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The murder of starlet Val Sommer still plays an important part in Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Hollywood noir The Fade Out, but it’s starting to function more as a catalyst rather than the primary focus of the story. The Fade Out is a mysterious series but it’s not at its heart a mystery. In The Fade Out #6, screenwriter Charlie Parish mentions that he’s been so focused on who killed Sommer that he’s forgotten to ask why. Overall, it seems that Brubaker and Phillips are more interesting in the why (as well as the impact of the murder) than the who or how.
However, Sommer’s murder spurs a lot of the action in The Fade Out #6. Both Parish and blacklisted writer Gil Mason are following leads in their own way. For Parish, that means talking to an actor who grew up with Sommer on the property of crazy movie tycoon Victor Thursby. Parish is lead to believe that bad things happened to Val Sommer while she was growing up there. At the same time, Mason meets up with real-life writer Dashiell Hammett and gets advice to pressure Thursby, by intimating that Mason knows something. And that’s what Mason does, anonymously leaving a note in Thursby’s paper stating, “I Know What Really Happened.” (Sadly, it did not say, “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”)
Overall, The Fade Out #6 is a strong issue, though it does feel somewhat like a transitional one in this section of the story. While there is some action, there’s much more preparation for action and set-up for future consequence. The most significant plot development (besides Mason’s note) is that Parish has a fling with Maya Silver, Sommer’s replacement on the film Parish is writing. He long had an infatuation with Sommer, but Silver has recently won him over. Still, Silver is a really interesting character on her own, and I would guess that she’s not simply swooning over Charlie, and that Brubaker and Phillips will delve into her motivations for the hook-up with Parish soon.
One of the things I noticed about the art in The Fade Out #6 more than in previous issues of the series is that Sean Phillips makes historically-accurate details look very natural. When he draws famous like Clark Gable or in this issue Humphrey Bogart, it’s noticeable because they are so distinctive looking (and Phillips nails their appearances), but he also is very precise with smaller details, like clothing, automobiles, restaurant interiors, and even offices. It’s an underrated skill that really adds to the authenticity of the world that he and Brubaker are creating in The Fade Out.
While The Fade Out is not a thrill-a-minute ride like Velvet, Brubaker’s series with Steve Epting, it is well worth reading. The Fade Out #6 will probably benefit from reading at least the previous few issues (if not the whole series – there’s only five issues before this one!) because it is a transitional issue that draws on things established in earlier issues that will be developed even more in upcoming ones. The series has a whole, though, is turning into a really rich and enthralling story.