Another layer of the story onion is peeled back in this month’s issue of “The Fade Out”.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
Another secret about the murder comes to light!
For most of my life I have been surrounded by detective stories in some way. My father’s side of the family is from Detroit originally, which is important. Detroit’s radio station WXYZ (clever!) in the 1930’s broadcast, what I consider, two of the best detective stories ever. The Lone Ranger & The Green Hornet followed the tried and true formula for many gumshoes to follow. As a kid, I loved to listen to these with my grandfather and uncles. My fascination with the detective genre would continue throughout my adult life, with the stories getting darker. At its core “The Fade Out” is a classic detective tale set against a Hollywood backdrop. In this case, the characters are not “true” detectives in the traditional sense which is fine. They are driven for the truth and even have ulterior motives to solving the case in question.
For this issue the beginning focus of the story is with Dorothy “Dottie” Quinn. Dottie is going about her normal business when she runs into Charlie Parish, clearly up to no good. Charlie is caught red handed and decides against his better judgement, to tell Dottie why he is here. In a flashback of sorts, Charlie and his good friend Gil Mason are trying to figure out their next move. Both are trying to solve the murder Valeria “Val” Sommers that occurred a month or so back. Gil and Charlie are driven by different endgames to this caper. Gil, who was blacklisted for being a communist, wants those “fat cats” to pay for what they have done. Charlie on the other hand, merely wants the truth to be told about what happened to Val. The two amateur sleuths agree to combine forces and work together to solve this mystery once and for all. However two stunning revelations about the case might potential derail their ability to solve it.
Ed Brubaker’s approach to the proceedings reminds me very much of the film Chinatown. The film’s script, widely regarded as one of the best, took an onion layer approach to details coming out. Each layer connects to the previous, yet it still stands on its own to reveal more detail. Brubaker does an excellent job of going back to the well to refresh the reader on the past events; without telling every plot point over again. This is a necessary evil due to the many dangling threads in the story overall. One such moments comes from a seemingly meaningless page or two from two issues back. Without spoiling the outcome, the biggest revelation in the book makes a lot more sense when the dots are connected. To that point, Brubaker likes to show not tell and it adds to the mystery of the book. Everything is important in one shape or another at some point. One call back is Charlie’s blackout during the night of Val’s murder. I initially felt this was a classic MacGuffin that would push the story forward when needed. That would prove not to be the case, since Brubaker unveils more about that night each time he comes back to it. I really like this touch as it reminds the reader why Charlie is so driven to solve the case. And yes he did have feelings for Val, but he is looking to avenge her and to get a piece of himself back too.
On the art side, Sean Phillips needs no introduction at all. Phillips is the kind of artist where you know exactly what you are going to get when you see his name. Each panel is ripe with excellently rendered background details that make you feel “inside” the book. The characters have fine facial details that convey the emotions they are going through. In particular, Phillips style looks like a brush stroke of a paint instead of a pencil. Given that the story is set in the 1940’s, the mystique of a bygone era is added with the way Phillips draws every scene. Beyond that, the panels feel like a storyboard to an excellent film that was never made. In particular in the beginning when Dottie and Charlie meet, the focus on the door with the head of security’s name is a nice touch. Another instance is when Charlie and Gil are discussing their plan in the office. The light coming in through open blinds, a classic motif, gives that private eye feel that I thought about throughout. For me, this level of detail shows that Phillips knows the look of the noir films of the 1940’s.Continued below
“The Fade Out” #10 is near the conclusion of the story. With two issues remaining, #10 gives a lot of new information as the story heads to a close. This particular gambit pays off rather well, when it easily could have gone in the opposite direction. Since the story is about a failing screenwriter, it is only appropriate that “Act Three” of this narrative brings the juggling balls back down to earth. I am reminded a lot of Brubaker & Phillips’ previous series “Fatale” in how this story is being executed. “The Fade Out” is half the length but there is all killer and very little filler. Wisely too, the story does not deviate from the central mystery too much. There are flashbacks and explanations, but they never meander or go to pointless directions. This should be expected from two widely regarded creators in their element.
All and all this is another excellent addition to the Brubaker & Phillips partnership. I have to wonder if Charlie and Gil are manifestations of the two creators, wouldn’t that be something? While highly unlikely, the two have an excellent track record and “The Fade Out” continues that tradition. With this being the first series under their new Image exclusive contract, it is very exciting to see what Brubaker & Phillips are cooking up next. For now, this is a great issue in a wonderful series.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – The conclusion is near and the stakes are raised. “The Fade Out” delivers with solid storytelling and art for the classic murder mystery. Brubaker & Phillips continue to show why they are considered the best in the comic book game. Highly recommended.