Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Release Date: August 20, 2014
Comics and film share a same visual language. Actually, most movies, if not all of them, start off as comics, though Hollywood prefers to call them “storyboards.” However, enigmas still exist between the two. Some stories lend themselves to moving pictures and others tales should always exist within panels. Regardless, the mediums share an interesting relationship, and through storytelling and trace bits of meta commentary, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips bring the two together in The Fade Out #1.
The story revives old-time moviemaking, back when Hollywood producers were more like gangsters and writers their henchmen. Brubaker opens the series’ first issue with a familiar film convention: opening credits. We’re introduced to our entire cast through a black-and-white headshot and brief description. Our main character is Charlie Parish (screenwriter, part-time reprobate), a Truman Capote look-alike who makes his debut in the narrative passed out drunk in a bathtub. With the harsh reality that comes with any painful hangover, Parish spends most of the issue piecing together exactly what happened the night previous….you know, kind of like The Hangover. But where the worst we have worry about in that arguably-funny comedy is whether Bradley Cooper and company will find their wayward groom-to-be, Parish has a a rather “famous” dead body on his hands.
The plot weaves through delightful scenes of old Hollywood excess and brief flirtations with the past. As Brubaker fleshes out this post-WWII debaucherous daydream, we learn more about Parish’s history, the somewhat stereotypical but equally delightful supporting cast (the drunk writer, the spunky PR girl, the womanizing actor, etc.) and the dog-eat-dog ecosystem of moviemaking. All of this leads up to a painful moment: Parish goes wide-eyed and realizes he’s creeping closer to Hollywood’s insatiable maw.
Where Brubaker’s script reliably falls on point, Phillips’ art makes the book. His scenes embrace the cinematic scope The Fade Out’s narrative revolves around. For example, one sequence features Parish after a conversation with hired muscle Phil Brodsky. As the writer fumes over an amoral cover up to a fatal crime, Phillips reigns black-and-white backdrops behind Parish. The storytellers could’ve easily shown Parish in a more domestic setting — angrily pacing down a sidewalk — but this subtle addition keeps readers focused on the insidiousness of the silver screen.
Little creative moments like these fill the book; this degree of harmony and innovation shouldn’t be unexpected. Brubaker and Phillips have been making comics together for more than a decade. They first teamed up for Wildstorms’ Sleeper, a gripping 24-issue series that seamlessly blends superhero and noir fiction. From there, the creative duo only found continued success with Criminal, Incognito and Fatale. The pair have generated so much provocative, successful work, that a Brubaker/Phillips byline might be one of the few insignia’s of a guaranteed good read in the comic industry.
Unsurprisingly, The Fade Out only proves that Brubaker and Phillips have another amazing story to tell. Within the first issue, the reader is gifted with nuanced character development, a rich setting and a plot that’s definitely worth drowning in. Hollywood has never looked so dark, so sinister and so seductive. It’s a story that only a Brubaker/Phillips comic could tell.