We’re eight issues into “The Fade Out” and I still have no idea what’s going on, but I mean that in the best possible way. Set in the back lots and parties of old school Hollywood, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s mystery continues to ask questions, even as they quietly reveal some new answers.
One of the things I appreciate about “The Fade Out” is that, from one issue to the next, you never know who the focus will be. “The Fade Out” #8 loops back around to Charlie Parish, the screenwriter who knows both too much and too little about Val’s murder and who is struggling to dredge up memories from that fateful night, which was obscured by his own blackout. Even as he learns a little more about that night from a surprising source, many other plots from the previous issues start to converge all around him. It’s artful plotting, taking threads that have felt tangential and drawing them all back in together. It works here because it involves Charlie discovering them and putting together the pieces that the reader has seen scattered all over the proverbial landscape.
Through it all, though, Brubaker doesn’t lose sight of Charlie’s flaws. It would be easy to whitewash the character, but he’s still fumbling his way forward, falling for the wrong people and being a product of his time. There’s a certain vein of casual racism and sexism going on with Charlie, for example, and Brubaker gives it to us in a somewhat factual manner. His treatment of non-white men is sometimes cringe worthy, even as you still get the impression that he’s genuinely trying his best. Of course, Charlie often misses what’s literally right in front of him. As the closest we have to an investigator in the mystery of Val’s death, he’s hardly the person you’d want to call first.
Phillips and Breitweiser give us a series of visuals that are beautiful as ever. It’s often the little things stand out in the art, like Melba’s pursed lips as she blows out some smoke while talking to Charlie or the deliciously dangerous sidelong look from Victor Thursby as he drops the ominous line, “You find out what they know.” They’re little moments but they’re sold so perfectly that the art just sums up the character. Scenes like a bar at a party are drawn excellently too; Phillips focuses on little details, from the empty glasses hanging from the ceiling to the cocktail waitress’s extravagant outfit, and Breitweiser gives the wood a beautiful brown glow to contrast the blue bustier right in front of it.
Artistically, the best moment has to be when Maya runs up to Charlie. Both in terms of script and art, she’s been depicted as the most unflappable character in “The Fade Out,” and Phillips draws such panic on her face that it’s genuinely jolting. Phillips sells what Brubaker is telling us in a way that is a strong reminder of why Brubaker and Phillips are such a dynamite creative team together.
“The Fade Out” #8 is yet another twisty, intricate, keeps-you-guessing issue, and Brubaker and Phillips don’t show any signs of stopping. Where is the book going next? I don’t think anyone knows but them, but it’s going to be a lot of fun getting there.