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The Fade Out: Who Done It?

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Have you ever played a murder mystery game? I have never played, but I did host one at a Halloween party a few years ago. As the host, I could not play but I was able to send out the invitations to the party. In these invitations it told attendees a few details about their character so they could arrive dressed and prepared. I was able to observe as my friends quizzed each other on the murder which took place shortly after their arrival. The murder mystery contained four acts and each act revealed a bit more about each character. The key was asking questions. There was only one person that night who was able to deduce the identity of the murderer. He was the only one who asked the right person the right question. After the question was asked everything became clear to him and only him. The provider of the answer was unaware she was dishing the crucial clue. She just thought she was answering an innocent question that didn’t have to do with her. The Fade Out is this murder mystery game, except this time I get to play. Each issue slowly reveals more about each character. If I can find the right question to ask of the right character, I think I can solve this mystery. I will be adopting Dwight Schrute’s method of solving a mystery, “It’s never the person who you most suspect. It’s also never the person you least suspect since anyone with half a brain would suspect them the most. Therefore, I know the killer to be Phyllis… The person who I most medium suspect.”I will take a look at all the evidence of The Fade Out up to this point and with only two issues remaining, I will determine who I most, least and most medium suspect.

If you have been following my articles over the last few months you might be confused at this moment. The Fade Out is a comic book by the masterful team Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who I have been examining in the Cool Runnings segment. Why isn’t this article titles Cool Runnings? Well, here is a mystery I can solve for you. I was making my way through the Brubaker and Phillips catalogue starting with Sleeper then moving to Criminal and Incognito. The next book on the chronological list is Fatale. Unfortunately when I got into comics Fatale had already begun and at that point I was unaware that Brubaker and Phillips were the Dicaprio and Scorsese of comics, so I kind of missed the boat. Now, if Mr. Brubaker would like to send me a copy of the complete run of Fatale I would gladly continue my Cool Runnings. If I do not receive those signed copies, (I mentioned to sign them right?) then the Cool Runnings on Fatale will have to wait for now. The other reason I am not including this examination of The Fade Out in the Cool Runnings segment is because the comic is not finished yet. The Fade Out has two more issues. Issue #11 is coming out next week and issue #12 the following month. I am choosing to write about The Fade Out now because it is finally my turn to play the murder mystery game!

I’ll provide the general story so far in The Fade Out and then provide you my three suspects, Clue style. When I say Clue style I don’t mean Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the Candle Stick, I mean the style of the 1985 film based on the board game in which they provide three endings in consecutive order. The Fade Out is an extremely dense story with many character levels, this overview will just scrape the surface of that.

Charlie is a screen writer for a small production company, Victory Street Production. He wakes up in the bathtub after a blackout drunk night. He begins to remember small pieces from the night before. He was at a party. He remembers a few things from the party like helping his drunk buddy get home and witnessing a fight. Before he can piece it all together he walks into the next room to see Valeria Sommers, the star of the film he is working on, strangled to death on the floor. He quickly grabs a rag to clean up any trace of him ever being there. Remember, this is the 1940’s, Gil Grissom hasn’t started swabbing for blood and semen yet. When you come across a pool of blood in 1948 you don’t hear, “Take a sample and we will analyze it for a DNA match” instead you hear, “Ewww gross, somebody clean this up! We have a case to solve.” Charlie wishes he could remember what happened that night. Later, in the office of the production companies security enforcer, Phil Brodsky, he sees a picture of Val found dead and they are suicide pictures of her hanging herself. Charlie knows this is not how it went down, and now her name is getting dragged through the mud so the production company can cover up a scandal. Charlie is upset and determined to find out who killed his secret crush Val. When he goes home that evening he pulls out the rag he cleaned his prints up with but instead of a rag as he expects, it is Val’s underwear.

A new actress must be found to replace Val. The job goes to the runner up for the part Maya. A young up and coming star. The noir film they are working on seems to be stuck in endless rewrites as they try to work Maya into the role while a drunk with power director never seems to be happy with any scene. Charlie, the writer of the movie has a little secret. He has partnered up with blacklisted writer Gil Mason, because ever since Charlie returned from the war he hasn’t been the same. This secret is sometimes difficult to keep because Gil is an obnoxious alcoholic.

The movie they are filming has many scenes where the lead character’s face is wrapped up in bandages, much like the Invisible Man. This becomes a subtle obsession of Charlie’s. He fantasizes how nice it would be to always have your face covered up. He fantasizes about being the Invisible Man in dangerous situations. Charlie even goes as far as dressing up as the Invisible Man for Halloween and also sneaking into Phil Brodsky’s office under the cover of bandaged face.

