Hollywood. 1948. Where the only stars are on the silver screens and the gutters are filled with broken dreams. It is here that we fade in on Charlie Parish, as he fights unconsciousness and finally wins.
Charlie is a troubled man. A full-time screenwriter and part-time drunkard, he hasn’t quite recovered from the war. Throw in the on-going problems with his ex-wife, the ex-writing partner he ratted out to The House Un-American Activities Committee and balancing his writing assignments with his wild night-life and it’s small wonder that Charlie alternates between vivid daydreams and lurid nightmares.
And then Charlie realizes he’s lying next to a dead woman. And Life becomes even more complicated…
The Fade Out is the first collaboration between writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips since they both signed an exclusive five-year contract with Image Comics to do “anything they want“. The two creators have worked together on numerous comic projects in the past, including Sleeper, Criminal and the recent supernatural series Fatale. Yet despite all of their previous works sharing similar themes of darkness and moral ambiguity, Brubaker and Phillips have never tackled the genre of pure noir mystery until now.
Brubaker’s script is quick to establish the mystery of the story as well as the conflict in our protagonist’s nature. Noir heroes are rarely heroic and Charlie Parish fits the mold of the victim of circumstance who is more concerned with saving his own skin than in any high ideals like Justice or Right. Yet Brubaker makes Charlie a likable character if not a particular sympathetic one. The rest of the cast thus far seem to be comprised of the usual noir stereotypes – a motley collection of drunks, thugs, femme fatales and girls with spunk – but this is unlikely to worry fans of the genre.
Unsurprisingly, Sean Phillips is in fine form here. Phillips is indisputably one of the best artists in the business when it comes to depicting gritty, realistic settings and the world of late-40s Hollywood is right up his dark, dingy alley. Phillips’ character designs are familiar and photo-realistic without looking too much like any one particular real world star, though some of the inspirations remain clear. For instance, womanizing leading man Earl Rath is reminiscent of both Clark Gable and Errol Flynn without being a dead-ringer for either man.
It is worth noting that – as in their previous works together – Brubaker and Philips offer extra material in the print edition of the comic. This serves as an extra incentive for those who are supporting their local comic shops. In this case, we are treated to some extra illustrations and an article by BadassDigest.com film critic Devin Faraci on the death of early Hollywood actress Peg Entwistle, who committed suicide by jumping off the ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign.
While unlikely to hold much appeal for those who aren’t already part of the creators’ established fanbase and genre enthusiasts, there is much to admire about The Fade Out. Those who give this series a shot will find it an enjoyable piece of pulp fiction.