Thursday, December 31, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: The Death of Me.

The Fade Out Number Two: "The Death of Me"

  • Released September 31st, 2014, following a widely-distributed three-page preview
  • Subsequently given a second printing following an immediate sellout at the distributor level; this was the last issue of the series to receive multiple printings, with a black-and-white version of the cover art displayed beneath the familiar red-ink logo
  • Received with a good number of positive reviews, with 23 critic reviews awarding an average score of 9.2 on a ten-point scale

The sophomore issue of Brubaker and Phillips' period piece begins with the funeral of Val Sommers and then reveals the secret ghost-writing arrangement between the psychologically paralyzed Charlie Parish and the blacklisted Gil Mason.

The Movie.  After paying for the funeral for the film's leading actress, studio co-founder Victor Thursby reviews the in-progress footage for Shadow of the Valley with its director and writer.  He would have preferred scrapping the film altogether, but the studio system is about to collapse in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent anti-trust ruling, and they have nothing else to release.  He gives Franz Schmitt and Charlie Parish a scant two extra weeks for re-shoots with a replacement actress, to wrap shooting in 25 days.  The director then pushes Charlie into accepting his idea of using the added time as an opportunity to rewrite the entire film.

The Murder. Evidently resigned to the cover-up, Charlie is agonizing over his betrayals -- his unintended complicity in destroying the evidence of Val's murder, and now his collaboration in erasing her from her last film -- and he realizes that even his telling Gil was a kind of betrayal, so he could be the strong one in their shared distress.  Gil is falling apart even more than Charlie, drunkenly spying on Val's funeral and visiting the new grave again that night.

In this chapter, we see an expression of Charlie's issues with alienation and invisibility:  his daydream of disguising himself in the bandages of the film's main character.  We also see how that daydream transitions seamlessly to the rough cut that he watches with Thursby and Schmitt.
"He imagined it would be a relief, to have a mask everyone could see...
"...but that made them all look away at the same time."
It reminds me of the opening lines to David Gray's moody 2002 song "Freedom."
Take your eyes off meThere’s nothing here to seeTrying to keep my head together...
We also see that, in contrast with the actors' cynicism toward the man, Thursby is torn up by Val's death:
"Thirty-five years... a life's work, he thinks, and for what?
"For what?"
Val's friend and fellow child actor from the Krazy Kids, Flapjack Jones grouses at her grave's headstone, engraved with her stage name Valeria Sommers rather than her birth name Jenny Summers:  "She wasn't any... aristocrat... just a girl from Pasadena."

In issue #11, we learn that there was a "kind man" who saved Val from her old life as a child actress.  In a line that has added importance in hindsight, she says of him, "He helped me stop being Jenny."

We've mentioned having a theory about this man's identity.  To be clear, we surmise that he was Victor Thursby himself,.  If he knew that Val Sommers associated her birth name with her old life of trauma and abuse, he very well may have put her stage name on the headstone as an act of kindness that may always be seen by others as an act of callousness.

In a story where numerous acts of betrayal are seen as business as usual, we have this shining act of love, mistaken for indifference.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: The Wild Party.

The Fade Out Number One: "The Wild Party"

The debut issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' The Fade Out sets in motion parallel projects that the series will follow evidently to its conclusion with issue #12, namely, the production of a noir film at Victory Street Pictures and the mystery surrounding the covered-up murder of the film's lead actress Valeria Sommers.

The Movie.  After Val's body was discovered, production was temporarily shut down for Shadow of the Valley; with the production already delayed by numerous rewrites, the director Franz Schmitt tried to work around her absence but was stopped after being physically accosted by lead actor Earl Rath.

The Murder. Writer Charlie Parish had woken up in Val's bungalow in Studio City, and upon discovering her body, he tried to erase any evidence of his being there, consequently scrubbing the crime scene of evidence of the murderer as well.  Grilled by the studio's security chief Phil Brodsky, Charlie discovered that her murder was covered up to look like a suicide.  Torn up by his unintended complicity in the cover-up, he spills his guts to his blacklisted friend and ghostwriter, Gil Mason.

This driving motivation for so much of Charlie's subsequent actions is captured in the key quote from the issue.
"Studios had been covering up murder and rape and everything in between since at least the Roaring Twenties.
"That's what men like Brodsky were there for... to prevent scandals.
"And he'd helped them this time.
"He helped them."
Will the film be completed and released, and what will Charlie do in the face of a conspiracy?  The next eleven issues slowly reveal the answers to both questions.

UPDATE, 12/31.  ...and, we'll slowly fill in the gaps of Charlie's sketchy memory of the night of Val's death, the "wild party" and who was with him when he left.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: The Esoteric and Erotic.

(Now we see what I happens when I plan to do this extended series of posts during the very busy month of December and then get hit with a cold that's worn me out and won't go away.  And I was hoping to be ahead of schedule by Christmas...)

Today sees the release of issue #53 of Chew, which serves as a twisted, hilarious counterpoint to the serious noir comics of Brubaker and Phillips, and in this issue we learn about the Bon Vivants, "a group of extremely devoted, and obscenely affluent, culinary enthusiasts wholly devoted to the epicurean exploration of plants and animals that are endangered or long extinct."

A secret society of super-rich hedonists:  it's an intriguing idea and even a bit of a trope in storytelling.  Chew's particular idea of a group gathering to sample super-exotic and illicit cuisine was the driving premise behind the entertaining 1990 comedy The Freshman.

And it's not surprising that we've seen secret societies before in the works of Brubaker and Phillips.  Earlier in our month-long review of The Fade Out, we pointed back to the pair's first significant collaboration as lead writer and lead artist -- 2001's Batman: Gotham Noir -- and now we are reminded of their first long-running comic, Sleeper, published through DC's WildStorm imprint between 2003 and 2005.

(In hindsight, the series is the bridge between the pair's work-for-hire with costumed superheroes and their creator-owned comics.  Sleeper is a self-contained and very original work set in the WildStorm universe, and it's a shame that Brubaker and Phillips don't own the rights to it.)

In issues #3 and #4, we're introduced to the "Secret Monarchy" of Earth, which evil mastermind TAO calls the "inner circle of humanity," and which our skeptical protagonist Holden Carver dismisses as "a bunch of slightly perverted stuffed shirts."  It is said that this group has been entangled in the very roots of civilization for millennia, and that their power lies in the fact that no one believes in their existence -- and the debauchery of their parties embodies the nihilism and amorality of their greeting, a creed attributed to an ancient order of assassins, that "Nothing is true, everything is permitted."

