Saturday, January 3, 2015

Best Comics of 2014, No. 13: The Fade Out

After midnight, so technically this post is late by the arbitrary standard I've set for myself. However, I'll post the next one shortly, to get back on schedule. Not that anyone but me is keeping track, but it's good to have these things on the record.
No. 13 in our hit parade is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' The Fade Out.
I'm on record as a devotee of noir in many forms, from Patricia Highsmith's work to Chandler's novels, and to films as far-ranging as Remember My Name, Blood Simple, The Big Carnival and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The latter, of course, is actually one of the most cynical films Disney's ever done. In comics, there's been some wonderful noir, ranging from some Eisner Spirit stories to Steranko's Chandler and the conspiracy epic 100 Bullets. I also particularly like the Parker adaptations.
Then there's Brubaker and Phillips, masters of the craft.
I've admired Brubaker's crime comics for some time. I recently got a custom made Sleeper Omnibus from one of my comic binding buddies, and will add a photo to this post when I get home. His superhero work, while strong, doesn't appeal to me as much. Brubaker and Phillips work so symbiotically that the pages seem to pulse!
Brubaker's writing manages to retain the misogyny and hyper-masculinity of noir and still portray all involved as real, sympathetic people, rather than the self-parody that accompanies the worst of noir comics, like Frank Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin.
In The Fade Out, we have a classic noir, set in the world of film. How utterly perfect!
The story of a drunken screenwriter and a murdered starlet, this work evokes everything from Spillane to Barton Fink. The players could easily be stock characters-  the studio head, the security goon, the sleazy agent, the actresses vying for the same spot, the bookish and efficient PR girl, the smarmy leading man and the hot-blooded Latino musician- but they rise above the cliches to be more fleshed out. This is a neat trick, since the book is told from the POV of the writer, Charlie Parrish. The reader learns of events as Parrish does. This trick is a bit elusive in issue 2, as the narration is third person, making the POV thing less clear at times. The story is set in 1948, making the Hollywood Ten part of the plot. The scene in book two that mentions this dovetails nicely into Charlie's writer's block and accompanying alcoholism.
The insights into character are more apparent in book 3, especially in the scenes that focus on aspiring actress Maya Silver.
As always, Silver's art is spot on. His backgrounds, very loose when closely scrutinized, have exactly the right amount of details and are always period and location specific.
Brewster's colors in action!
It's also important to mention Elizabeth Brewster's colors. Her palette is subtle and accurate, as if someone had subdued the tones in a Douglas Sirk film just a tad for atmosphere. The tension is also consistent with a Sirk film, though Sirk characters are usually so bound by convention that they would never let loose the way Brubaker's characters do.
It's unclear whether The Fade Out is an ongoing series or a miniseries. Much as I've enjoyed the first three issues, I'm hoping for miniseries. I don't think there's enough meat on the bones of the scandal ridden studio to plausibly sustain more than one or two story lines. I'd be happy to be wrong, of course, and if anyone can pull it off, it would be this team!
Another factor is worth noting. The series'  film motif is enhanced by articles on film scandals as backups (the Fatty Arbuckle piece in issue 2 is particularly nice), and by fake lobby cards from Victory Street Pictures, the scandal ridden production house of our story, on the back covers. I could pick nits and point out that the height/width ratio of the lobby cards is off from real lobby cards, but it's such a fun touch, I can't get too worked up about it.
Next up: Best Comics of 2014 No. 12, a sensational outing!

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