The Fade Out
is a series of crime comics created by American writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Sean Phillips. It was published in a series of twelve issues, beginning in August 2014 and ending in January 2016, and in various hardcover and paperback formats. The series’ central plot arc follows Charlie Parish, a Cold-War era Hollywood screenwriter whose work is stalled while he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Charlie’s friend Gil Mason, who is blacklisted from Hollywood on suspicion of having Communist ties, helps save Charlie’s career by ghostwriting his work for him.
Both Charlie and Gil’s career dilemmas are further complicated when, after a night of binge drinking, Gil wakes up next to a murdered Hollywood starlet. Charlie and Gil form their own vigilante detective team, searching Los Angeles for the actor’s murderer. As they do so, they learn about the actor’s past relationships and run-ins with bad folk, many who comprise the Hollywood elite. The ensuing investigation turns into a battle against powerful people who represent the Hollywood status quo. The series has been acclaimed for its resonances with contemporary allegations being made in Hollywood by female actors who have been exploited and abused by male leadership in exchange for work, suggesting that these unethical patronage relationships might be built into its foundation.
The series takes place in 1948, in the wake of World War II and during the formation of mid-century Hollywood. Charlie Parish has recently returned from a jarring deployment abroad in the war and has struggled with PTSD ever since. The condition has exacerbated his writer’s block, frustrating his attempt to write a new film noir, resulting in many long and costly reshoots. Gil Mason offers to write his scripts while Charlie tries to resolve his PTSD and writer’s block, since he can’t find his own work anyway: he is a suspected communist sympathizer and a pariah in Hollywood. This task proves a difficult burden, but it allows Gil a creative outlet. One evening, Gil attends a party, where he drinks too much and ends up losing consciousness. When he wakes, he finds the film’s lead actor, Valeria Sommers, dead by his side. Distraught, he finds Charlie and asks for his help figuring out who killed Valeria.
In many of the issues, Charlie has recurring dreams and visions in which the ghost of Valeria haunts him. He feels deeply guilty for her loss, as his lingering traumas from the battlefield delude him into thinking that he could have somehow saved her. This guilt drives him relentlessly forward into the investigation of her murder; he also imagines the investigation will afford him some mental escape from his own past. The role that Valeria occupied in the film is filled by a lookalike, Maya Silver. Like Valeria, Maya’s life is micromanaged by her Hollywood bosses, who even force her into a public relationship with a famous former child actor, Tyler Graves. Maya and Charlie become close, and eventually intimate, choosing to move into a house together. Gil’s marriage to his wife, Melba, starts to dissolve due to his alcoholism and stress.
Toward the end of the series, Melba initiates an intimate encounter with Charlie after Gil’s belligerent drunkenness overwhelms and alienates both of them. While they have sex, Gil wakes from his drunken stupor. Despite this betrayal, Gil remains on the case. After several potential leads are killed by a Hollywood fixer, Gil tries to blackmail the fixer’s boss by calling a bluff and sending a message that he “knows what happened” to Valeria. The studio boss misunderstands the message as a threat to uncover that he molested her as a child. Charlie and Gil plot to kidnap the other co-founder, who is now dying of Alzheimer’s disease and, they suspect, will openly admit his crimes. As they arrive at his mansion, the fixers are in the process of murdering him to keep him quiet. In Gil and Charlie’s escape, Gil is fatally shot. At the end of the series, Charlie gives up on his case. In an ironic twist, one of the fixers tells him that the actor was murdered by the FBI during a scheme to find communists in Los Angeles.