Each year, the Secret Monarchy met at a secluded resort called Imperial Grove, and was a likely allusion to the Bohemian Grove, which has hosted annual two-week gatherings of the Bohemian Club since 1893, and which has since attracted some of the world's most prominent and powerful men.  The Wikipedia article, linked above, includes the following photo, taken at the 1967 gathering and featuring two future U.S. presidents, one having a cameo in The Fade Out.

Secret societies were also rampant in Fatale, from the medieval White Brotherhood to the more modern-day cults ran by McVicar and the Bishop, and The Fade Out has its own secretive power structures in the Hollywood studio system, itself infiltrated by the FBI during the emerging Cold War.

And in issue #3, we are introduced to the Divine Order of the Great Eleven, a hedonistic cult run by priestesses and based in a camp called Harmony Grove.  In 1928, Al Kamp took Victor Thursby to one of the cult's ceremonies, and Thursby then abandoned his life in Hollywood to live in Harmony Grove -- at least, he did for a few weeks, until Phil Brodsky retrieved him.  The Feds subsequently raided the compounded, and Kamp and Thursby founded Victory Street Pictures.

In the few short months before his bugging out, Thursby couldn't get his mind off the cult and its promiscuous practices, not even when casting chorus girls.
"He had a life most men would kill for, but all he felt was trapped."
I wonder if the secret society's appeal is an extension and even a metastasizing of the urges that seem to drive the typical protagonist in noir:  the desire for meaning and connection in the face of alienation.

Maybe the idea is that, if one cannot find purpose in the mundane life of the middle class, maybe one can find it in the hidden knowledge of some inner circle, and if no traditional romance satisfies, maybe one should find a place where his every desire can be indulged.  It's Gnosticism and hedonism, the allure of hidden knowledge and forbidden pleasure.

I don't think that particular path leads to anything real and lasting, but it lets us see the middle-aged Thursby as a parallel character to Charlie Parish, going to different extremes to chase the same longings.

And since the Krazy Kids shorts were being produced as late as 1926 and 1928, it makes us wonder when Thursby and Val Sommers first connected.  What made Val so special in Thursby's eyes?

Even if theirs was a platonic and even paternal relationship, did Val kindle in Thursby the same sense of longing that was satisfied so briefly with the Divine Order?

Or did she reach a part of him that even that cult couldn't touch?

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Friday, December 18, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Sentimental Journeys.

The pop-culture references in The Fade Out seem to fade into the background as the plot gains steam, and perhaps the last major references are in the calm before the storm in issue #7, as Charlie and Maya enjoy their love affair -- and an escape from the Hollywood machine -- at a Malibu hideaway.
"Saturday night she cooked them dinner, and afterward Charlie put on the radio...
"Glenn Miller... Lena Moore... The Andrews Sisters...
"They laughed and danced...
"Until he couldn't stand it anymore..."
As we recounted earlier this week, Glenn Miller died in military service in 1944, but RCA Victor released two compilation albums in 1945 and 1947, both hitting number one for multiple weeks on the new Billboard album charts.  The most romantic song in the two collections -- and a personal favorite of mine -- is the gorgeous "Moonlight Serenade."

Lena Horne performed the driving, tropical number "Love" in the 1946 movie Ziegfeld Follies, but she is perhaps best known for "Stormy Weather," which she recorded multiple times, including in 1941 and in 1943, the latter of which for a movie of the same name.

The Andrews Sisters' harmonies are synonymous with wartime music, but they enjoyed a lengthy career, and in 1947 they reached number two on the Billboard chart with the infectious "Near You."

With the music that was playing on the radio toward the end of the 1940's, it probably wasn't easy to escape the long shadow of World War II, but it was probably quite easy to fall in love.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: The Latin-American Music of Desi Arnaz.

In The Fade Out #6, Maya Silver is seen arguing with famous bandleader Desi Arnaz: my conjecture is that she thought Phil Brodsky and Victory Street Studios had pressured Arnaz to replace her ex-husband Armando Lopez, when it is more likely that Armando was simply unable to continue playing the trumpet after Brodsky's men got done with him.

The influence of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball remains immense, with a pair of colorized reruns of I Love Lucy getting better ratings than the Mad Men finale, albeit on broadcast television rather than on cable.

Even apart from the work produced after it was sold and renamed Paramount, their production company Desilu may cast an even longer shadow, both with a multi-camera approach to studio television and with its producing a ground-breaking sci-fi show pitched as "Wagon Train in the stars;" the former revolutionized the sitcom and dominated the genre for more than half a century, and the latter has resulted in a massive franchise with its thirteenth film and sixth television series due in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

But long before all that was the band that Desi Arnaz led in real life -- the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, which performed on Bob Hope's radio show before transforming into the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra for I Love Lucy.  In a 2008 story on the last surviving member of the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra, NPR reports that Arnaz and his band had clear crossover appeal, tailoring his Latin music to the "Americanos" in upscale venues.

The best example of Arnaz' crossover approach might be seen, not in the song "Babalu" that was made famous on the TV show, but in "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás:"  the English version "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" has been recorded many times since, but it was first recorded in 1948, by Desi Arnaz.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Darn That Dream.

We've been spending some time with the real-life cultural touchstones of The Fade Out, and we conclude our journey through issue #4 with something that writer Ed Brubaker discussed in the back pages of the issue, the song "Darn That Dream."

Victory Street actors Maya Silver and Tyler Graves had a contrived night on the town to feed the publicity machine, and Charlie talks with Maya afterwards.
"What'd you dance to?"
"Darn That Dream..."
"Well, that's fitting... but a bit unsubtle... Darn That Dream... It won't come true..."
In the letters pages, Brubaker writes that he knows that Charlie "slightly misquoted" the song, and he recommends that interested readers track down the rendition by Billie Holiday, "which takes it to the depths of dispair, [unlike] the siwng band era versions, where you have to stop and think to realize the song is a tragedy."

