Wednesday, March 30, 2016

30 Days of The Fade Out: Tomorrow, When the World is Free.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' sweeping tale of murder and deception in postwar Hollywood concluded with The Fade Out #12, released on January 6th after a three-page review.  The issue was received to wide acclaim and the best reviews for the series, with ten critics awarding an average score of 9.6 on a 10-point scale.  The issue ends by calling back to the story's very first scene, and in the meantime the most prominent loose ends are tied up.

The Movie.  Readers had left behind the film's production with its wrap party in issue #10, and in the following issue, Victory Street co-founder Al Kamp was found dead in his compound. "Six Weeks Later," and the film is being released just in time for the Christmas holidays.  Costars Earl Rath and Maya Silver attended the premiere, the latter being escorted by her studio colleague and new fiance, Tyler Graves.  Going by the clipping of the review on the issue's back cover, their performances were more warmly received than the writing for Shadow of the Valley.

The Murder.  That mixed review was understandable, as the film's ostensible writer and its real writer were more than distracted by the murder of Val Staples and the subsequent cover-up.  Following the disastrous trip to Kamp's compound, Charlie called Maya and hid at her mother's house, leaving Gil's body in the car parked outside.  Seeking some kind of catharsis -- revenge instead of justice -- Charlie decides to kill Drake Miller, only to find that he's been recalled by the Feds.  Broken and close to suicide, Charlie returns to the house in the slums, only to find that Maya has called Brodsky.  He helps "clean up" Charlie's mess, and after the premiere, he relents and tells Charlie what "maybe" happened on the night of Val's death:  Drake Miller pressed her for any kind of dirt on anyone she knew, and he murdered her in the rage triggered by her refusal to cooperate.  We end the story with Charlie's crushing realization that Val died trying to protect his secret partnership with his blacklisted ghostwriter:  her integrity and his dishonesty both contributed to her death.

Brubaker and Phillips keeps giving us tragic endings that are suitable for their noir tales but surprising in their resolution:  Charlie Parish lives, finding a way to resume writing and ending up with a woman he loves -- as much as he can love anyone else -- but his ending is anything but happy.

Val Sommers, Stevie Turner, Al Kamp, and Gil Mason are dead, and their deaths have proven to be meaningless:  the show must go on, and the corrupt industry -- a cesspool of abuse, intimidation, deception, and outright murder -- has paid no price for the lives it destroyed.  Trying to hide his own deceit, the story's protagonist has become an accessory to the murder and cover-up, seemingly unable (and unwilling) to escape the evil for which he has now become a deliberate participant.

Questions still remain.

What happened to Charlie during the war?  In the previous issue, we learned that what happened in Germany was one of his "pathetic secrets," and here Brodsky says that he read Charlie's file and concluded that the writer is a "realist" who recognizes that justice is a fairy tale.  It sounds like Charlie wasn't just generally traumatized by what he saw, he was compromised by what he did, perhaps an act of cowardice or some kind of self-serving betrayal.

Why was Val's underwear on the floor when she died?  Here, too, we can piece together what we know and hazard a guess.  Perhaps Drake Miller tried to force himself on her, or perhaps she tried to offer herself instead of betraying any of her friends, but -- assuming Brodsky's hypothetical recounting was accurate if not complete -- whatever happened wasn't enough to quell Miller's rage and save her life.

Beyond answers to these open questions, what isn't shown is as intriguing as what we do see.

After Charlie's confrontation during the wrap party, we never see Earl Rath again.  He's mentioned as being present at the premiere, asking for Charlie, but Charlie doesn't see him, and neither do we.  And the back-cover review mentions his revelatory performance, but the picture is of Maya, not Earl.  Maybe he was trying to mend fences after Charlie's mistaken insinuation that he was involved with Val's murder -- he seemed genuinely hurt -- but perhaps Charlie is never again in the orbit of the star and playboy.

And we don't ever see Charlie fully realize his flaws.  Maya wonders if he ever really sees her, after she made herself vulnerable revealing her family background, and we learn that "part of him" does, but Charlie still thinks his problem is that "he'd lost the ability to imagine what happened next."

That is part of it, but only part of it and -- I believe -- not even the biggest part of the problem.  It's not just that he couldn't foresee consequences, it's that he couldn't relate to others.  In avoiding painful memories, he lost both the ability to predict and the ability to empathize; losing one made him foolish, losing the other made him self-centered.

Looking beyond Charlie's arc, we do find that this closing chapter doesn't just give us holes to ponder:  the story isn't just his story, it's the story of Valeria Sommers, and we're shown much more than a (possible?) flashback of her murder.

We see Charlie imagine Val on the red carpet for her film's premiere. We see Victor Thursby watching a personal cut of Shadow of the Valley, with its original actress.

We see the effect her death had on the people who knew her -- and we see glimpses of what might have been.

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