The Fade Out is the first series produced in a five-year deal with Image Comics by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, a team that has consistently created some of the best noir fiction and crime drama stories I’ve read. Not to rest on their laurels after wrapping up their exceptional series Fatale, they follow-up with a 40-page debut that is jam-packed with engaging plot, gorgeous art, and additional material. An oversized movie magazine replica variant is also available that adds an additional eight pages of material in a format that looks so cool that I wish they did this for every issue.
Brubaker describes the Fade Out as “a noir within the world of noir films.” Unlike his previous works, which mixed noir and crime drama with things like superheroes and the occult, the Fade Out focuses on a dysfunctional cast of characters that are otherwise normal, but live in a dodgy world whose air makes it “easier to believe lies.” There is no real twist on reality, simply a bygone Hollywood era of big movie studios, blacklists, and broken dreams. The protagonist, Charlie Parish, is the epitome of noir fiction, a screenwriter whose drunken night culminates in a dead Hollywood starlet and a corrupt studio system willing to cover it up to keep the cameras rolling. The story unfolds as Charlie’s foggy memory of the night begins to clear and with every page the narrative of the Fade Out begins to coalesce. Brubaker’s narration throughout the book flows like poetry and provides both insight into the characters and plays with the reader’s emotions.
By the end of this first issue, the reader is introduced to the main players, the game board is set, and the die is cast for what appears to be, in typical Brubaker fashion, a long term investment. This will not be the kind of book in which a reader can jump on and off, but rather a sprawling chronicle that will ask for a reader’s commitment. In return, the book is packaged in a way that offers a complete experience. From the movie magazine look, to the cast of characters on the inside cover, to pages of extra reading material, it made me feel completely engulfed in this world while I was reading. The additional articles in the back of the issue, while not required reading, definitely adds another layer to the narrative and the world in which it is set. Brubaker goes to great lengths to add believability and authenticity to the book and this is exemplified by the hiring of a research assistant to ensure 1940s Los Angeles looks as real as possible. It is a small detail that is easily overlooked, but it demonstrates the level of commitment Brubaker has to this story.
Long-time collaborator Sean Phillips brings Brubaker’s world to life like he has done so many times in the past. The two complement each other so naturally at this point that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Phillips’ sharp lines make the characters pop, while his inking, along with colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser, really set the tone and capture that noir look. The exterior backgrounds are gorgeous, somehow hinting at what’s there while appearing to provide great detail. I believe the art’s biggest strength is that if you were to remove all narration and dialogue, the art alone can tell the story through the body language, facial expressions, and sequence between panels. As an added bonus, Phillips provides insight in some of the additional material on how he constructs his pages. It’s no surprise that at this point, Brubaker leaves the composition and character design to Phillips.
The Fade Out #1 continues the great Brubaker/Phillips tradition of creating engaging noir stories that plunge the reader into the dark recesses of their created world. It was a strong debut issue that was beautifully crafted and executed by these two masters of the craft. If this is only the beginning of the Brubaker/Phillips deal with Image Comics, then I cannot wait to see what comes next from this creative team. Until then, you can find me enjoying every bit of the seedy Hollywood underbelly found in The Fade Out.
Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
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