There are times where I quite like songs where dark lyrics are obscured by ebullient music:  the contrast and the tension can be interesting, and I can redirect my focus depending on my mood.  For examples much more recent than the big band era, I'd point to U2's grossly underrated single from 1997, "Discotheque," and to David Gray's hit 2005 single, "The One I Love."  Both were the lead singles from their respective albums, and I'd say more about each song, except I think listeners should discover these two songs for themselves.

"Darn That Dream" was published in 1939 and introduced in the Broadway musical Swingin' the Dream.  By 1948 and the era of The Fade Out, it had only been recorded three times, all around 1940.  Billie Holliday recorded the song in 1957, as did quite a few others through the 50's and 60's, including Miles Davis, Tonny Bennett, Doris Day, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald with Nelson Riddle.

What version was Charlie and Maya thinking of, apart from what was probably played by a live band?  Perhaps it was the original version by Benny Goodman and his orchestra.

Billie Holliday's version has an entirely different feel, with the music more relaxed and the singing much more wistful.

Darn that dream and bless it too
Without that dream I never would have you
But it haunts me and it won't come true
Oh, darn that dream

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Hollywood at War.

In addition to that brief reference to Sinatra, The Fade Out #4 features a significant cameo by Clark Gable -- and some details about Charlie Parish's wartime experience, as he helped Gable make war documentaries, including bomber runs over Europe.

(We do wonder whether there's more to learn about why Charlie returned from the war a broken man.)

What the comic documents about Clark Gable is true, and you can read all about it between a brief account of his service on a Clark Gable fan page and an extensive article from defense-sector publisher,  Gable's wife Carole Lombard had died in January, 1942, in the crash of a DC-3 airliner returning from a war bonds tour.  Gable subsequently telegrammed FDR asking to serve, and the President replied, “STAY WHERE YOU ARE.”

Clark Gable defied Roosevelt to serve under him, enlisting into the U.S. Army Air Corps on August 12, 1942, in an event strikingly captured by the LA Times.

Joining the First Motion Picture Unit, Clark Gable went to Britain to film Combat America, a promotional documentary about air gunners. Veterans who remember Gable believe he was on many more than the five combat missions that records suggest, and both essays mention a German bounty for Gable's capture.

Quite a bit of footage for Gable's military service can be found online, including a newsreel story, embedded below, on Gable's earning his air gunner wings, and a digitally color-corrected copy of that one-hour, 1943 documentary, Combat America.

Clark Gable returned home safely and passed away in peacetime, in 1960.  Not every celebrity soldier was that lucky, and on Facebook I saw that this day marks the 71st anniversary of Glenn Miller's disappearance over the English Channel -- a reminder of the truth of what John Steinbeck wrote, quoted in the America in WWII story we mentioned Saturday:  "From the ranks of show business have sprung heroes and even martyrs."

71 years ago today, Glenn Miller disappeared over the English Channel. Let's take a moment to remember a legend.
Posted by Glenn Miller on Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Bandleader and then founder of the Army Air Force Band, Major Glenn Miller's death should be remembered, but his life should now and always be celebrated:  his music will outlive all of the Greatest Generation and will surely outlive us as well, and we close tonight with perhaps the greatest song produced by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, the joyful "In the Mood."

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Sinatra at 100 Years and 1 Day.

The Fade Out #4 briefly mentions Frank Sinatra -- Ol' Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice -- and yesterday happens to be the centenary of Sinatra's birth, December 12th, 1915.  In the fictional world of the comic, actress Ava Gardner had just broken up with Victory Pictures' young heartthrob (and closeted homosexual) Tyler Graves, to start "running around with Sinatra."

In real life, Gardner was already twice divorced by 1948, from actor Mickey Rooney and bandleader Artie Shaw, the latter of whom had previously divorced Lana Turner.  (It's not too different than high school, is it?)  She was later married to Frank Sinatra from 1951 to 1957, who ended his first marriage for her, but -- while his earlier adulterous behavior had become common knowledge -- I'm not actually sure if he was having an affair with Gardner as early as 1948, the year of his third child's birth.

I trust Ed Brubaker's research, and, even as early as 1948, their affair might have been a poorly hidden secret in Hollywood circles.

Still, Sinatra wasn't known primarily for his affairs.  All year, the prolific Mark Steyn has been posting fascinating essays about 100 songs that Sinatra made his own, and he celebrates the centenary with a wide-ranging look at Sinatra with reprinted essays and audio specials.

Having parted with Tommy Dorsey's band in 1942, Sinatra's first two solo albums, released through Columbia Records, reached #1 and #2 in the US, and by the end of 1948, he had already released more than 50(!) top-forty singles just as a solo artist.

To set the mood for The Fade Out, one could do worse than listen to "All of Me," and the audio below was evidently recorded in 1947.  Less familiar than the Nelson Riddle arrangement for 1954's album Swing Easy!, the arrangement by George Siravo  evidently reached #21 in 1948, and Steyn goes into some detail documenting Sinatra's takes on the jazz standard, including this recording.

"The band's great, particularly Clyde Hurley's trumpet. And the second chorus is a kind of duet between Sinatra and Babe Russin, whose tenor sax seems to be egging Frank on to really let rip. And it dawns on you that it's the perfect Sinatra song: he was cocksure and swaggering, but also the first male singer to project, seriously, vulnerability and loneliness and heartache. Hence, 'All Of Me': a song for the swaggeringly vulnerable, for cocksuredness as a defense against heartache."
Swaggering vulnerability:  it's an attitude you're sure to find in the backlots and nightclubs of The Fade Out.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: The Invisible Man.

In issue #2 of The Fade Out, we're introduced to a disguise of bandages that are part of Shadow of the Valley, the film that the main characters are producing.  The character under the bandages is primarily played by the heartthrob Earl Rath, but we quickly learn that an actor named Morty plays the role for most of the scenes in bandages -- and we learn that Charlie daydreams about disappearing under the disguise, being "made-up like the Invisible Man."

As a them in the noir comic, invisibility may be worth discussing some other time, but before that, we're taking another look at The Invisible Man.  Produced in 1933 and starring Claude Rains, the adaptation of H.G. Welles' novel was famous for its groundbreaking visual effects.  Along with Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy, the film established Universal Pictures as the granddaddy of horror films and monster movies.

Turner Classic Movies has a few clips of the movie, and the clip below -- in case the embedding doesn't work, it's titled "He's homicidal!" -- shows the first reveal of the man under the bandages, present but not at all visible.

