Edgar Wright’s eclectic – yet very British – taste in music has played an integral role adding humor and color into the films and television episodes he’s directed, from the celebratory use of the Magnificent Seven theme in Spaced‘s second episode, to the Brit Pop and late 80s/early 90s Madchester cuts that pepper The World’s End and its hard-partying, stuck-in-the-past protagonist, Gary King. His upcoming film, Baby Driver, seems to be all about the music, as main character Baby (Ansel Elgort) always has headphones in as he drives getaway cars for heists all over Atlanta. The track list was released earlier this month, and it’s a real grab bag of pop, dance, classic rock, and oldies tunes, including some artists that Wright has previously featured in his films, like T-Rex and Blur.
Before you add the songs from Baby Driver to your Spotify or Apple Music playlists, check out a few of the great songs from Edgar Wright’s previous films. There’s something for your inner hipster, Goth, Anglophile, dance floor fiend, or Nick Frost-wearing-a-jester-hat fetishist in here.
10. “Let Me Show You” (Tall Paul Remix)/”A-Team” by Camisra/Guy Pratt from Spaced Season 1, Episode 6 “Epiphanies” (1999)
Without Spaced‘s Season 1 episode “Art,” which featured its bleach-blond comic book artist protagonist Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) thinking he was fighting actual zombies while playing the video game Resident Evil 2 and tripping balls, there would be no Shaun of the Dead, or possibly no Edgar Wright filmmaking career (that would really suck). Spaced is about two young people from London – Tim and Daisy (Jessica Hynes) – who pretend to be a couple to get a better deal on a flat. It offers an honest, hilarious, and at time surreal look at young people in the 1990s that the romance and coffee-obsessed denizens of Friends couldn’t hold a candle to. Spaced also established a lot of Edgar Wright’s directorial trademarks, including using editing to create visual comedy, genre homages in the “real world,” and of course, using a well-placed needle drop to make a good scene fantastic.
“Epiphanies” is one of the most memorable episodes from Spaced, mostly for the rave sequence that caps it off, containing camera cuts that pulsate to the beat of “Let Me Show You” by house artist Camisra when Tim’s friend/comic book art courier, Tyres (Michael Smiley), appears on the screen. It opens with Tim and Daisy lounging on the couch watching the TV, and ends with Tim’s best friend, the military obsessed Mike (Nick Frost), leading a group dance to an electronic remix of the A-Team theme while wearing a jester hat. There is also a subplot of their neighbor, tortured artist Brian (Mark Heap), facing his fear of clubs because he got decked in the face as a young’un when he spilled a beer on reveler dancing to “Come On, Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runner.
The rave (and “Let Me Show You”) brings the entire main cast together (sans creepy landlady Marsha) and cements the strong platonic friendship between Tim and Daisy after an episode full of bickering. They confess to caring about each other while the camera swirls to mimic the effect of ecstasy. It also helps Mike and Brian come out of their military and art-obsessed shells, respectively, with the first strains of the A-Team theme mixing with “Let Me Show You” when Mike starts to lead the crowd. They might not dodge explosions (the paintball episode is an exception), but Tim, Mike, Daisy, Brian, and even the vapid, fashion-obsessed Twist make a great team, and also have a good time dancing and raving together. Hooray for friendship and sweet techno beats!
9. “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen from Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The two protagonists of Shaun of the Dead, electronics store manager Shaun (Simon Pegg) and part-time weed dealer/full time video game player Ed (Nick Frost), definitely show they are music geeks even in the face of the zombie apocalypse (oops, we said the zed word). Shaun is super sad when his first pressing of “Blue Monday” by New Order becomes a weapon against a zombie wandering around his garden, and before the apocalypse he enjoys spinning records with Ed to the chagrin of his more career-driven neighbor, Pete, who has to be up for work in four hours. So, it’s fitting that he gets a great Queen song to kick the Winchester Pub’s undead landlord’s ass to, with Ed, his ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), her insufferable flatmates David and Dianne, and his angelic mother in tow.
The noise of the jukebox leads to zombies storming the pub, but for one shining moment, Shaun, Ed, and Liz get to be action heroes in a beautifully choreographed action scene that foretells future bar fights in The World’s End. After running, hiding, and pretending to be them for most of the film, they finally get to kick some zombie ass and do so with glee. Wright perfectly synchronizes Freddie Mercury’s soaring vocals to swipes of the pool cue, and the group gets more confident and efficient as the song’s tempo builds. This scene is a true masterclass in how to marry action and music in a film.
