Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Release Date: August 20, 2014
Starting things off with murder mystery is one of the oldest tricks in the trade, but storytellers can get away with that if they breathe the world around the incident to a detailed existence.
Last week the first-fruits of a new five-year-deal for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (the duo behind Criminal and Fatale) at Image Comics arrived on shelves at your local comic book store, The Fade Out. The picture of a typewriter with the wine-turned-blood stain spilt over it stood out to me and upon examination I learned it contained the story of a 1940s noir set in the heart and bowels Hollywoodland. I immediately knew this new series was for me and if that sounds like a dark alley you'd be wont to wander down, I can assure you it is as good as it sounds. It's L.A. Noire meets Sunset Blvd. guys.
The first page provides us with a handy Cast of Characters, which I imagine will only grow and change with each passing issue. We get a headshot and brisk bio (i.e. "One-time Writer, Full-Time Drunk") for each of the big players, telling us all we need to know before they show up during the course of this 40-page first issue. It's safe to say that Charlie is going to be our leading man as the first panel has him slowly coming to after waking up in a bathtub. Head spinning, he tries to piece together the events of his booze-filled evening. His hand covers his astonished mouth (note the wedding ring) when he finds a dead starlet on the living room floor. I couldn't help but think about how another comic noir I've recently read begins in a similar fashion: Frank Miller's The Hard Goodbye, the first in the Sin City books.
There's a period-feel to Phillips' artwork and the coloring by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Not only does the palette feel true to the time, the style is heavy with defining black lines and etchings that fill out the characters' faces and clothing. It feels like a comic from anearlier time (for a filmic reference I might point you towards David O. Russell's American Hustle, which was made in 2013 but could have come out in any of the previous three decades). This art choice goes a long way to legitimizing the look of The Fade Out, giving it a timelessness while clearly stamping it "Fall - 1948."
Brubaker's writing is equally fitting. "Lady," "kid," "darling" are likely to be heard throughout the series. There's also going to be apparent racism and sexism, a point Brubaker admits in the afterwords, "Please understand that I'm painting a portrait of a time and place, and not all of it is going to be pretty." He chose to give the comic a third-person narration which is a bit surprising as first-person seems the obvious (better?) fit. But maybe that's why he switched things up. The narrator sticks by Charlie's side almost the whole time and seems to be entirely influenced by his thoughts at any rate. This is the primary aspect of the writing that I'm curious to see how it is utilized in future issues.
Starting things off with murder mystery is one of the oldest tricks in the trade, but storytellers can get away with that if they breathe the world around the incident to a detailed existence. Brubaker and Phillips have done precisely this and I'm hungry for next month's installment. In one of my favorite spreads of this first issue Charlie wanders the lot of Victory Street Pictures, smoking, drinking and disgusted at the machine he's a mere cog of. Magically, behind him form images of the swash-buckling, gangster and cowboy pictures of the era. The movie business is going to be a mere backdrop for the real drama going on offscreen.
Back Pages: Brubaker has serious intentions to make each issue of The Fade Out worth the customer's $3.50: "As a print lover, I've always tried to make sure our series had extras in the back of the single issues, to reward all our early supporters." Besides some insight into his career and this issue in particular, the reader can find an article by film critic Devin Faraci in the back pages, "The Lonesome Death of Peg Entwistle." It's a tragic story about a girl who came to the City of Angels with big dreams and how she committed suicide off of the Town's most famous of landmarks. While I'm a big believer of digital comics (especially as tailored by Comixology), Image has given me yet another reason to subscribe to the print version of this series. Another reason? I'll talk about Saga sometime soon.
Full disclosure, I'm something of a novice when it comes to comics and admittedly have only seriously entrenched myself into its intimidating waters as of late. I have no idea how one "reviews" comics as I've never really read any comic reviews, though I've found listening to Comic Geek Speak and Comic Vine podcasts to be invaluable. I went about this as I would reviewing a film or, to find a closer example, an episode of a television show. I do not intend to review every issue of every comic I read. I find first issues (like TV pilots) to be worth the analysis. Beyond that I can envision myself reviewing complete books, volumes, story arcs and series. I will also adhere to the rule of avoiding major spoilers by assuming the reader may not have read the comic at hand. I will attempt to pass judgment on the piece as both a narrative and a work of art. I would greatly appreciate your feedback on this matter and if you can think of any ways to improve this comic review or any I may post in the future, the comments are yours for the making. Thanks for your readership.