The effects remain remarkable.  It's no wonder that the movie would still be memorable at the time of The Fade Out, 15 years later.

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30 Days of The Fade Out: On The Road.

At the end of the debut issue of The Fade Out, we learn why Gil Mason was pestering Bob Hope at The Brown Derby:  he was pitching a "road movie" to him.

Knowing that Gil had been blacklisted but was secretly Charlie Parish's ghostwriter, I wonder why he bothered.  Was this just part of a ruse, accounting for why he stuck around Hollywood when he supposedly couldn't get work?  Or did he convince himself that that was the reason, while he was genuinely seeking some sort of significance, with the same drive that would lead to his crusade against the studio apparatus that covered up the murder of Val Sommers?

Either way, it's worthwhile to take a closer look at what Gil was actually proposing.

He mentioned a story of Bob Hope barely escaping the Germans in Africa, an event that USA Today described as "stranger-than-fiction" in an August, 2014, feature on The Fade Out.  While I haven't been able to find more information about that particular story, I've found that Hope did survive an intense bombing raid, both he and his troupe, dubbed the Hope Gypsies.
The Gypsies did their first USO combat zone shows that summer in North Africa, Italy, and Sicily. Palermo offered them both their largest audience—19,000—and a narrow escape with their lives when 100 Nazi Junker JU-88s with a fighter escort dive-bombed the docks, destroying the area around the troupe’s hotel a few blocks away. Hope said that returning safely to the States that fall “was something of a letdown. Hollywood was tinsel and make-believe and happy endings. Where we had been was mud and reality and horror.”
(The entire article linked above, from the October 2007 issue of the magazine America in WWII, is definitely worth reading, with mentions of Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart, John Steinbeck and General George Patton.)

Inspired by the comedian's narrow escape, Gil pitched an addition to the "road movies" series starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  Between 1940 and 1947, the pair had released the first five entries in what would be a seven-film series.  Highlighting Bing and Bob's musical and comedic talents, the films were quite popular in their time, so it's not unreasonable that a seemingly out-of-work actor would try his hand at pitching a "road movie."

The movie series continues to influence pop culture, most recently with Family Guy's pastiches featuring Brian and Stewie:  if a movie musical was prominent, Seth MacFarlane will riff on it, sooner or later.  One of the episodes comes very close to Gil's proposal, being titled "Road to Germany," just as They Might Be Giants had a song called "Road Movie to Berlin" on their 1990 album Flood.

And the films remain quite entertaining to this day.  As a sample, here's the title song to 1942's Road to Morocco.

We can't help but wonder, was that camel on a treadmill?

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Year's End and the Story's End!

In the midst of our lengthy look at The Fade Out, we see a couple news items worth reporting.

First, as we approach the end of the year, we're sure to see Brubaker and Phillips' The Fade Out on more than one best-of list.  The first we have found is from The A.V. Club, published today.  Oliver Sava zeroes in on the duo's expertise in straight-up crime comics.
While Brubaker and Phillips can do outstanding things with a good gimmick (recent examples: crime noir Archie in Criminal: The Last Of The Innocents, crime noir Lovercraft [sic] in Fatale), they prove to be especially brilliant when they tackle the genre head-on without a high concept.
Sava also notices that the focused setting and limited scope make the title "a particularly immersive series" with a tightly plotted story.  We agree, and the brilliance of this limited series should be a consolation to those of us who will miss the book -- that, and the promise of another project on its way.

The end continues to draw near for The Fade Out, as earlier this morning, Sean Phillips sent out a simple tweet announcing that he's completed his work on the project.

He subsequently relayed to us here that we might want to extend our 30-day review, as the release date for issue #12 has been pushed back to January 6th, and I now see that ComicList confirms the date in the extended forecast it published at the beginning of the week.

(UPDATE, 12/11:  On Twitter, Sean explains that the issue has been delayed because it contains 34 pages of story -- we think the book deserves an extra-long finale -- and Ed Brubaker explains that work still remains, including the illustration for the bonus essay and Bettie Breitweiser's coloring.)

Personally, I would have liked to end the year with The Fade Out's finale, putting a cap on an incredible year for Brubaker and Phillips that began with the spectacular Criminal Special Edition and the new editions of that series' trade paperbacks.    But I'm sure it'll be worth the wait.

And will we write even more than we've planned until then, going 37 days or more?  Even with the holidays, we'll do our best.

In the meantime, we greatly appreciate Ed Brubaker's kind words for our post yesterday.
A work as complex and satisfying as The Fade Out begs for a closer look, and we're happy to serve.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Vice, Trysts: Epic Torture.

The title above is an anagram of Victory Street Pictures, the focal point of the sordid world of The Fade Out.

We're reminded that the word "hypocrisy" has its origins in the Greek word hypokrisis -- play-acting, where the dramas in Ancient Greece would often have their actors wear masks, severing the outward appearance from the inward reality.  Actors lie for a living, which is a big reason the profession has often been considered disreputable.

To the intrinsic allure of acting, the newly developed mass media added the promise of large box office receipts, unprecedented fame, and the power that came with both:  it's no wonder a person would live a compromised existence to make it big.

