Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Fade Out 11, originally released November 25th, 2015.
Scientia potentia est (knowledge is power).
Drew: Anyone who’s ever seen a Schoolhouse Rock short will be familiar with the power of knowledge (or at least the sentiment), but another idiom reminds us that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” In that case, knowledge isn’t power, is just the self-awareness of not having power. That’s exactly the kind of knowledge Charlie and Gil are grappling with in The Fade Out 11 — enough to know they’re out of their depth, but that realization may come a little too late for their own good.
But man, it really does feel like they’re close, doesn’t it? Charlie’s recollection of Valeria breaking down a week before her death seems to put the last of the pieces in place: Drake Miller had gotten ahold of Al Kamp’s photos of Valeria, and was using them as leverage against everyone, including Valeria. As Gil points out, they maybe don’t have the full story (using someone’s victimhood against them seems like it could only backfire), but they’ve got enough of it to know where to go for answers. Unfortunately, they’re just late enough to the party to find Kamp drowned in his own bathtub.
If their theory is right, this was probably the FBI covering up their own scheme, but without Kamp to squeeze for answers, it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever know. It’s hard to say if that’s what has Gil so upset. Maybe the “it” they took away from him was the answers Kamp had, maybe “it” was putting one over on the Feds, or maybe “it” is his career. If this really was the FBI, Kamp and Valeria are just collateral damage in their witch-hunt for communists — this is all a distorted reflection of Gil being blacklisted.
I suspect that their theory isn’t quite right, but I’m sure there’s enough in place to make next month’s conclusion fall into place clearly enough. I’ll avoid speculating on where they might be wrong, or even where Charlie hopes to go after his escape, but I’m at the edge of my seat.
I will, however, comment on the fate of poor old Gil. It’s not 100% clear that he’s 100% dead, but a shot through the chest suggests that, if he survived this issue, it will only be long enough for a goodbye in the next one. There probably weren’t a lot of other ways for this story to end — Gil barely had anything to live for outside of turning the screws on Kamp — but man, getting so close to the end, only to go out without any answers sure is a bitter pill to swallow. It was Gil’s insistence that they were there at all (Charlie tries to back out basically the entire time), but that was all drive for…whatever “it” was. It’s gone now.
Of course, Charlie still needs answers. It doesn’t look like those answers can come safely, but maybe he’ll at least know the whole story before the axe falls in the way that Gil couldn’t. Frankly, I’m not even sure who Charlie can turn to now that Gil’s gone. Again, I’ll avoid speculating (honestly, any of the female cast could be a logical choice), but it’s hard for me to imagine how this all wraps up in a single issue.
I’m sorry, Patrick, I’ve written plenty, but felt like I haven’t really said anything. Maybe it’s just the provenance of penultimate chapters to emphasize that “now you know what you don’t know” effect, but that’s all I could really feel here. Did you have any better luck latching on to actual events of this issue, or were you as focused on that “to be concluded” at the end as I was?
Patrick: Oooo! A question I can answer with a yes and a no! There’s not actually that much in the way of incident in this issue – it’s more or less the case (and Charlie’s life) crumbling before our very eyes. But in terms of establishing that looming sense of dread and uncertainty, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips pack the issue with tonally rich details.
A lot of that mood-setting happens during Charlie’s flashback-trip to Val’s Malilbu hideaway. He arrives during the early evening, with the sun setting over the ocean. At that point, he was full of romantic ideas, or as Brubaker calls them “those kinds of thoughts… the way men always think.”
Obviously, Charlie views himself as kind of heroic in this momentarily idyllic version of reality. It’s so much of a fantasy that Brubaker tosses in the ultimate of LA fantasies: “Not much traffic.” That turns as soon as Charlie discovers the true nature of Val’s escape – not from the physical space Hollywood takes up, but the mental and emotional space. She’s binged on booze and who knows what else, and the escape doesn’t look so clean and romantic anymore.
I’m struck by the the distance Brubaker insists on keeping between the reader and the scene that follows. Rather than show us the sweaty, confessional nature of their all-night soul-baring, the reader witnesses the scene through narration boxes. That doubles down on our reliance on Charlie’s perspective, but it also reinforces this idea that one’s past, and the secrets hidden therein, are a prison that prevents us from connecting to other people. Charlie refers to it as his “rabbit hole,” but it boils down to a kind of empathy that you can’t achieve unless you’re willing to be totally vulnerable. Charlie and Val make that exchange, but the reader literally cannot offer that same vulnerability, so all we can do is witness how the whole exchange makes Charlie feel.
And that seems like a watershed moment for Charlie, right? He achieves a special, real and sincere connection, it just doesn’t look anything like the heroics he was imagining when he set off on this trip. Phillips shows us Charlie at the water’s edge a second time. Now it’s nighttime, and Charlie has lost the jacket. He’s also up to his ankles in water.
That copy couldn’t be much more grim – full of angry, impotent regret. It’s almost a map for the story that follows it: Charlie and Gil charge to the ranch, ready to Get Some Answers, but end up cold, alone and full of regret (and bullets).
Oh and I didn’t know how to bring this up organically, but I’m constantly amazed by how good Phillips is at drawing dark scenes that are also insanely clear. I’m sure some of the credit there should go to colorist Elizabeth Breiweiser, as her coloring choices always superbly balance mood and clarity. The example that stands out to me is a panel during Charlie and Gil’s drive to the ranch, where presumably the only light sources are the headlights on the front of their car.
The panel is inked within an inch of it’s life, but look how much amazing detail comes through. Breitweiser gives us just enough yellow and green to see the pavement and grass on the side of the highway. This panel captures that totally unique feeling of driving at night in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen on a page before. And maybe that’s just good artists being good, but man, does it ever help sell the atmosphere. Ultimately, that’s what I respond to even harder than the mystery: I want to feel what Fade Out makes me feel.
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