Hollywood, California, 1948. Fade in on professional screenwriter and semi-professional drunkard Charlie Parrish as he slowly wakes up after a wild night on the town.
Charlie finds himself in a hotel bathtub, unable to remember anything about the night before—Charlie would give anything to be able to forget some of his past: the War, his betrayal of his writing partner to The House Un-American Activities Committee, and the ex-wife he still might be carrying a torch for.
After washing his face, Charlie stumbles out of the bathroom to find the body of Valeria Sommers—the up-and-coming starlet and star of the picture Charlie is currently rewriting. With clear signs of strangulation on Valeria’s body, Charlie runs off into the night; his only thoughts are of saving his own skin, whether it’s from a murderer who might still be watching or the corrupt Los Angeles police, who will gladly railroad an innocent man in the name of swift justice.
Thus begins The Fade Out, the latest work by long-time collaborators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. While the two have worked on many fine comics involving characters of questionable morality before, this marks their first venture into the world of pure noir mystery, and what a venture it is!
The Fade Out is a completely fictional work, though it is set in a real world setting where activities such as those depicted would not have been unheard of. It is a film noir mystery set in a time when film noir was dying a slow death, as was the big studio system in Hollywood which made moguls and movie stars into the closest thing the United States had to an aristocracy. The cast make reference to real-world events, such as the blacklisting of Communist sympathizers and ones involving famous movie stars of the day. While real-world celebrities are talked about without being seen, a few famous faces give quick cameo performances as the story plays out. This creates the illusion that we are reading a true story about some of the more obscure players from The Golden Age of Hollywood. Ed Brubaker clearly did his homework regarding the setting and the politics of the era.
The artwork matches the script in quality. It is to Sean Philips’ credit that he is able to create unique faces that look like entirely different yet real people, while still being evocative of several classic film stars. Womanizing, leading man Earl Rath, for instance, is reminiscent of both Clark Gable and Errol Flynn in his appearance without being an exact match for either man—Gable has a quick cameo in a party scene and is clearly different than Rath, despite both affecting a similar slicked-back look with a carefully trimmed mustache. In addition, the color work by Elizabeth Breitweiser is breathtaking.
It should be noted The Fade Out, while being a fine tribute to the classic noir films of yesteryear, would never have gotten past the Hayes Office were it a film script in the 1940s. The script is rife with examples of drug abuse, illicit sex, and other immoral behaviors, and the artwork has a fair bit of nudity and violence. As such, this book is recommended for adult audiences only.
The Fade Out
by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image Comics, 2015