Secrets and lies are a big part of The Fade Out, as the comic's opening scene suggests it's something almost in the atmosphere of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Rereading the first eleven issues last night, we noticed how -- even before the murder that instigates the story -- almost every named character around Victory Street Pictures is living one kind of lie or another.  The story reveals almost all of these characters twice, first as the image and then as the reality.
Co-founder Victor Thursby (formerly Noah Feldberg) joined a hedonistic cult in 1928, and decades later he has a system to take advantage of the studio's actresses; after someone intimates that he knows about the cover-up of Valeria Sommers' murder, it's clear that he has stacks of documents that he needs destroyed, which were evidently "Old Man Kamp's sick stash" of photographs. (Issue #3, 9, 10)
(UPDATE, 12/11:  We had forgotten to add a detail from issue #2, that Thursby came to Hollywood under what was presumably his given name; he likely changed his name because of the prevalence of anti-Semitism.) 
Thursby's partner Al Kamp is evidently as much a predator as Thursby, but -- to paraphrase a character from the Criminal arc "Lawless" -- his tastes seem to run weirder and darker:  he introduced Thursby to that cult around the same time that he abused the child actors who worked for him, and years later Val and Charlie stumble upon him in the woods, in a compromising position with a woman, a camera, and some rope. (3, 5, 9)
Supposed producer Drake Miller uses his knowledge of the abuse at Victory Street both to insinuate himself into the studio and to threaten its personnel, all to advance the agenda of his real employers in the government. (10)
Screenwriter Charlie Parish is using one secret to hide another, taking dictation from his blacklisted friend to hide his crippling postwar writer's block. (2)
Fellow writer Gil Mason did evidently have Communist sympathies, but -- probably in the face of an unavoidable blacklisting -- he concocted the scheme that Charlie would rat him out to the Feds, to throw off any suspicion that they were working together for mutual benefit. (2)
Lead actor and heartthrob Earl Rath has his own secret hobby involving photography and the women he encounters at his infamously debauched parties. (4)
Up-and-coming heartthrob Tyler Graves lives a lifestyle that would scandalize the public of the 1940s and turn off his female admirers. (5)
Starlet Valeria Sommers (formerly Jenny Summers) is hiding a dark secret about her life as a child actor; Charlie theorizes that she is being blackmailed as the victim of abuse rather than its perpetrator. (10, 11)
Up-and-coming starlet Maya Silver seems to be hiding her family background, or at least the fact that she had married a Mexican; either way, it's a past that Charlie was surprised to learn. (8)
Maya's agent Tom Greavey had apparently lied to her before, in his previous assurances that she was about to hit her big break. (3)
Publicity girl Dottie (Dorothy) Quinn was being blackmailed by Drake Miller:  the implication is subtle but unmistakable, that Dottie was having an adulterous affair, but not with a married man. (10)
And even Phil Brodsky, the head of studio security, wasn't above lying to induce an actress to exchange sexual favors for influence that he didn't really have. (3)
The only person around Victory Street who isn't revealed to be a hypocrite is the director Franz Schmitt:  described as a German expatriate, perhaps he has had to adjust his political loyalties through a world war and its aftermath, but that's only conjecture.

Have we seen the breadth of the lies at Victory Street?  Certainly not, as it hasn't yet been revealed who murdered Val Sommers and why -- and who was the "kind man" who protected her and helped her move on from her life as Jenny? (we have our theory) -- but there's one other secret that might be revealed:  we know that Charlie came back from World War II a broken man, but we wonder if there's more to the story.

We're reminded of the last couple lines from the three-page trailer for The Fade Out.

In explaining Gil and Charlie's ghostwriting arrangement in issue #2, the narrator tells us that Gil "knew Charlie's ugly secret... at least part of it."

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30 Days of The Fade Out: Action in Every Issue.

Having just reread the first eleven issues of The Fade Out in one go, I'm amazed by the details that I've missed, particularly the subtle images that are paid off months later for those of us who have read the individual issues.  That hazy memory of debauchery in the first issue isn't just setting the scene:  the image is reused in issue #8, when the moment suddenly becomes important.  And that beach house in issue #7, which we barely see, we'll see again in a flashback.

What's also impressive is that Brubaker and Phillips avoid the pitfall of making issues with nothing but dialogue, exposition, and only verbal threats of violence -- what I'm guessing is a particularly tough challenge for naturalistic comics, as opposed to the super-powered mayhem of Sleeper and Incognito and the supernatural horror of Fatale.

In the second Criminal arc, "Lawless," Brubaker challenged himself to include a heist in every issue, and the story is told so effortlessly that you don't notice the gimmick:  every "job" is a natural consequence of the narrative.

Here, in The Fade Out, there's at least one violent or otherwise criminal act in every issue, and it's worthwhile to enumerate them without going into too much detail.
  1. A woman is found murdered, and her murder is covered up as a suicide.
  2. Two men have a fistfight in a cemetery -- and not the last fight between them.
  3. In addition to a lot of hedonism and sexual deviancy, a man is beaten and "taken for a ride," with his fate unknown except that he won't be killed.
  4. A man is evidently murdered, and his house is destroyed by arson.
  5. A man is beaten to a bloody pulp, and enraged, his gay lover recklessly drives his car off the road, at high speed.
  6. A quieter issue, a man begins to threaten other, very powerful men with blackmail.
  7. Two men have a fistfight in a bar, with one suffering blackouts afterwards.
  8. Two people search an opium den for the man beaten up in issue #3, now strung out because his life has been ruined.
  9. After one of them retrieves his service pistol from the war, the two men from the fight in issue #2 have their second fistfight in an office; long ago, the two had been tied up in the back room of a mob-owned bar, and in the present day, one of them conducts the very dangerous work of a private eye.
  10. After getting repeatedly punched for the fourth time in this series, a central character breaks into and enters an unlocked office, looking for answers.
  11. Another man has been found murdered, and a shootout ensues, injuring one man -- evidently fatally.
In the sordid world of this noir story, the threat of violence isn't just real, it's frequently erupting, and it makes for compelling reading.

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Monday, December 07, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Fake Movies with Occasionally Real Actors.

Say you're publishing a monthly comic:  what do you with the back cover?

You can use the space to create a wraparound cover, as we saw with Criminal and Incognito, you can preview the next issue's cover art, as we see with the comic Chew; you can have the comic's logo on a plain page, as with the comic Black Science; you can run an ad, as we see on the back of Ed Brubaker's Velvet.

You can have blurbs praising your work, as with the Criminal Special Edition, or you can set the mood by featuring a single striking image of interior artwork, as with Fatale.  Or, you can create new artwork to flesh out the fictionalized world of your story, and that's precisely what Sean Phillips did with The Fade Out.

What we see are black-and-white promotional stills for movies from the 40's and earlier, featuring the comic's main characters as the cast and produced by the comic's fictional studios.  Production years are also added as the series progresses.

Sean Phillips featured a couple of the images in his blog, The Neon Nightmare and Way Out West.  While I haven't been able to find real-world photos that match the exact style of these cards, they do look authentic to the era, and they cover a wide range of movies produced in Hollywood's Golden Age, from adventure movies and westerns, to comedies including kids' shorts that resemble Our Gang, to horror and noir.

Bonus material from a comic's fictional universe is nothing new, going at least as far back as the excerpts and editorials in the back pages of each issue of Watchmen.  The most dramatic example may be Brubaker and Phillips' own magazine-sized variant to the Criminal Special Edition, where the entire package -- and quite a few pages in the story itself -- was a pastiche of the sword-and-sorcery comics of the 1970s.

