Modern crime TV shows like The Ozarks and Animal Kingdom always get under
my skin. It’s been hard to reconcile that aversion with my appreciation for
classic noir–how is it that I enjoy the dark, violent, and even cynical
aspects in some works but not others? The Fade Out has an answer.
Brubaker and Phillips bring many of the elements which keep Criminal and
Incognito on my bookshelf after every cull. It has Brubaker’s familiar
crisp-yet-melodramatic narration, and a tortured protagonist tumbling
through a twisted narrative. Phillips brings his established style with a
particularly strong emphasis on shadow.
As an experiment in historical fiction, though, The Fade Out feels
distinctive. Most obviously, this includes cameos from the likes of Arnaz,
Bogart, Gable, and Hammet. The setting grounds things far more firmly than the
generic locales of the team’s earlier work, and Phillips seems equally
comfortable rendering LA’s ritzy nightlife as its picturesque landscapes. The
first World War and America’s Red Scare both weigh heavily on the narrative.
The nonfiction essays included after the “letters” column of each issue provide
ample evidence that for all its seediness, this story isn’t really that
Unfortunately for me, that verisimilitude makes the experience a little too
relatable. By leaning toward the grittiness of modern crime fiction and away
from the whimsy of classic noir, The Fade Out was ultimately harder for me to
enjoy. I won’t dock the book for a matter of personal taste because it is,
after all, very well-executed. It’s just that I won’t mind its absence in my
collection. On the other hand, I’m more excited than ever about another one of
the team’s miniseries: the decidedly-fantastical Fatale.