After taking a short break to return to the world of Criminal, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips – the finest creative team in American comics – are back with a new issue of The Fade Out.
Kicking off Act Two of the series, Issue 5 takes us out of Hollywood and up to Ojai, where the troubled film screenwriter Charles Parish is rewriting and has decamped for exterior reshoots. After the suspicious death of the movie’s original leading lady (which Charles may or may not have been involved with… even he’s not sure), cast and crew have reconvened at the ranch of Victory Street Pictures co-founder Al Kamp. The move gives Phillips ample opportunities to illustrate wide-open vistas, dense forests and charming main street facades, idyllic scenery that makes this issue’s metaphoric and figurative beatings all the more brutal in contrast.
The Fade Out #5 sets an intriguing stage for the story’s second act. The stakes continue to rise, the abuses of power keep piling up, and one character in particular seems hell-bent on tearing the whole system down; a noble impulse that will surely lead to disaster. As adherents to noir, Brubaker and Phillips know how to expertly set the stage for a narrative train crash too fascinating to turn away from. As scandals multiply and consciences refuse to stay quiet, only one thing is certain: there will be no happy ending.
Brubaker doubles down on the story threads established in Act One, weaving an increasingly intricate web of Tinseltown artifice, broken dreams and abuses of power, all in the name of entertainment. The world-weariness of an America searching for identity in the post-World War II landscape informs his omniscient narration, recalling the tone of film noir of the period like Out Of The Past. Brubaker also introduces a creep for the ages in the form of Al Kamp, whose garden-variety lechery takes a turn for the truly perverse by issue’s end.
Phillips’ work continues to astound. The last panel on page 3 in particular – of director Franz Schmitt lining up a shot while crew members work away in the background – has a breathtaking amount of detail and features distinct poses and actions for the dozen characters that appear in the frame. It’s incredibly self-assured work with no shortcuts taken, a level of quality Phillips brings to this issue and everything he illustrates. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors, meanwhile, smoothly transition the reader from scene to scene, using darker hues for a seedy bar, washed out tones to suggest the unique light of a desert sun and a muted palette to indicate flashbacks.
A Brubaker/Phillips comic is the closest thing you can get to a sure thing in comics. Working together for the past 15 years has created a level of synergy rare in the medium; they make it look easy, which is the hardest thing to do. And, as with every issue of The Fade Out, there’s also an essay that complements the main story. In this installment, Devin Faraci, writer for Badass Digest and co-host of the excellent film podcast The Canon, contributes an engrossing account of Jimmy Stewart’s incredible career as a bomber pilot during World War II.
Comics don’t get better than this, folks. Check up with the first trade if you haven’t, and experience the rest of The Fade Out in real time; after all, it’s more fun to watch the dominoes as they fall.