The most subtle example might also be found in the works of Brubaker and Phillips.  In the bonus essays for the pulp-noir mashup Incognito, Jess Nevins provided an overview of some classic pulp characters.  The essay in the last issue for the first story arc focused on the "zeppelin pulps" -- the essay's expanded version that we mentioned in 2009 is still available online -- and Brubaker eventually admitted that the essay wasn't entirely historical.  Rather than flesh out the characters of Incognito in their own universe, the essay pretended to expand on their presence in our universe, giving readers the impression that the comic's characters were created during pulp's heyday and were simply being repurposed by Ed and Sean.

In one instance, The Fade Out's back-cover movie card included a real actor and a real studio, deepening the reader's impression that the story takes place in our world with its sordid film history.

Here we think it's worthwhile to list the cards' descriptions, with the two real-world references in bold.
  6. FLAPJACK and TEENSIE in "THE KRAZY KIDS GO FOR A RIDE!" © 1926 Kamp Productions
  8. Earl Rath in "THE DEADLY SANDS" © 1943 Victory Street Pictures
  9. COMING SOON from VICTORY STREET PICTURES - Earl Rath in "Shadow of the Valley"
  10. BARBARA MOONEY in THE BIG PARADE © 1948 Victory Street Pictures
  11. FLAPJACK in "THE KRAZY KIDS CHRISTMAS CAROL" © 1928 Kamp Productions
As issue #7 details, Charlie Parish wrote the screenplay for At The End, which might have won an Oscar if it didn't go up against Citizen Kane.  The latter was snubbed for the Best Picture award in 1942, in the ceremony honoring movies released the previous year: infamously losing to How Green Was My Valley, Kane did win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

UPDATE, 12/9:  The obvious was pointed out to me, that the movie card for issue #11 includes a young Valeria Sommers (aka Jenny Summers) in the background:  the blonde girl didn't completely resemble the starlet from the 1940's, but she's clearly the same girl as the one in the phot of Jenny Summers in issue #10.

I'm overdue for another careful reading of the entire series, but I believe that the movie card for issue #9 is the first -- and perhaps the only -- mention of the title of the movie being made at the time of Valeria's murder, the ominous and appropriately titled Shadow of the Valley.

UPDATE, 12/9:  It is: at least through the first eleven issues, the title of the movie everyone is working on isn't mentioned, except on this one back cover.

UPDATE, 2/17:  Corrected the spelling for Valeria Sommers, for the card on issue #4.

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Sunday, December 06, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Setting the Scene in Twelve Striking Covers.

We remain impressed with Sean Phillips' cover art where, with each new story, he presents variations on a theme and a change in his approach to art design.  As we did with the monthly and collected covers for Fatale and the new editions of Criminal, we've collected the artwork for the standard issues into a single collage.

Readers can download a much larger, 6.61-MB version of this image on Google Drive.

Continuing our previous discussion of possible suspects, we see that each of the eight most prominent characters appear on at least one cover.  That accounts for eight of the standard covers, but what about the other four?

Charlie and Maya appeared separately toward the beginning of the series, and they appear together on the cover for issue #7, locked in an embrace.  Flapjack Jones appears on the cover for issue #6, playing the trumpet; he's one of two big-band musicians featured in the book, though his musical ability isn't included in his character description.

Issue #2 features the bandaged man from the film that Victory Pictures is producing -- "Shadow of the Valley" -- and Earl Rath plays the character, but in most of the scenes where the character is "made-up like the Invisible Man," the part is played by an actor named Morty.  In that issue, we learn that Charlie daydreams about disappearing under the disguise, and he lives out that fantasy -- poorly -- in issue #8.

And, of course, The Fade Out #1 is adorned with an image of a vintage manual typewriter.  We strongly doubt that an inanimate object is the mastermind behind the story's central mystery.

Beyond what we can infer about the story's whodunit from who made the cover, we are struck by how much is conveyed with so little visual information.

Here, we see the story's major characters with a handful of props and the story's title on that spill of blood or red ink:  there's no background, no unrealistic coloring, and no text description, and none of that is really needed.

Jazz music, the movies, and the war; guns and fedoras, cigarettes and a bottle of booze; glamour and the threat of violence; romance and a sense of yearning:  these few isolated images effortlessly establish the setting and set the mood.

And while the cover layout isn't as flashy as some other titles, and the content isn't as sensationalistic, The Fade Out stands out on the comic shop's walls.  Even those who don't already know Brubaker and Phillips can tell, here they'll find the kind of story you won't get in any other book.

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Saturday, December 05, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Dramatis Personae.

Yesterday we mentioned the evolving "Cast of Characters" page that introduced each chapter in The Fade Out and featured six to nine black-and-white portraits of major characters:  we speculate that the story's mysterious killer appears early and prominently in this list.

As we work our way from our broad overview of this limited series to a closer look at its plot and each of its central characters, we think it might be worthwhile to analyze and summarize this list of players in this drama.

We've counted how many times each character is featured on the list, and we've also noted when each character first appears on the list.  We're including these numbers in parentheses below, and we sorted the characters according to these numbers.  The more often a character is featured -- and in the case of ties, the earlier they're introduced -- the higher they appear in this summary.

And in this summary, we're briefly showing how the description for each character changes as the story has unfolded.

Cast of Characters, as of issue #11

Charlie Parish (10 appearances since issue #1): Screenwriter, part-time reprobate; stumbled into a murder and cover-up; blocked writer fronting for a blacklisted friend; in over his head, hiding dark secrets, and on a mission -- he's only absent from issue #3

Gil Mason (9 since #1): One-time writer, full-time drunk; blacklisted; Charlie's best friend, who knows Charlie's secret; is on a mission and headed for trouble; riding co-pilot on Charlie's mission

Dottie Quinn (9 since #1): Publicity girl; PR for Victory Street Pictures

Valeria Sommers (7 since #1): Up-and-coming starlet; dead actress Maya Silver is replacing; murdered

Maya Silver (7 since #3): Actress waiting for her big break, then making her big debut; Valeria's replacement in reshoots; up-and-coming movie starlet in an secret affair with Charlie

Earl Rath (6 since #1): Movie star, womanizer; dashing leading man; always a charmer; without a worry in the world; Hollywood heartthrob and he knows it

