“Something in the air made it easier to believe lies.” That’s how Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips wrap up the opening two page introduction to “The Fade Out” #1, the debut of their new series from Image Comics. It’s an apt turn of phrase, one that haunts the entire comic. But then again, it’s that careful attention to detail and craft that quickly becomes a hallmark of the issue.
“The Fade Out” #1 is set in 1948 Hollywood, following screenwriter Charlie Parish. Waking up after a colossal bender, Charlie attempts to remember what’s temporarily blocked out by alcohol — and then quickly discovers that some things are best left forgotten, thanks to being at ground zero for the murder of a Hollywood starlet. Brubaker’s plotting here is excellent, using Charlie’s foggy memory to ease the reader into the world of “The Fade Out.” As Charlie learns things, so do we; it’s a gentle introduction that avoids huge piles of exposition getting dumped on the audience. We learn as much by seeing the characters interact (both in the present and in Charlie’s memory) as the narration tells us, after all.
Brubaker doesn’t feed everything to readers on a silver platter, though. As Charlie’s memories come back in bits and flashes, it’s a bit of a jumble at first, and it’s fun to try and piece everything together. Brubaker is also careful to not try and sugar-coat Charlie for even an instant; from getting a blow job in a closet to Charlie’s awful reaction upon finding the dead body, there’s tarnish on him from day one.
Some of the characters come across as a bit of a stereotype — Dotty in particular — but at the same time, we’re seeing everything through Charlie’s eyes here. By the end of the first issue, we’ve revisited one of the people that we met earlier and see them in a new light. With that in mind, it makes you eye the others a little more carefully; are they really what we’ve been shown, then? I suspect that as we get to know each member of the supporting cast, new information will come to light.
Phillips’ art is as fantastic as ever. It’s easy to focus on the obvious things, like the lush backgrounds, the multiple body types in crowd scenes, the sharp ink lines that at times make the characters look like they were hewn onto the page. But just look at the smaller details, too, like the strong body language. When Charlie is talking to Dotty, there’s so much going on outside of the dialogue. Look how Dotty is positioned when she first shakes Charlie awake, sitting up close to him as she touches his shirt. And then in the next panel, we can see (from Charlie’s perspective) that slight recoil as she asks how much he drank last night. Sure enough, by panel 3, she’s sitting as far away from Charlie as she can, leaning back as she states, “Idiot.” But when she remembers the bad news that she has to tell him, you can see her leaning back in, reaching for his shoulder as the empathy kicks in. It’s a natural, seamless progression and he pulls it off well.
Phillips also helps create tension through his art. When Phillips draws Charlie’s nightmare of the faceless tuxedoed men, it’s genuinely terrifying. Not just that initial glimpse of their blank faces, but when the mouths begin to appear and the flesh tears all around that area of their head… well, it will most likely give you the shivers. And that reveal on the last page, as Charlie discovers what’s in his pocket, is masterful. It’s not so much what’s in his pocket but what it means, and the look on Charlie’s face as it dawns on him is full of mortal terror. It’s fantastic.
“The Fade Out” is a killer comic, thanks to Brubaker and Phillips. After reading this issue, you’ll wish that every new series had such a strong debut. Wherever this crime noir goes next, I’ll be eagerly following. A fantastic job from start to finish.