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The Fade Out vol 3

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The Fade Out vol 3 back

Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, Elizabeth Breitweiser


Page 45 Review by Stephen

"They were two broken-down writers, running on desperation and booze....
"And they'd written their story wrong."

That's Charlie and Gil through and through. But it's not a film script for Victory Street Pictures that they've co-written wrong - it's their lives, now spiralling out of control and careening head-on into traffic.

Prime period crime from the creators of CRIMINAL and FATALE, set in the city of secrets and lies, this is third and final volume of THE FADE OUT. Just look at those three covers arranged together, just as they are in our window drawing in completely new crowds to comics! It doesn't get much more mainstream than this. The design is impeccable, the logos drowning in blood, cold water then absinthe-green.

I reviewed the first two volumes of THE FADE OUT extensively, covering the spectacular light and non-local colour, and the fantasy of Hollywoodland: the writing and the acting and the myth-spinning slights of hand. They're lying professionally before they've begun to be truly mendacious, but at Victory Street Pictures they're all of them at it, even screenwriter Charlie.

It's Los Angeles, 1948.

Charlie woke up in a bungalow in Studio City built to keep stars close to the set. The night before is an alcohol-induced mystery to him, but there was a lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror that reminded him of a smile, the smile led to a face, and that face belonged to the woman lying dead on the living room floor. It was Valeria Sommers, young starlet of the film Charlie's been working on, strangled while Charlie was sleeping. Slowly, assiduously, Charlie began to remove all trace of his and anyone else's presence. But that's nothing compared to the cover-up the studio embarked on: they made out it was suicide and it's made Charlie sick to the stomach. As for Gil - Charlie's old friend, mentor and covert co-writer - he's still very angry indeed.

After attacking the mystery from separate angles behind each others' backs, they now believe they're close to piecing together what happened from Valeria's past involvement as a child actress with one of the studio's co-founders, and their alcohol-addled obsession is going to lead to some extreme, hasty and ill-thought-out action.

Studio spin-mistress Dottie tries to save Charlie from digging his own literal or career grave, but he simply won't listen. In his tunnel vision he can only see one light, even if he doesn't know what that light looks like. Briefly he found a respite, a calm sea alongside Valeria's replacement, Maya Silver, but now....

"Jesus, Charlie... Do you even see me at all?"

And he doesn't. Shirt covered in blood, he's not even looking at the woman who's risked all to give him sanctuary. Her pain, her disappointment and her worry is exquisitely delineated in a single expression by Phillips. It's no coincidence that for the entire book Charlie's been looking through cracked glasses which Phillips has turned into yet another of his fortes.

There's some similarly subtle work when Gil's wife, Melba, glances back at Charlie with equal anxiety after he'd been discharged from hospital after the war, bits of him missing inside. The couple take him in, and it's in this recollection that so much about the two writers' relationship is explained.

Phillips' eye for period detail is exceptional, whether it's the way skirts hang or fly at an angle during a dance, the home furnishings or a buffet banquet. It's perhaps there that Breitweiser's decision to avoid local colour shines best, refusing to let your eye settle but dazzling you instead. I can't imagine how dull and lifeless the spread of food would have looked had it been lit literally instead.

As to Brubaker, I challenge anyone to see what's coming. None of us did here but we all agree that it was perfect. Certainly Charlie doesn't. He hasn't been able to for ages. As I said, there have been bits of him missing, both as a man and as a writer, ever since he saw combat, and this is the brilliance of Brubaker, tying the two together:

"In that moment, he saw why things always went wrong for him now.
"He understood his problem.
"It was that he'd lost the ability to imagine what happened next."

For far, far more on the craft, please see previous reviews of THE FADE OUT which is now complete.