The Fade Out is a twelve-issue Comic Book miniseries by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips of Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale published by Image Comics. The story is a straight up Film Noir Hollywood, California Crime Fiction story set only a few years after World War II.
Charles Parish is a screenwriter for a Hollywood studio. A master of his craft back in the day, Parish has been reduced to a shell of his former self by the horrors of the war and he hasn't been able to write anything since. His only way to succeed is to let Gil Mason, his mentor turned blacklisted pariah, ghost-write for him. Parish maintains a barely tolerable existence as a front for Mason's screenplays while drinking the days away, nursing a more than visible crush on starlet Val Sommers, and maintaining a sexually tense friendship with Gil's wife Melba.
Then, one morning, Parish wakes in a bathtub in a studio-owned house with a massive hangover, and finds Val dead from strangulation in the living room. Knowing how bad it looks, Parish quietly escapes with no one the wiser, only to find that the studio covers up the murder as a suicide and quickly replaces her with a brand new actress. Motivated by his guilt over his actions and an obsession with knowing what happened the night before, Parish enlists Gil to help him solve this mystery of sex crimes, cover-ups, and blacklisting.
The Fade Out contains examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Both Charles and Gil are absolute drunks.
- Armored Closet Gay: Tyler Graves is gay which in 40's Hollywood must be covered up at all costs. The studio sets him up with Myra as a publicity stunt.
- Anyone Can Die: Val, Kamp, and Gil are both dead by book's end.
- Batman Gambit: Gil kind of pulls one off on Thursby. He sends Thursby a blackmail letter saying he knows what wrong Thursby has done before knowing exactly what it is, then tails Thursby's people when they go to cover their tracks, leading to the discovery of Thursby's dirty secrets. While Charles points out it was a really reckless plan, it manages to work.
- Berserk Button: Besmirching Val's name seems to be one for Charles.
- Big Bad: Drake Miller
- The Caligula: Everybody in Hollywood but especially Old Man Kamp.
- The Casanova: Earl Rath, the studio's leading man, has slept with countless women, including Val.
- Chekhov's Gunman: One of the few memories Charles can remember right off the bat of the night Val died was him getting a blowjob from some random dancer in a closet. Her name is Tina and she has information that's crucial to figuring out what happened to Val.
- Dirty Cop: Drake Miller is really an FBI agent posing as a Hollywood producer to uproot commies in the film business, but gets so wrapped up in the sex and drugs of the industry that he loses all moral fiber and ends up killing Val in a fit of rage, kickstarting the whole plot.
- Dirty Old Man: Old Man Kamp. He molested the Krazy Kids, of which Val was a member.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Gender-swapped with Dottie who legitimately likes Charles and sets up an ambiguous date with him while working a PR stunt with Myra and Tyler. When Charles and Myra hit it off and eventually start a relationship, Dottie is clearly upset.
- Downer Ending: Charles finally figures out what happened to Val but can't do anything to avenge or fix the issue. Studios will continue to cover up rapes and murders. The Feds will continue to ruin the careers of innocent people thanks to the Red Scare. Oh, and Gil's dead. Have a nice day.
- Film Noir: In a career filled with noir-influenced books, this is Brubaker's most noirish.
- Guilt Complex: Charles feels a lot of guilt for a lot of different things that drives his actions through the story: his actions during the war, fingering Gil as a commie (even though Gil told him to), whatever happened that led to Val's death, his relationship with Myra potentially being a Replacement Goldfish for Val and eventually sleeping with Gil's wife both before and after his death even though it's pretty well stated it was an open marriage.
- The Heavy: Brodsky operates as The Dragon for the studio and generally cleans up their messes. He spends the entire story intimidating people, acting as hired muscle and is ultimately the one who reveals what happened to Val.
- Hollywood Hype Machine: Shown to be as much a star maker as making a quality film.
- Horrible Hollywood: As seedly and corrupt as it gets.
- Kavorka Man: Charles is a very nebbish, insecure man who nonetheless has sex with a lot of women through the story.
- Meganekko: Dottie, the studio PR rep.
- Morality Pet: Gil pushes Charles to continue investigating whenever the latter just wants to drop it and move on.
- Polyamory: Gil and Melba have this kind of agreement in their marriage.
- Red Herring: Charles suspects both Earl Rath and/or Old Man Kamp killed Val. Neither had anything to do with it.
- Red Scare: The Hollywood Blacklist is a major theme of the book.
- Replacement Goldfish: Myra serves as this for Val both as the character Val was playing and as Charles' object of sexual desire.
- The Reveal: Val and the other Krazy Kids were raped by studio heads and the whole thing was covered up. Also, Drake Miller is an FBI agent looking to bust commies. Also, he killed Val.
- Your Cheating Heart: Melba and Gil have an open marriage which allows Gil to sleep around with no guilt. Nonetheless, when Gil awakes from a drunken stupor to see Melba in mid-coitus with his best friend Charles, the look of confusion in Gil's eyes makes Charles feel immense guilt.