The Fade Out Vol. 1 (Image Comics)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their noir comics winning streak with this tale of murder in Old Hollywood.

 

 

120 pgs., color; $9.99
(W: Ed Brubaker; A: Sean Phillips; C: Elizabeth Breitweiser)
I love film noir. I love comics. Wouldn’t it be great if someone put those two things together?
Fortunately for me, they already have. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ The Fade Out is a pure noir tale set in a 1948 LA populated by hard-drinking writers, hard-edged dames, and hard-boiled movie folk. It opens, appropriately enough, with a voiceover recalling the phantom Japanese planes people reported seeing and hearing over the city in the nights following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The narrator is screenwriter Charlie Parish, who wakes up in a bungalow in Studio City, much the worse for wear, and not entirely clear as to how he got there. What is clear is that a young actress is in the bungalow as well, and she’s been strangled.
Well, what would you do? The cops will want to hang the murder on someone, and circumstances would make him a prime suspect, so Charlie does his best to remove any traces of his presence and hot foots it out of there. Over at his office at Victory Street Pictures, he tries to put himself back together, with the assistance of publicity girl Dotty Quinn, who recalls Dorothy Malone’s turn as the Acme Book Shop clerk in The Big Sleep (a smart gal who’s also mega-cute under her glasses).  The studio, meanwhile, is only concerned with distancing itself from any possible scandal. Punches are thrown, writers are threatened with blacklisting, and the studio is feeling the pain from the Paramount decree. In this comic, you get to see how the sausage is really made, as it’s set not in Hollywood the dream factory but in the Hollywood of broken dreams and desperate people hanging on by their fingernails.
One of the challenges of reading The Fade Out is that we get much of our initial information from the alcohol-soaked brain of Parish, who remembers things in bits and pieces. There are also a lot of characters to introduce and context to establish, but that’s true at the beginning of any new series. If you’re OK with putting the story together as you go, The Fade Out is great fun to read and really captures the look and feel of film noir. As a bonus, it’s also crammed with historical details, so that reading it feels a little like hopping in a time machine and going back to that era. Phillips’ art is a great match to the story, sticking to classic page layouts and frames drawn in an unfussy realistic style that establish a proper noir mood. Every frame is loaded with detail and he has a great feel for period and location, while colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser’s palette throws a wash of gray over everything, even in the day time.
It’s no surprise that The Fade Out works so well, because Brubaker and Phillips have previously worked together on several successful series, including Scene of the Crime, Sleeper, Incognito, and Fatale, and won an Eisner in 2012 for Criminal: The Last of the Innocent. Other credits include Captain America, Uncanny X-Men, and Books of Doom (Brubaker) and Hellblazer and Judge Dredd (Phillips).
The trade edition of The Fade Out vol. 1 collects the first four issues. You can a preview of the first issue here, visit artist Sean Phillips’ blog here, and read an interview with author Ed Brubaker here. | Sarah Boslaugh

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