Friday, 8 January 2016
The Fade Out, Volume 3: Act Three Review (Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips)
“The past is a knife…”
Though Charlie and Gil edge ever nearer to uncovering the murderer of starlet Val Sommers, with the studios owning the papers and the police, any attempt at revealing the truth would be futile and mean destruction for the pair – unless they destroy each other first!
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ The Fade Out comes to a brilliant but very dark and depressing end with this third and final volume. The essence of nihilism hangs heavy over this book’s narrative: two broken men living a lie doggedly pursue the murder of a troubled young woman in an incredibly corrupt business run by people who did whatever they wanted without consequence. Death, sexual abuse, death, child molestation, death, alcoholism, death, movies, death – don’t read The Fade Out if you’re looking to cheer yourself up!
While I found the flashback-y start to be a bit slow, things quickly ramped up afterwards and ended strongly. But though The Fade Out is a very disturbing story of Golden Age Hollywoodland and all the hidden misery behind the glitz’n’glamour, it’s an enormously interesting tale done in Brubaker and Phillips’ signature noir style. The characters are all falling apart but their unhappiness only makes things more compelling. We see more of Charlie and Val from before (to remind us why Charlie’s so determined) and their scenes of doomed romance are exquisitely bittersweet - Brubaker has the noir tone/writing style down COLD!
It’s weird how in murder mysteries more often than not after finishing one the reader tends to remember the murder victim rather than the murderer. I think that’s because the enjoyment comes from the investigation rather than the solution as well as the bulk of the story being focused on the former with the latter dropped in only at the end. That’s why I’m more forgiving of The Fade Out’s finale – we find out who killed Val Sommers but the identity’s not shocking because the murderer’s only been on the fringes of the story. But getting to the solution has been a blast and that’s the real mark of a quality whodunit.
That said, the murder mystery has been emblematic of what The Fade Out is really about: the sleaze and corruption of old Hollywood, and Brubaker and Phillips have illustrated this thoroughly and artistically. Those last couple pages are great but so tragic for poor Charlie – the grim legacy of the movie culture for those who survive within it.
Sean Phillips’ artwork is beautiful from the gorgeous painted covers to the uncanny character expressions - Maya, the starlet who replaced Val, has some striking panels as we see her heart breaking behind Charlie’s back caught within her face. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colours are gorgeous, bringing the captivating lights of Hollywoodland to life as well as the murky depths of its depravity.
The Fade Out has been a fantastic limited series from one of the finest creative comics teams of all time, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and arguably their best collaboration to date. The third volume ends the story well and, if you’ve enjoyed the series so far, it won’t let you down - recommended to all noir/murder mystery fans with an interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Brubaker and Phillips’ next project sees them returning to their most famous series, Criminal, for a one-shot similar to last year’s special. Out in April, the ‘70s-set issue features…. a Kung-Fu werewolf?! Take my money right now!!
The Fade Out, Volume 3: Act Three