more can we ask for with this kind of tale? Building upon everything Brubaker and Phillips have done before, we get something that feels both familiar and fresh. Which leads me to ask: if you enjoyed this, might I recommend going back and reading Criminal?
The Verdict: 10/10