Monday, April 04, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Alienation and Memory.

I intended this increasingly misnamed series -- "30 Days of The Fade Out" -- to follow the pattern I set with Fatale in July, 2014, having a month-long look back at the latest series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, concluding with the release of the series' grand finale.  Instead, a shockingly busy personal life caused this series to run just more than four months.

On the one hand, I have written more than thirty posts in this series -- by my count, this is #33 -- but, on the other hand, there are quite a few topics that I haven't really covered.
  • The wonderfully complete experience in the magazine-sized variant for the debut issue.
  • The possible meaning behind each chapter's title, as most titles were evidently allusions to song lyrics from the ear.
  • The fascinating bonus essays written by Devin Faraci, Jess Nevins, Megan Abbott, and Ben Godar -- and, accompanying the essay in issue #10, the striking artwork of The Wizard of Oz by Sean Phillips' son Jacob.
  • And, the letters pages, and the conversations they facilitated between Brubaker and his readers.
About that last subject, in issue #3, Brubaker asked readers about their favorite actor or actress from the 1940's.  I didn't write in, and I don't think anyone mentioned who I would have picked:  Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs and Daffy and the rest of the classic Looney Tunes characters.


Wrapping up, I'd just like to highlight what seems to be two main themes of the story, namely alienation and memory.  Charlie Parish in particular feels alienated from his fellow man and perhaps even himself, as he runs from his own memories and even obliterates what he can in a bottle of booze.

Many of the story's characters remain opaque to the reader, sometimes frustratingly so:  Drake Miller's presence is frequently felt, but his only real dialogue is in one of Charlie's memories of the night Val died.  We learn about Earl, Melba, Tyler, and Valeria Sommers herself only through their actions and through others' descriptions.

For other characters, we're afforded a more intimate glimpse of their interior life.
  • Victor Thursby feels like he lost part of himself in the hills with that hedonistic cult, and after Val's death he wonders what his life's work was for.
  • Maya Silver finds herself excited at the thought of her ex-husband being beaten, and she hates herself for it, but she soon "sleeps like a baby."
  • Gil Mason decides to turn against the power of the studio system because of how Brodsky intimidated and humiliated him, acting as if Gil was "just a fool pretending not to be a coward."
  • And Dottie Quinn had learned in her own life about the power of secrets, how to keep them, and how the world would always rather have a good story than the honest truth.
(We even get a glimpse of Phil Brodsky, who knows he's being played by "some fucking joker" on "Hallo-fucking-ween.")

But, ultimately, The Fade Out is Charlie's story.  It begins and ends with him musing on the phantom planes during the war, and we follow the character from his discovery of Val's body to his discovery of what "maybe" happened that night.  Along the way, we see memories and movie scenes play behind him, and we see the impressionistic images of the fragments of memory from the night of Val's death. He tries to forget her death, then unearth what really happened, and finally find a way to survive the consequences of that (almost explicitly) quixotic mission.  Charlie piles one lie on top of another, and his life lurches from misery to despair as he learns the extent of his complicity in Val's death and the corrupt studio system.

Having read the series a few times and having learned the twisted and sordid context of his life -- as much as the creators tell us, explicitly and between the lines -- I find it interesting to focus on Charlie's inner life, to read through the narration text for all of Charlie's scenes.
"Charlie didn't care one way or the other about funerals.  They were just another of life's rituals that he felt removed from." 
"But after a week, Charlie began fantasizing about sneaking into the costume trailer... and becoming an invisible man himself.  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."
"Of course, it hadn't slipped Charlie's mind... he'd purposely locked away those years.  And now they were trying to break free again, like they always did..."
"But that Charlie, that young hotshot... he feels like a distant cousin now... like someone he only ever vaguely knew, at best."
"Charlie never felt more removed from humanity than he did at events like this.  The mob of screaming voices... crushing each other for an autograph..."
"Why can't he be more like her, actually appreciating the moment... instead of always being caught up in the past?"
"Not just that there's someone who truly sees you... truly understands you... to your soul... but that you event want them to.  That's the sweetest lie, the one you tell yourself."
"Charlie could only think as far as the next drink anymore... could only exist on the edge of oblivion."
We discover that Charlie's father was a junkie and that he'd seen plenty of violence from "trouble boys" in his youth, but how much could be explained by his upbringing?  We learn that he saw -- and apparently did -- terrible things during the war, and yet he always seemed to say and do the wrong thing with his ex-wife Rebecca, who left him shortly after Pearl Harbor.

How much was Charlie's life a trap of his own making?

Whatever the answer, we see his alienation with others and even himself, his running from both his past and his future, and his attraction toward vulnerable women and his simultaneous disbelief that he could be truly vulnerable with anyone else.

His is a tragic state of affairs, which too many of us probably find all too familiar, and it is this shared misery -- and the shared capacity for anguish and despair -- that connects us with Charlie Parish even as most of us will (thankfully) never find ourselves entangled in quite so terrible a crime.

Charlie's story evokes our sympathy even as it crushes our hope for him -- and perhaps it is this shared empathy, even with fictional characters as irredeemable as him, that gives us hope for ourselves.  Though I believe that the greatest hope comes from God, I also believe that, if we can turn from the comic's page to the person beside us, perhaps we can become a friend to our neighbor and find a measure of peace with ourselves.

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