The Fade Out 12

Alternating Currents: The Fade Out 12, Drew and Spencer

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Fade Out 12, originally released January 6th, 2016.

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

George Orwell, 1984

Drew: I remember reading these words for the first time in high school and thinking they expressed the bleakest sentiment I could imagine. To me, Winston’s deep, sincere submission to Big Brother represented the darkness of Orwell’s cynicism far more than anything O’Brien threatens him with. In my mind, Winston’s pretense of submission in the first two books was preferable to the effective lobotomized state the novel ends with, but that’s only because his secret life held relatable pleasures. What if, instead, his secret life was filled only with turmoil and guilt? What if choosing to submit was worse than having it thrust upon you? This is the reality Charlie finds himself in at the end of The Fade Out 12, an ending that might actually be bleaker than that of 1984.

Now, suggesting that Charlie chooses to submit might seem like an overstatement, especially after writer Ed Brubaker certainly makes it clear that Charlie doesn’t have a ton of options, but there is one other option that comes up twice, but Charlie consciously chooses the alternative. That option, of course, is death.

Suicide is Painless

After discovering that he can’t even exact ill-advised revenge against Drake Miller, Charlie is cast adrift, forced to confront the fact that he doesn’t know what comes next — that he never knows what comes next. It’s in this directionless state that Charlie contemplates suicide, but he can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. Is it a will to live or simply cowardice that keeps him from doing the deed? Charlie later adds that, in order to protect Melba, he can’t just “run,” and it seems like killing himself might not be much better.

Still, when Charlie is eventually confronted by Brodsky, all he can do is offer himself up.

Make it quick

He’s still resigned to death, even if he can’t find the strength to do it himself. Of course, Brodsky has no interest in killing Charlie — he already has one dead screenwriter to worry about — or, at least not so long as Charlie is willing to accept his place within the system he finds himself in. Charlie is willing — and, after identifying the demons that kept him from writing, able — to play his part, but is racked with guilt over the deaths of Gil and Valeria.

What makes that guilt particularly bitter is that it’s not just about his role in covering up their deaths or the fact that he has to keep these secrets even from Melba, but that Gil and Valeria died for making the choice he couldn’t. If the toxic mix of the studio system and the FBI’s communist hunt had a “submit or perish” policy, Gil and Valeria both opted for perish. Obviously, neither one consciously chose death, but they both died refusing to simply accept the rules that trapped them — Valeria for not kowtowing to Drake Miller’s power, and Gil for not accepting that the studio could get away with covering it up. In choosing to submit where they didn’t, Charlie is effectively nullifying the causes they died for. Charlie may accept the coverup of Gil’s death as necessary to protect Melba and the kids, but there’s no way Gil would have — and that’s even without shutting up about exposing Val’s murder.

If Charlie has any of these principles left, he’s too neutered to act on them. Heck, even his discomfort in sleeping with Melba is undermined by the fact that he did it, and seems to be living at her place only to facilitate doing it again. Or maybe he’s there just to facilitate this lovely callback to issue 1:

Lipstick

Actually, Spencer, there are a few bits about that ending that I’m not totally sure what to make of. I tend to see Charlie’s submission as a form of cowardice — that he’s simply unwilling to die for his cause — which makes his newfound ability to write a bit perplexing. I’m almost inclined to read some metacommentary into what Brubaker thinks is necessary to writing, but I’m honestly not sure what he got back. Was it rules governing his life? Was it perspective? Why is it that he can imagine what happens next now in a way that he couldn’t before? I’m at a bit of a loss, so I’m curious to see what you think about it.

Spencer: That’s a good question you ask, Drew. The answer is never really clear within the text itself, but I do think I have a theory. Let’s take a look Charlie’s thoughts as he tries to concoct a plan to dispose of Gil’s body.

story

You’ll probably have to enlarge that photo to read the narration, but the gist is that Charlie is imagining every bad thing that could happen to Melba if he tries to run or tell the truth about Gil’s death. This looks suspiciously like Charlie imagining what happens next — something he supposedly can’t do anymore — and I’d imagine it’s a rather accurate assessment at that.

