“The Wild Party”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Hollywood, 1948. The Fade Out #1 begins with screenwriter Charlie Parish waking up in a bath tub after a long night of partying. He pulls himself out of the tub and tries remember where he is while piecing together the events that landed him there. The story jumps back and forth between his current situation and the previous night. He recalls a row with a drunken friend, writer Gil Mason. As he tries to clean himself up he notices lipstick on the bathroom mirror which evoke a set of lips, a face, an ethereal vision of a woman. This takes his mind to the party that had been thrown by his actor friend Earl Rath. The party was a sordid affair that Charlie describes as typical of Hollywood. He recalls whose house he’s in as he walks into the living room to discover the body of the “up-and-coming starlet,” Val Sommers. Charlie tries to eliminate any evidence of his ever being there and swiftly exits. He goes back to Victory Street Pictures, the studio he works at and feigns surprise when the PR girl, Dotty Quinn, tells him that Val was found dead in her apartment. Before long, he is called in to the office of the studio’s security chief, Phil Brodsky. Phil questions Charlie about the party and tells him to forget that he ever saw Val there. When a pair of cops show up to discuss the case with Brodsky, Charlie finds out that they are covering up the details of the actress’s death. Charlie, sickened by the truth, eventually leaves the studio and walks home, reminiscing about Val and what a sweet gal she was. When he arrives at his apartment, Gil is waiting for him. The two apologize to one another for the previous night’s fight. As they discuss story ideas, Charlie finds a shocking surprise in his pocket from the night before.
Ed Brubaker is no stranger to crime comics and The Fade Out 1 is a great start to his latest venture. Steeped in noir tradition, Brubaker presents a cast of characters that are mostly morally ambiguous who find themselves caught up in a tale of murder, mystery and corruption. While it seems like there is going to be an ensemble cast (six major characters are called out with headshots and brief bios in the beginning of the book), the first issue focuses on Charlie Parish. We get a good feeling for who he is: just a guy trying to make a living writing for the pictures that’s also a bit of a coward. He outed his friend as a communist sympathizer and you get the impression he did it out of fear of what would happen had he not done so. We also get an interesting view of Val Sommers as an innocent girl who just wanted to be on the silver screen. However, her death means that everything we learn about her comes from Charlie’s point of view. I have a feeling that sooner or later, Charlie will discover that she wasn’t exactly what she seemed to be.
A crime book written by Ed Brubaker wouldn’t be the same without some great art from Sean Phillips. As with their previoius collaborations, Phillips manages to capture the tone of the story perfectly. From a dark back alley behind the Brown Derby, to a glamorous Hollywood party, everything feels real. His characters are realistic and expressive. When called upon to depict the fuzzy memories of a woman, she seems dreamlike, composed of light and smoke. In a particularly cool sequence, we see Charlie walking past a series of old black and white movies as he comes to terms with the situation he’s in. An adventure film in the vein of Zorro or Robin Hood, a gangster flick, and a western all roll away behind him. This sequence is particularly striking thanks to the colors of Elizabeth Breitweiser. Her work is solid through the book, really helping add atmosphere to every scene, but this sequence in particular really pops.
If the first issue is any indication, I would say Brubaker and Phillips have another winner on their hands. I don’t know how long this series will last, but I’m in it for the long haul.