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Review: The Fade Out #2

Fadeout02_CoverIn the debut issue of The Fade Out, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips set in motion a hardboiled noir in literally the most classic sense: 1948 L.A. and a dead Hollywood starlet. While there are no private eyes (yet), we have an interesting and complex protagonist in Charlie, who wrote the movie which starred the dead girl. After the debut issue’s introduction of the main characters, as well as the initial conflict (after a blackout drunk, Charlie wakes up next to her corpse with no memory of what happened, and then later discovers that someone came to the house after he left and made her death look like a suicide), issue number two moves right into world building.

And in some cases that might be a problem. This issue contains several flashbacks which, honestly, slow down the story just a tiny bit. We’ve just been introduced to the murder mystery, but then nothing happens in that regard. We learn more about Charlie and Gil (Charlie’s blacklisted writing partner), more about Charlie and Val (the dead girl), and more about the movie studio and its politics, but the A story hardly moves forward at all. Most stories, be they novels, comics, films, or television, give the audience a little while to become more intrigued by the plotline before diving headfirst into background that, while informing on the main story, has yet to actually have an impact.

Not only that, but this issue just has so much information. Brubaker name checks the Hollywood Ten, Howard Hughes, RKO Studios, and anti-trust cases against the movie studios. Any of those ideas would make for a compelling story, but Brubaker just tosses them in, assuming the reader will keep up. And yet even with so much information on display, there are hints of even more information not yet presented to the reader: in this issue there are two violent outbursts that don’t feel earned. They feel like they’re coming out of nowhere, which is even more confusing.

The Fade Out strongly reminds me of James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, in which Ellroy examines post-WWII Los Angeles with a sweep and breadth that is mindboggling: there are so many characters in his novels, and so many plotlines and subplots and twists, that eventually you lose sight of the main thrust of the story amidst all of the detail and grit. But you know what? I love it. The Fade Out is Brubaker’s love letter to one of the most well known, and most American, of genres. Like Ellroy’s novels, the tone it sets is so tangible, the details so rich, and the character so complex, that I can’t help but get swept up in it all.

Brubaker pulls in pieces and characters and ideas and back stories until the issue seems to burst, but I know that it will ultimately make for a richer, more thorough story. It’s nice that he has the freedom at Image to tell the story he wants, with whatever background tapestry he wants, instead of being rushed along from action sequence to action sequence.

Most of the rich tapestry presented by this comic is due to Sean Phillips’ once again nearly impeccable art. His attention to background and character detail is astounding. Emotions and body language are clear and comprehensible, while character movement seems natural. I could feel the weight of every punch thrown and I even felt myself wince with sympathetic pain once or twice, which is not something I frequently do when reading a comic book. While still providing industry leading art, Phillips also branches out and tries something new, which is always a pleasure. He experiments with color and texture in a way that I haven’t seen him attempt before (although you can see the beginnings of it in Fatale). During panels of close-ups, the background art seems almost like a watercolor, swirls of blue mixing with purple and red. It makes for beautiful art but also adds to the emotion and tone, allowing feelings to more clearly come through.

Finally, just a quick shout out to cemetery scenes. The issue is bookended by scenes at a cemetery, first for Val’s funeral and second during a drunken brawl. The use of shadow and chiaroscuro in that final scene is nothing short of perfect. To be honest, I reread that scene three times for the art alone. If nothing else about this story interests you, I’d say read the book for those pages alone.

But really, everything about this comic should interest you. It’s a comic by two creators at the pinnacle of their game, telling a story which is clearly important to them. With so much detail and information already available in this issue, I can’t wait to see where the story goes. I’ve read a lot of Brubaker comics, and I know that he doesn’t include information which doesn’t directly inform the story, even if I don’t yet know how. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Story: Ed Brubaker Art: Sean Phillips
Story: 8 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

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