So if this is the turning point where Charlie regains his writing skill, there’s still the question of why it happens. Again, I feel like the answers can be found on these pages. Charlie and Gil only gave their plans the most halfhearted attention when they were trying to solve Valeria’s murder, but Melba’s safety being on the line seems to spark some actual forethought from Charlie. I’m curious whether that’s because of Charlie’s own feelings for Melba or because of his wanting to protect the family of the friend he got killed, but either way, something changes in Charlie here. It’s subtle, and not explicitly linked to Charlie’s writing, but I could easily accept this as an explanation.

The other option — also supported by the pages I just posted, to an extent — is that Charlie can now imagine what happens next (and thus write again) because he has a better understanding of the way the world works. This isn’t a Charlie who can foolishly hope for “justice” anymore — this is a Charlie who’s learned his “place” in the world, and who understands the full extent of the power various institutions (be they the Studio, the FBI, or the police) have over society. As depressing as that is, it may’ve just been the structure he needed to construct stories again.

(There’s also the option that Charlie never really “lost” the ability to write as much as he was too scared and guilty to try after the war/betraying Gil, but without Gil he no longer had that option, and learned to write again because his back was against a wall. I’m not really sure how I feel about that one, though.)

Anyway Drew, you’re right to point out how bleak this conclusion is, especially for Charlie. One point I found interesting comes near the very end of the issue, where the narration mentions Brodsky speaking of how similar he and Charlie are because they both understand the world. It got me thinking, and there are some frightening similarities between the two, yet they also face their lots in life with far different attitudes.

speculating

Brodsky doesn’t look all that pleased about the way things turned out either — both Valeria’s death and his inability to kill Drake Miller for it are points of annoyance to him. Yet, where Charlie’s drowning in guilt and sadness, Brodsky brushes everything off and just accepts it as the way things are. So what’s the difference between these two? Both understand how the world works, at least in relation to their studio, and neither have full control of what they can and can’t do, but Charlie seems to have morals that make him feel guilt because of what he’s unable to do, whereas Brodsky has none. Brodsky stands for nothing, willing to hurt and kill people simply because the studio tells him to, and willing to cover up crimes he’s personally upset about, again, because that’s just what his role is. He’s content because he’s embraced the system that oppressed him — Charlie seems too principled to do that, but again, as Drew pointed out, he’s also too cowardly to take a stand (even if it would be pointless) or kill himself or even quit his job and start life anew (do we think the studio would have Charlie killed if he did so?), so of course he’s miserable. Charlie has knowledge of how badly the world is screwing him over, but absolutely no power to do anything about it.

That’s likely a familiar feeling to many of us. One of the most powerful aspects of period pieces is that they remind us of how much things have changed as the years’ve progressed, but also of how much has stayed the same. While the common people nowadays have much greater knowledge of the lengths powerful institutions are willing to go to to cover their own butts, there still seems to be little we can actually do about it. The internet is a whole new avenue that can be used by anyone to make our voices heard in a way Charlie never could’ve, but it’s still a dangerous gamble — just look at Edward Snowden, who’s living in exile for bringing the government’s crimes to light (and who would probably be dead by now if he wasn’t so notoriously well-known).

The Fade Out offers little in the way of solutions for dealing with this — in fact, Charlie and Gil’s fates almost seem to be advising against fighting the system — but I don’t really think it’s necessary for the issue to try, and it wouldn’t fit with this story’s noir stylings either. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of the sins of our past so that we can learn not to repeat them in the future, and while The Fade Out is a gorgeously rendered, intricately plotted noir mystery with an immensely satisfying ending, it’s also one helluva reminder of our country’s dark past, and the value of that can never be overlooked.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

Advertisements

9 comments on “The Fade Out 12

  1. I was really worried about this issue being incomprehensible, due to the fact that as good as each individual issue was, it never seemed to come together and almost expected rereading (Brubaker has been pushing serial storytelling, wanting people to buy individual issues instead of trades, through things like the essays at the back. The only reason I purchased the issues was because of those essays, mostly written by one of my favourite writers. But honestly, I think it would be best of Brubaker to simply admit his stuff works better in a trade).