Phil Brodsky (6 since #1): Studio's head of security

Mr. Victor Thursby (5 since #2): Co-founder of Victory Street Pictures

Franz Schmitt (4 since #2): German expatriate director

Melba Mason (3 since #2): Gil's amazing wife, not built for the long-suffering routine; has no idea what Gil and Charlie are up to

Tyler Graves (3 since #4): Hollywood heartthrob in need of more publicity, secretly gay

Jack "Flapjack" Jones (2 since #2): One-time child star from the "Krazy Kids" series

Armando Lopez (2 since #3): Big band trumpet player

Al Kamp (2 since #5): Co-founder of Victory Street Pictures

Drake Miller (2 since #10): A big question mark; FBI front man

Tom Greavey (1 since #3): Middle-aged Talent Agent

Stevie Turner (1 since #4): Photographer to the stars

Lincoln Kessler (1 since #7): Drunken writer with an attitude

Rebecca Franklin (1 since #9): Charlie's ex-wife

From what we've learned, we wouldn't be surprised if Drake Miller is involved in the murder, the cover-up, or both -- but going by the numbers listed here and how late he was introduced, readers would have a reason to feel somewhat cheated if he was the main culprit.  If it's important that the killer is prominent from the beginning, then Dottie the PR girl(!) is actually a much more likely suspect.

And, again, we don't imagine that the killer was entirely omitted from this introductory page, so this should rule out all the celebrity cameos.

Beyond that, we're reminded of Ed Brubaker's promise that the story would be a sprawling drama with a very large cast.  The series took its time with minor characters like Tyler Graves and Armando Lopez, and it let us see the corruption in the movie industry and the resulting tragedies in their lives, even as their own stories appear to be incidental to the murder of Valeria Sommers.

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Friday, December 04, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Whodunit? Separating Suspects.

As we get closer to the conclusion of The Fade Out, we might reveal more about where we think the story's central mystery may or may not be heading, but first, some preliminary thoughts:

In his foreward to the massive 2011 anthology titled The Best American Noir of the Century -- which I recommend -- co-editor Otto Penzler distinguishes between noir and the private detective story, in which the protagonist usually fits Raymond Chandler's evocation of "a knight, a man who could walk mean streets but not himself be mean."

Film blurred the distinctions between the two types of stories by employing a similar visual style for both, but the two genres display "opposing life-views of a moral, even heroic, often romantic detective, and the lost characters in noir who are caught in the inescapable prisons of their own construction, forever trapped by their isolation from their own souls, as well as from society and the moral restrictions that permit it to be regarded as civilized."

Another source of confusion is the fact that noir often centers on a mystery -- a whodunit, often the sort of murder mystery that would drive a detective story.  That's sometimes the case with the noir comics created by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips:  once again we are reminded of Batman: Gotham Noir, but there's also the two Criminal stories that focus on Tracy Lawless.

(On the other hand, "Coward" and "Bad Night" have mysteries surrounding the plot in which the central characters find themselves, but they're not traditional murder mysteries, and "The Last of the Innocent" has an entirely different structure:  by the end of the "teaser" comic and the end of the first issue, we know that Riley Richards plans to murder his wife.  What remains is finding out how he plans to do it, whether he gets away with it, and what happens to his soul in the process, and beyond the callbacks to Archie comics and other works, this unusual take on the crime story is another reason the story stands out.)

Whether the reader is invited to try to solve the crime alongside the protagonist -- or even attempt to beat him to the punch -- there are certainly rules and expectations for a satisfying mystery story.  To begin with, the solution must make sense in hindsight, not violating what is established in the story, and the culprit should be introduced early, not on the page before the story's resolution.

Who murdered Valeria Sommers?  And who covered it up?

In a complex story, the answers to these two questions might not be identical, and those responsible for later murders and other crimes might not be the murderers either:  they might have eliminated the killer for payback of their own, to cover their own tracks from some related crime, or for some other nefarious reasons.

In addition to the events and incidents that would be presented in a novel or film, we have additional information that allows us to categorize the characters in The Fade Out:  we have the covers to each issue in the limited series, and we have the evolving "Cast of Characters" page toward the front of each issue.

I'd separate the characters into the following groups.

  • Main characters:  each of these appeared in most of the "Cast of Characters" lists and probably appeared on at least one cover.
  • Supporting characters:  each of these appeared at least once in the "Cast of Characters," but not much more than that and certainly not on the cover.
  • Minor characters:  none of these appeared in the "Cast" lists or on the cover, and they probably appeared only in an issue or two of the comic itself.
We also have cameos by real-life celebrities, actors and the occasional writer:  going by the categorization above, they're all minor characters in this story.

Personally, I think that the mystery story is more satisfying when the killer is more prominent is in its telling,   So I hope -- and may come to suspect -- that the killer is one of the "main characters" as defined above, and I further hope that he's introduced relatively early, certainly by the end of the four-issue "Act One."

If the killer is a minor character, wholly absent from the covers and the "Cast of Characters" list and, worse, introduced in the back half of the story, I'll be a little annoyed with the mystery's solution even if the main character's story is resolved with an appropriately dark ending.

And if the killer is one of these real-life cameos, I'll be even more annoyed, as I think it's better that their presence adds flavor to the story, rather than the story smears their reputations even in an entirely fictional narrative.  In the alternate timeline of Watchmen, it was implied that its universe's Nixon was responsible for the assassination of its Kennedy:  never mind the flaws and even the corruption of its entirely fictional characters, that move pulled me out of the story and struck me as unseemly.

We'll review both the covers and the "Cast" lists in the days ahead, but until then...

Consider the series' twelve covers, and read those first four issues that constitute "Act One."  Look closely at those first four lists of the "Cast of Characters."

I strongly suspect that there's a killer there -- at least one.

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Noir in Tinsel Town -- and in Gotham.

Prior to their move to Image Comics and the release of Fatale and The Fade Out, we constructed our best take on a comprehensive list of the collaborations between Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  We focused on those "major collaborations" that just featured the pair, but we also included Phillips' work inking Michael Lark's pencils for Brubaker's Scene of the Crime and his cover artwork for Gotham Central, which Brubaker co-created and co-wrote.

That list was partially prompted by a 2011 reprint of the pair's earliest major work, the prestige-format comic originally published in 2001, Batman: Gotham Noir.

I have been struck by the common elements between this Elseworlds story for DC Comics and The Fade Out, their latest creator-owned work published through Image.