Charlie starts to get pieces of the evening back and his attention is turned onto a producer that he can vaguely remember left the party with them. He is determined to find out everything he can about this man. After a lovely weekend with Maya at a beach house Charlie gets himself extremely drunk at a bar feeling bad that he has been focused on Maya instead of continuing to look for Val’s killer. This gets Charlie into a fight at the bar. When he is cleaning up in the bathroom the man from his memory shows up and gives Charlie his card. When Charlie hops in the car with Maya he reaches into his pocket expecting to pull out a business card from the man Drake Miller, instead he pulls out a note from Tina, saying they need to talk. Who is Tina?

Charlie runs into Tina at the Halloween party and remembers who she is from the blackout drunk party. She tells him she slipped the note into his jacket at the bar and he didn’t even notice. She warns him that Brodsky is getting nosey and asking questions about that night. She also turns Charlie onto Earl, the leading man in the film whose party they were at. She says something that makes Charlie think that Earl was also with them that night. Now he has two suspects to obsess over. This drives Charlie to talk to Production PR rep Dotty who is a good friend. She tells him to forget about Earl and explains that the man from the picture, Drake Miller is an undercover FBI agent.

As Charlie investigates he and Gil stumble upon some dirty deeds of Production Founder Al Kamp. Al is an old horny man now but there was a day many years before he had a show with a lot of child actors. These children were forced to do unmentionable things, very illegal things and it turns out that Val was one of them. Now that Earl and Drake are off of the radar, Charlie and Gil place their sites on Kamp and are on a quest for answers.

The person who I most suspect – When I read this my main suspect is Charlie himself. The guy was black out drunk that night, remembering only very hazy moments, I guess you could say he was Fade Out drunk. Brubaker opens the series explaining that after Pearl Harbor people would still hear Japanese planes in the sky at night. Everyone would be terrified of them attacking again, but Charlie would look up and never see them. He referred to them as the Phantom Planes. This can be taken that people in Hollywood are overdramatic, but it could also be taken as Charlie being a guy who can’t see what is right in front of him, even when everyone else says they can. This also ties into the creepy encounter with Drake Miller in the bathroom. Drake slipped Charlie his card, but when Charlie went into his pocket to retrieve it, he instead found a note from Tina which he doesn’t recall seeing that evening.

Now throw in the obsession with the Invisible Man. Charlie is constantly fantasizing about the Invisible Man as well as dressing up like him. The Invisible Man was a crazy scientist who went on a killing spree in order to be seen again. Interestingly the Invisible Man wears bandages in order to be seen, but Charlie seems to think if he wears the bandages no one will know it’s him. However, if this was the case, then how come when he wore the Invisible Man bandages to the Halloween party, he was upset when everyone kept thinking he was stand in actor Morty? Charlie is a war man who returned with PTSD, can no longer write, falls in love with the lead actresses who he can never be with because it is bad for public relations and so now he just gets fade out drunk all the time. Charlie is your man for this murder for sure, killing Val in a drunken rage over not being with him.

The person who I least suspect – Gil is the person I least suspect. When he heard the news about Val he took it very hard. He was drinking for days (big surprise) and would get upset at Charlie for slacking on investigating. Gil is determined to take down the production company executives. He is tired of their shady dealings, and covering up Val’s murder as a suicide put him to the edge. With time on his hands Gil has turned himself into the loose cannon private investigator of the story and is the only one who has come up with some solid evidence. Gil is probably the only “hero” of the story so far and he is a drunken, gambling, cheating bastard, but at least he is trying to make things right. Gil did not do it, or maybe he did! The person who I least suspect strikes again!

The person who I most medium suspect – Dotty the PR lady. Dotty’s job is to cover shit up. It is her job to make people’s lives look better than they really are. She has her hand in anything and everything. Dotty is a good friend of Charlie, in fact, Dotty and Charlie went on a date. Charlie was not sure if it was a date or not. At this party they were attending Charlie spent most of his time with Maya who he then ended up dancing with, while Dotty cried her eyes out in the bathroom. That is the only time we have seen Dotty alone. She is in almost every issue and she is always helping somebody out, or making somebody look good. Only once do we get to see her break down in the bathroom and show some real emotion. Perhaps the girl who we are sure we trust killed Val after a drunk Charlie left with her. Charlie always goes for the hot young movie stars, he is never interested in Dotty, even when she sends him all the signs. I think Dotty followed Charlie and Val, then when Charlie passed out in the bathtub Dotty strangled Val and tried to peg it on Charlie. Payback for all the heartbreaks he has caused her over the years.

Who do you think killed Val?

I would suggest catching up to the Fade Out before the final two issues. I just read it all last night and it is definitely  in the top 5 comics of the year. This article focuses on the mystery at hand, but really the mystery is just a spot light to shine on the characters. There are so many rich personalities in this comic. Every one of them is living a lie or helping someone else live a lie. It takes a close look at what PTSD can do to a young man and the hoops young actresses have to jump through to become a star. This 1940’s Hollywood noir story is as intriguing as it is distressing. Simply wonderful stuff from a powerhouse team.