    But while I would struggle to connect many of the threads from previous issues together (just want to repeat what I said last issue, I am usually really good at keeping complex narratives together in my head, and the fact that I have failed with the Fade Out is very telling), the ending is still truly fantastic, and so far, one of my favourite issues of the year. The perfect ending to the Hollywood noir story.

    I would want to do a reread of everything to give my explanation for why Charlie can write again, but as a finale, this is what it should have been, and it was great. I’m reminded of the endings of one of my favourite movies, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that ended somewhat similarly. That ultimately, there is no easy happy ending, and you aren’t going to get the justice you seek, as Hollywood is a town where everything is rigged against you.

    They both do it in different ways, but it is that same sense, and the only way to really end a Hollywood noir story. Looking forward to the next work by this creative team

  2. What did everyone think the secret was that Charlie refers to at the end (the one that he says Valeria died with locked inside her)?

        • I’m not sure that makes much sense. As Charlie wanders the streets at the end, the narration asks “Why didn’t Val give you up, Charlie? Why did she die with your secret locked inside her?” That is, she died protecting Charlie’s secret. He feels guilty because it’s his fault, but not because he actually killed her. If he had done it himself, this preoccupation with her not giving up his secret would be pretty bizarre.

        • True, and I do agree with you on the fact that he felt guilty about her death. I should have expanded upon my theory a bit more in my first post. As I read the complete story I couldn’t help thinking that the killer was Charlie all along and that he just didn’t remember the murder due to memory loss brought about by his heavy drinking and that Brodsky’s “what-if” tale was a fabrication to keep Charlie in line. Wanting revenge on Drake Miller was simply because Charlie had no leads and wanted to blame someone, anyone. Furthermore, how odd is it that Charlie discovers a kiss-shaped lipstick mark on the mirror in Val’s house/bungalow shortly before he finds the body (issue #1) that is exactly the same as the one that Melba leaves on her own mirror when she says to Charlie “Well, don’t take forever to make up your mind… I might start taking it personally.” (issue #12)? Even when he rubs off the lipstick with his fingers he is shown as having a perplexed look on his face.

          The other theory, Charlie being a communist is implied in the panel that reads “Like it’s her fault she didn’t have any commies to give up…” (Charlie is in the bathtub). Yet, Brubaker/Phillips never follow through on this, nor do they ever show Charlie doing anything communist-related, whatever that may entail. In the end, we got the words “Why didn’t Val give you up, Charlie? Why did she die with your secret locked inside her?” The secret is never revealed and the reasons for keeping it so aren’t either. Perhaps Charlie had an affinity for women’s clothing or perhaps Val was also a communist and realized that blowing Charlie’s cover would also mean blowing her own. This should have been developed further.

  3. The one disappointment I have with “The Fade Out” – which is brilliant in every other aspect – is that the reader really has no clues to discover “the secret” about Charlie that was locked inside Val’s head. I have gone back through the series several times and I still can’t find a single bread crumb that is related to what that secret would be. There is nothing that would indicate that a Charlie is a communist. Charlie’s does harbor an internal desire that Japan would’ve gone past Pearl Harbor and blown up Hollywood. Had he told Val that “secret desire?” If so, that still doesn’t add up as a significant enough offense that Val would die for it. Just to be clear, I’m ok with there being ambiguity on this point, but I simply wish there were some things planted in the story that could at least give the reader the ability to build some credible theories. As it stands – as far as I can tell – there are none.

What you got?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s