After a short break, “The Fade Out” from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips returns as the film studio tries to move past the murder of one of their biggest starlets, but find much seediness going on behind the scenes.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
The second act of BRUBAKER and PHILLIPS’ biggest hit ever begins with a bang! Someone knows who killed Valeria Sommers, but can our “heroes” find them without exposing themselves? And will their search lead them to answers they don’t want to find? A perfect jumping-on point for new readers, released the same day as the trade! And packed with bonus back pages articles only found in the single issues.
In the third issue of “The Fade Out”, Brubaker follows studio head Victor Thursby into the California wilderness, where he finds a naturalistic cult and sense of peace and freedom away from Hollywood. His freedom is short-lived, but it still establishes the idea that escaping the evils of Hollywood is just a matter of getting away from the city. In this issue, Brubaker follows Charlie back into the woods, where something strange catches their attention. What they find, however, is far different than the earlier band of proto-hippies. As Hollywood is experiencing a Golden Age, its power and darkness have crept far beyond the walls of the city itself, corrupting everything it touches.
Despite the easy characterization of the series as a murder-mystery, Brubaker has spent most the time expanding a large and nuanced world filled with complex and morally grey characters, instead of creating a cast list of heroes and villains. Sure, Phil Brodsky is clearly not a good guy, but it’s pretty clear that he is more of a blunt instrument in the hands of more powerful figure. This issue bucks that trend by introducing what could be characterized as the first clear-cut villain in the series: Al Kamp, co-founder of Victory Street Productions.
A major theme that Brubaker has woven throughout “The Fade Out” is the dichotomy of the glitz and glamour surface world of the movies and the seedy underbelly, of which Kamp is the personification. He is surrounded by beauty, youth and (to sound corny) hope, while he himself is a wrinkled old husk who deals in the harsh realities of money and stardom. Unlike the actors and writers who populate the story and are fueled by a need for attention and validation, Brubaker writes Kamp as a far more self-actualized character. There’s no illusion of politeness with him, only naked aggression and control. What separates Kamp from Brodsky is that Brodsky is perfectly content to be nothing else than a blunt instrument, and a horrifyingly brutal on at that, while Kamp is much more an active agent of maliciousness, even if he has someone else do his dirty work.
While it’s not clear if Kamp had anything to do with the death of Valeria Sommers, his entrance into the story is a good indication that Brubaker is starting to pull back the curtains and throw a spotlight on some of the more mysterious figures in his noir version of Hollywood. Readers expecting a big piece of the whodunit puzzle will likely feel a little frustrated, but it’s perfectly in line with the tone and characterization that Brubaker has infused the story with.
The artist/colorist team of Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser has done some really incredibly work in the first four issues of “The Fade Out”, and they continue to elevate their art game in this issue. When thinking of classic noir films, the visual landscape that comes to mind is one of dark city streets, foreboding alleyways and gloomy bars, not lush forests. While the installment features plenty of classic noir visuals, the scenes set in the California forests have just the same shadowy and ominous tone as the rest. Breitweiser is very conservative with her color palate here, and uses a shade of green that is just bright enough to create a sense of optimism in this new environment before things get twisted.
The reader is treated to the peculiar sight of the film crew reshooting Valeria’s old scenes with Maya as her replacement. Phillips juxtaposes the two scenes by positioning the two back-to-back, while Breitweiser alternates between full color and black and white to differentiate them. They have perfectly captured the feel of this era of films, from the full close-ups to the high angles, while Breitweiser matches the various different grey tones. You can almost hear a lush music swell rise up to punctuate the big emotional speech.Continued below
Phillips firm, solid line work really makes the way he pencils the antagonists stand out. While Charlie and the perpetually sad Gil appear round, soft and youthful, Kamp and Brodsky are jagged and rough. Each of them have a face that looks like it was carved out of rock, and hewn down over the course of years. You know that they are menacing, and different kind of menaces at that, just by looking at them. Their skill at visual storytelling in an incredibly strong asset to the series, and they only seem to improve with each passing issue.
As “The Fade Out” returns, it’s clear that almost all the characters are trying to move beyond the death of Valeria Sommers, but her murder has cast an inescapable shadow over everyone. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are creating a Golden Age Hollywood that is anything but. The story keeps getting bigger and deeper, while the art perfectly captures all aspects of the era.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – “The Fade Out” is an incredible series created by a team operating at the top of their game. If you aren’t on-board already, this is the time to jump on to this great book.