COMIC BOOK REVIEW: THE FADE OUT VOLUME 1 / AUTHOR: ED BRUBAKER / ARTIST: SEAN PHILLIPS / PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 10TH
Los Angeles, 1948. A fully-clothed screenwriter wakes up in a strange bathtub after a night on the sauce. He doesn’t recognise where he is but he does recognise the beautiful dead body lying in the next room. In a panic he cleans up all traces of himself (and, inadvertently, the killer) and flees the scene. Later that day, the news of Valeria Sommers death rocks the studio. Production of her movie closes down until a replacement for the dead actress can be found. When the screenwriter talks to the head of studio security he sees a crime-scene photograph of the dead girl, but it’s not how he left her. Someone has rearranged her death to look like a suicide.
Wracked with guilt, the screenwriter tells the truth to his alcoholic best friend, a loose cannon who is a blacklisted writer and just threw a punch at Bob Hope. Sharing the secret is something the screenwriter is going to regret.
If you’re a fan of Hollywood murder mysteries with more than a touch of Sunset Boulevard and The Lost Weekend, you’re going to love The Fade Out. It is a lovingly realised comic-book noir and it works like a dream. This volume comprises the first four issues in the series, and once you start reading you won’t want to stop – with a story as addictive as this, there should actually be a law against leaving readers to wait until the next volume’s released so we can find out what happens next.
True, it’s not the most original of concepts. There are plenty of nods towards the seamy side of Tinseltown but nothing we didn’t already know – how the studios covered up scandals, how the casting couch never got a day off, the wild orgies in the Hollywood hills – and the cast of characters are familiar as well: the washed up writer, the studio secretary wearing her heart on her sleeve, the two-fisted movie star, the beautiful starlet who’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. But that’s a winning recipe and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips cook it up well, throwing in some fascinating textures along the way: the McCarthy blacklist, a brief encounter with Clark Gable, a belligerent German film director who’s obviously Erich Von Stroheim under another name, and a neat joke about Bob Hope and Bing Crosby assassinating Adolf Hitler in The Road to Berlin (shades of the recent crisis over The Interview?) Look carefully in the background of the party scenes, you’re not sure who you might recognise. Let’s hope The Fade Out gets greenlit for a second volume very soon - it’s bold, stylish, sexy and it should run and run…
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