It’s hard to follow up from what many consider a perfect first issue, but The Fade Out #2 shows that this title is well on its way to greatness.
For me, this comic is not written for “now.” Released on the same day as two massive titles that are working to change character status quo and reach brand new comic-reading audiences (not that I’m complaining), The Fade Out seems to ignore every bit of the outside world and deliver a story that is complex, realistic, and fiercely uncompromising. In doing so, the tale unfolding before the reader acts as a time machine to 1948 where things might have been simpler, but people were still rough around the edges. This roughness creates the friction that makes each conversation carry so much weight and makes us question each character’s words and motives.
From the last issue we’ve learned that writer Charlie Parish was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and found himself passed out one room over from the presumably murdered Valeria Sommers. Unfortunately, Charlie didn’t know much more than this, and decided to confide what few facts he knows with the drunkard and generally unreliable friend Gil Mason. The bulk of this issue focuses on the relationship between Charlie and Gil, which exemplifies both the dangers of alcoholism and the terror of McCarthyism at the time in Hollywood. A broken man, Gil relies on Charlie, but Charlie equally relies on Gil because of his writing talents. The men need each other, but as Brubaker writes, “The thing was, he and Gil’s entire relationship was built on secrets now.”
These secrets act as their own character, silently following Charlie around the issue like a determined sidekick. While attending Valeria’s funeral, the secrets watch him (somewhat literally) from behind as he doubts the sincerity of his colleagues. In dealing with Gil’s wife Melba, the secrets of her husband loom quietly in the kitchen as she explains her resentment and regret. While the studio head Victor Thursby demands the scenes be refilmed, the secrets sit nearby, ready to expose Charlie’s writing capabilities at any second. There is no escape from these secrets, and keeping them hidden drives Charlie more than anything. As a result, we are presented with a main character that could crumble at any minute but continues to surround himself with lies and betrayal. Given the powerful characters we’ve met in the series at this point, it seems these secrets are setting us up for a powder keg explosion that will rock Hollywood from 1948 through 2014 and beyond.
Of course, I must touch on the art. In my review of issue one, I said that Sean Phillips’ work “does a great job of portraying a bright young Hollywood that is plagued by a seedy underbelly.” In issue two, we start to see this seedy underbelly for what it really is. The facial expressions of each character beautifully portrays their pain and suffering, their frustration and anger. The scene with Charlie and Melba is particularly touching, and it is clear from the way she holds herself that she has given up hope of having a normal life. Later, the scene between Charlie and a drunk Gil exudes a violent energy befitting of two friends who are drunk and irate.
As I said earlier, it’s really hard to follow up on such a great debut issue, but Brubaker and Phillips seem to have done it. The Fade Out continues to be one of the most intriguing and tense titles of the year, and with each new chapter we make our way deeper into the mystery of Charlie’s role in the murder of Valeria Sommers. Each panel builds upon the depth of the world that has been created, and each character demonstrates they are not mere bystanders to be ignored. While a pleasure to read, it may be argued that the success in this issue comes from its ability to make us want so much more. I can’t wait.
The Verdict: 9.5/10