  • Both are set in the late 1940s, beginning in October, 1949, in Gotham and in the fall of 1948 in Hollywood.
  • Both stories star an alcoholic and a character suffering from the trauma experienced during World War II -- combined as a single detective Jim Gordon in Gotham Noir, paired as the screenwriters Charlie and Gil in The Fade Out.
  • Both feature a doomed love interest, damaged by the wealthy and extravagant elites who run the town.
  • Though The Fade Out hasn't ended yet, neither story presumably has a happy ending:  the hero can't find justice and simultaneously save himself.
  • And both stories play on our prior knowledge of the world in which their set, with new takes on the Batman and his supporting cast, and with cameo appearances by real-life Hollywood stars and writers.
By no means does that suggest that either work is disposable.  They're both excellent, as each have their own stories to tell, and the pleasure is in the telling of that tale and not just the invocation of noir archetypes.

The differences are just as intriguing as the similarities:  one is an arguably too-short story told in a single extra-long issue, the other is a sprawling drama, and careful readers can see the creators' maturing over the last 15 years while retaining their distinctive styles.

On top of all the other reasons to check out the book, I believe Batman: Gotham Noir is the first cover art by Phillips to resemble an old-school publication, complete with simulated wear and tear.  We would see the same approach for variant covers for the first issue of Incognito: Bad Influences, the first issue of The Fade Out, and the Criminal Special Edition one-shot.

If only because the original release has that weathered look, I prefer it to the 2011 reprint and its cleaned-up cover: on the other hand, the reprint includes a second Batman tale written by Brubaker, with art by Scott McDaniel.  If DC were smart, they would collect a good bit of their hard-to-find material by Brubaker, by Phillips, and by the duo -- and Gotham Noir could provide the perfect cover.

Since it shares a lot of common ground with The Fade Out, which concludes at year's end, there might be no better time for fans to track down a copy of Batman: Gotham Noir.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Telling Stories in Storytelling.

The latest extended forecast from ComicList predicts that we'll see the twelfth and final issue of The Fade Out on Wednesday, December 30th.  We're starting our "30 Days" review of the series today, so if that forecast holds true, we'll conclude by reviewing the entire series on New Year's Eve.

In the meantime, each day we'll do our very best to write on The Fade Out, covering all sorts of aspects of this mini-series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, a straight-up noir story set during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The first thing that strikes me about the series is an aspect that is evoked by the somewhat iconic cover to its first issue and its manual typewriter.

Some searching through Google makes me believe that the typewriter shown is a Royal Standard typewriter, similar to the one found on an Etsy page for a sale for a model which evidently dates to the 1930's.  Notice especially the distinctive shape of the "window" at the top of the typewriter, where one can see where the keys would strike the page.

(I wonder if one of the other images for this particular page served as a reference for Sean Phillips.)

UPDATE, 12/3:  On Twitter, Sean confirms that the typewriter is a Royal, which he bought at a local antique market.

There's something romantic about the manual typewriter, which bridges the gap from laborious typesetting (and handwritten manuscripts) to the electronic typewriter and its progeny, the word processor.  The rhythmic clicking of the key striking the page and the occasional carriage return, the entirely portable device that requires only paper and an ink ribbon:  it calls to mind Ernest Hemingway, and it makes sense that it would be the only prized possession of the idealistic bohemian writer in the movie Moulin Rouge.

The object is well chosen to introduce readers to the series:  the central character is a screenwriter, and the setting is Hollywood where an entire new industry had so recently emerged, where each blockbuster spectacle on film has its origins in the ideas that a writer typed out in his office or in his bedroom.

But, at the broadest level, the image evokes writing and storytelling, and it's a theme that recurs quite often in stories themselves.  There's Shakespeare's "play within a play" in the comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the tragedy of Hamlet.  In the movies, you have Hollywood in (the much happier tale) Singing in the Rain and the bedtime-story framing device of The Princess Bride, and C-3PO recounted the Rebels' adventures to the Ewoks long after he had told Luke Skywalker that he wasn't very good at telling stories.

And we don't have to look far to find the theme in other Brubaker-Phillips comics.
  • In their first serialized collaboration, Sleeper for DC's Wildstorm imprint, super-powered villains would pass the time by telling each other their "origin stories" as if they were characters in a comic book.
  • From Criminal, Jacob in "Bad Night" was the creator of the Frank Kafka, P.I. comic strip, and in "The Last of the Innocent," Riley Richards' nostalgia was partially triggered by his rereading the old EC-style comics that he had so enjoyed in his "innocent" youth.
  • And in Fatale, an ancient book -- the evil bishop's bible -- becomes the major MacGuffin, and a few of the men who encounter Josephine end up creating haunting pieces of art, from Alfred Ravenscroft's pulp story "To the Unseen Eyes," to "The Losing Side of Eternity" by the reporter Hank Raines, to the stunning songs created by the grunge band Amsterdam.
UPDATE, 12/3:  A friendly commenter Spence also reminds us of this year's Criminal Special Edition, with Zangar the barbarian and his comic within the comic -- a glaring omission, as it's been my favorite single issue of the year.  Thanks, Spence!

The aphorism is that writers should write what they know, and obviously that always includes the act of writing itself, but there are other good reasons for the subject to appear in the noir comics of Brubaker and Phillips.

Beyond being used for exposition, writing expresses the psychological need for human connection, magnifying the sense of longing and loss for those who read it -- as with Riley in "The Last of the Innocent" -- or allowing the central character to grapple with his anxiety and alienation through self-expression, as the insomniac Jacob did with both the wish-fulfillment evident in his take-charge character of Frank Kafka and the pessimism and even dread of the endless maze that Kafka is forced to navigate half-blind.

It's crucial to note that, in The Fade Out, the main character Charlie has had writer's block since his return from the Second World War.  He's a writer who doesn't write -- and a man whose memory is damaged by blackouts and who wants to hide behind a disguise that resembles 1933's The Invisible Man.

Charlie is a broken man who almost doesn't exist and who wishes he didn't, a man who longs to express himself and finds himself almost entirely unable to do so, either in his craft or in his personal relationships.

We discovered in issue #11 that Charlie made a rare connection with Val, but she was soon lost to him, the victim of both a murder and a subsequent cover-up.   It's no wonder that that loss drives him for the entire story.

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