It is a great tag line isn’t it? The more things change the more they stay the same. The only problem is people start to believe that they matter, that they are more than a simple cog in the machine. That machine is Hollywood and that overreaching cog is Charlie Parish.
There is not a more perfect creative combination than Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Bettie Breitweiser. Of course there are other examples of amazing teams but for this kind of story, nobody does it better. It is very clear from the letters pages that Brubaker is a fan of television and studied the movies of days gone by. The lifestyle is ingrained in him, which is why there are so many excerpts of stories of Hollywood culture. This particular issue discusses the relationship of Cary Grant and LSD in a genuinely surprising story. It is a fascination of the time period and the lives people in the film industry led, but the real story is far from the shining lights of the big white sign in the hills. Brubaker likes to look under the surface and bring the mired roots out in the open, for the world to see.
The premise of the book starts with Charlie waking to find Val dead. He recruits his friend Gil for some help in trying to understand what actually happens. Brubaker sympathises with the low level players in the game and brings much of the screenplay writer’s plight to the forefront. This extends to the tragedy of the interchangeable gorgeous face of the next leading actress. And that is what is important to the book, the corruption and alienation of those in charge and those that fail to toe the line. Parish seems to run from one social event to another, avoiding interactions with police, gangsters and sometimes even his friends. He finds solace in those he thought meant nothing to him and still treats them badly. The writing is actually incredibly bleak and devoid of optimism, utilising the classic film noir trope. Brubaker rejoices in internal monologues and personal reflections throughout this series. There comes a point where it becomes a little tiresome, especially when we are no nearer to solving the events of that disastrous evening. But it is the atmosphere you must find enjoyment in because it is so dark but yet so dazzling bright, much like Hollywood itself.
There are so many facial shots throughout this comic because as the internal monologing moves through the panels, we see Charlie in so many states of disarray. It is almost a constant reflection of his sombre and depressive mood, in fact it is quite refreshing to see him smile every now and again. But that is the point. His angst and shame pervades and his actions seem to get him nowhere near to the truth, and in that his expression rarely changes. The scenes of suicide contemplation are well handled as the panels move in closer to the gun on his temple. Deep down you know he is too much of a coward to ever pull that trigger. The combination of rendering and colouring between Sean and Bettie is perfectly balanced in all these scenes and I especially like the way in which half of Charlie’s face is purged into shadow, though sometimes more to reflect his mood then the actual lighting. There is a delightful touch of the crack in his glasses shining in an otherwise darkened lens.
This comic reflects the iconic moments of the cinematic universe with panels that convey complete autobiographical stories. As Charlie reflects we see glimpses of his past represented just like the classical movies of the day. There is wonderful moment where he wipes the lipstick off the mirror, left by his best friends wife who wishes for him to enter a relationship with her. As he peers at his red stained fingertips he is reminded more of Gil’s blood on his hands than the affectionate lips of a widow. It is these kinds of moments that allow you to appreciate the unified minds of Ed, Sean and Bettie. Seeing Val Sommers ghost at the movie premier next to her replacement is another symbol of the cyclical nature of the world in which they live. Breitweiser even manages to sensationalise the ghost of the red carpet. The bright lights and glamorous locations serve to contrast Charlie, who clearly does not belong there and almost has no wish to even be there.
The Fade Out is about a semblance of hope that there is worth in the film industry and that Val Sommers died for a reason. Who killed her has been the central premise of this story since day one, but as you read the exploits of Charlie and Gil you will notice that it was never the important part of the tale. You garner a desire to see justice served for the beautiful promising starlet, taken too early from this world. As the issues move on there comes a feeling that the insidious immoral underworld of this lavish film star lifestyle was never going on trial. It became more about survival and getting through the violence, the drugs and the alcohol, day by day. The hope slowly disappears and so too does the sympathy because all we are left with is the cold, slow whirring of a machine too old to ever be fixed. A man in a tux, bowtie hanging on for dear life, drinking from a bottle with the bright lights of Hollywood behind.