When Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips get together, they create classic comic books. “The Fade Out” is not quite a classic just yet, but it’s certainly getting there with this strong second issue.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated Sean Phillips
Was a murder covered up? Or did the movie starlet commit suicide? And how does the show go on with a dead leading lady and an unfinished film?
BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS’ new crime noir masterpiece is just getting started! Remember, every month THE FADE OUT has exclusive back pages articles that are only available in the single issues.
“The Fade Out” #2 begins with Valeria Sommers funeral service. Hollywood big wigs have come out to pay their respects. As it’s noted, some are legitimately distraught while others are doing the Hollywood thing and only feigning emotion for the cameras. The movie Valeria was due to star in and started filming is now in crisis mode; the studio has given Charlie and director Franz Schmitt only 25 days to finish it. Much of the focus, however, is on Gil and Charlie’s relationship and a major secret is revealed about it. Charlie and Gil go back a long ways. Gil is taking the death of Valeria Sommers very hard and it’s not in the way that you would expect. There’s something bigger going on with Gil that only Charlie can really help him with.
“The Fade Out” #2 continues the aftermath of the death of Valeria Sommers, but what it really accomplishes is furthering the idea that this isn’t a typical crime noir comic series. This is really a Hollywood drama with some of those crime noir elements. There’s a lot more at play here than just Valeria’s death; Charlie and Gil are not out to investigate her death, but are two men trying to survive in a competitive world that will declare you washed up and out on the streets after one bad movie. What really comes into focus here is that this movie production to be wrapped in 25 days is more important, and the machine that is Hollywood covering up Valeria’s murder is something else entirely.
Most people consider Hollywood during this time as something glamorous and admirable. Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable were households names and the epitome of glamour. But underneath that you saw actors being blacklisted due to the paranoia that came with communism. There were substance abuse problems even way back then, we just didn’t have paparazzi and social media like we do now. Brubaker and Phillips are really diving into this with Gil, making him into a very sympathetic character.
What part Valeria’s murder plays in the long run is not completely clear. But with a crime noir story like “The Fade Out”, it’s not really who did it that matters — it’s what the violence and loss does to the people around the crime. The story turns into a study of crime and human conditioning. That’s really what this creative team is getting at here with the way Charlie handles the situation and everything Gil has been through.
Something I didn’t notice in the first issue that stuck out very much here is that in “The Fade Out”, narration is an unattached third person. The narration is not phrased as “I have no idea how to help Gil” or “I was stressed over the little time we had to finish this project”. Instead we get “The funeral is a small affair, but it still feels fake to Charlie”. This causes me to ask a ton of questions. It also adds a level of distrust to every character. We don’t see things from any of their perspectives so they immediately become big mysteries themselves. I also immediately remember that this is a Hollywood crime story. Is it possible this is a film script being read back to us at some point in the future? It’s possible but so early on, it’s no way certain.
Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser create pages here that really play with your preconceived notions of what Hollywood should look like. There’s very little beauty and glamour here. Obviously Phillips’ illustrations are beautiful but it’s noir. There’s a lot of darkness here in the shadows and in the tone. Even the funeral is dark. For “normal” folks, a funeral is rarely ever glamorous but we’ve seen in modern times celebrity funerals being almost full on red carpet events. Phillips has a distinct style, but I think what’s worth noting is that he never repeats character designs. You open this comic and can tell immediately that it’s his work, but every person is different with their own body postures and facial features. No one here looks like anyone in “Criminal”, for example.Continued below
Finally, it’s a small detail but the scenes in the screening room feel extremely authentic. I could almost hear the film projector rolling. Breitweiser’s colors here are what add to this whole scene feeling the way it does; Valeria almost looks angelic on the big screen (foreshadowing her death) and when Schmitt goes up to the screen and touches it, you can see how it bounces back a little bit. It’s a really stunning part of this issue that just continues to prove how fantastic this team whole team is together.
“The Fade Out” #2 is an equal issue in quality to the first. Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser are already settled into a groove and are giving us nothing short of greatness. This is a series that cannot be missed.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – The Brubaker & Phillips combo is something no comic fan should ever pass up.