About a year and a half ago, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips signed an unprecedented deal at Image Comics that sent a considerable wave through the industry. Exclusive deals are usually thought of as limiting deals where corporations seek to lock down a writer or artist as long as possible, roping them into a non-compete clause. Some writers sit very comfortably at either Marvel or DC, while others end up leaving in a storm of speculation and gossip. Brubaker and Phillips’ deal is quite the opposite of that. As Image Publisher Eric Stephenson said, the deal gave the creative team, who have been collaborating for thirteen years, “unparalleled freedom and support.” That means that they could do whatever they want.
Kinda gotta love that deal, huh?
The first title that came out as part of this new deal is The Fade Out, the duo’s new noir series after their Lovecraft-inspired take on the genre, Fatale, came to an end with its twenty-fourth issue. I’m a big fan of Fatale – which I’ll cover next time – so I was eager to dive into this new tale to see what this unparalleled freedom and support has blossomed into.
I’ll start with this: it’s good. In fact, The Fade Out is very good. When you take a Brubaker story, add Phillips art, bring in Elizabeth Breitweiser, their colorist from Fatale, and out them in their genre of choice? I mean, you can’t really put peanut butter and jelly on two slices of bread and expect anything shocking – of course it was going to be good. These are masters, and it shows.
What the first issue isn’t, though, is as strong a kickoff as Fatale #1 or even the first issue of Brubaker’s run on Captain America. Fatale began with the reader chasing after information, only to be rocked by the narrative’s sharp turns. Captain America #1 distilled what it means to be Steve Rogers into a single issue while also spinning an entirely new yarn. The Fade Out, instead, plays on genre tropes – Hollywood living in a state of paranoia, hints of communist alliances, and a writer who wakes up next to a dead body with no memory of how he got there – that are tried and true.
However, this isn’t a bad thing. In the hands of these two auteurs (a word we can’t really use in comics because of its collaborative nature and tendency toward strong editorial hands – but again, unparalleled freedom!), these tropes feel less like regurgitated ideas and far more as if they’re preparing to dissect the genre in a way they never have before. The Fade Out seems to be playing the long game – and why wouldn’t it? The characters are engaging, the art is stellar, and even though it isn’t a knock-you-off-your-feet narrative like some of their previous work, it’s a slow burn that invites you in, allowing you to open doors on the way, knowing that what you see is going to intrigue the ever living hell out of you.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Family Pets, Charmed: Season 10) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He lives in San Diego, the city of sunny days and cool breeze, where he stays inside all day because, come on, Netflix, am I right?