Shaun’s triumph is shortlived in the greater scheme of things, and only he and Liz get out alive (thanks to a timely military ex machina). However, this scene uses the music of Queen to show the camaraderie that he has with both Ed and Liz, foreshadowing that things will work out with both his girlfriend and best friend, even if there is much more than one aged zombie landlord to deal with in Shaun of the Dead‘s third act.
8. “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen from Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This song is technically cheating, as most of it plays during the end credits rather than the actual, final scene of Shaun of the Dead, but I couldn’t resist including another song from probably one of the greatest bands to rock the multiverse. Plus, it’s deeply tied to the major theme of Shaun of the Dead and much of Edgar Wright’s early work: friendship. Even though Shaun has grown up a lot through his experiences in the zombie apocalypse and gotten back together with Liz, his main passion still lies in his friendship with Ed, who is now a zombie chained up in the garden shed.
You can see the enthusiasm in Pegg’s line readings increase when Liz excuses Shaun for some time in the shed, and in a trademark Edgar Wright whip cut, the shed doesn’t have a porn stash, workout equipment or something stereotypically masculine, but just Ed hanging out and playing video games. Even after his “death,” Ed hasn’t changed much (except he’s definitely not holding any weed). Shaun might have a more stable life after the events of the movie, but he still has time for split-screen first person shooters with his best friend. This is when “You’re My Best Friend” kicks in, and Shaun enjoys a moment alone with his best friend in the world. Even when you’re an adult with a job, rent to pay, and a relationship to maintain, it’s fun to just hang out and play video games with your friends to relax.
Forget Jack and Rose from Titanic – death truly couldn’t come between Shaun and Ed, and there’s a Queen song to commemorate it.
7. “Village Green Preservation Society” by The Kinks from Hot Fuzz (2007)
Simon Pegg’s character in Hot Fuzz, Nicholas Angel, has a much different relationship with music than the electro pop-spinning, “Yeah boy-ing” man-child Shaun. He’s a no-nonsense, London homicide detective, whose clearance record makes the rest of the department look so bad that he’s shipped off to idyllic, crime free village of Sandford (filmed in Edgar Wright’s hometown in Wells in South England). Sandford is filled with secrets, and its beauty and perfection are literally built on the bones of those who don’t who fit in. Hot Fuzz ambles along like the pace of life in the rural town it’s set, and then embraces the frenetic action of cop action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys 2, the kind that Angel despises and heavy-drinking rookie policeman Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) lives for.
However, Nicholas Angel doesn’t know this underside early in the film when he jogs the whole perimeter of the tiny cathedral town to the soothing bars and acoustic guitar of “Village Green Preservation Society” by British rock legends The Kinks. The song is an ode to “jolly old England” and all it entails, including jam, Sherlock Holmes, and medals for valor in wars that were usually fought for imperialist reasons. Still, it’s a happy tune, and fits in with a scene where every citizen of Sandford politely greets their new police officer and tries to make small talk with him even though Angel just wants to work out in peace.
The song’s lyrics and title take on a more nefarious tone when it’s revealed that the town of Sandford’s Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, which started out as a group of kooks walking around and being paranoid, have been covering up murders for decades so that Sandford can keep winning the coveted “Village of the Year” award. The dark irony of the lyrics and town itself are one part of what makes Hot Fuzz Edgar Wright’s strongest work of social satire, especially a decade later in a world of Trump, Brexit, and Theresa May, where people who aren’t straight, white, able-bodied, and Christian aren’t welcome in the United States and the United Kingdom. It’s also a damn good shoot-’em-up, and Frost and Pegg have instant buddy-cop chemistry, even though their characters are diametrically opposed in personality.
6. “Scott Pilgrim” by Plumtree from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was also the first feature film Edgar Wright made that didn’t star Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It was also set in snowy Toronto, Canada instead of England. The movie is about an unemployed bass player named Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) who must defeat the seven evil exes of the enigmatic American package carrier, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), with fighting game style combat. It’s a visually stunning celebration of video games, indie music, action films, and comic books filtered through the romantic comedy genre, and is my personal favorite Edgar Wright film. On the music side, Beck actually wrote original music for Scott’s band in the film, Sex Bob-Omb, including the glorious ballad “Ramona.” The Scott Pilgrim soundtrack is a wonderful feast of indie music that the hipster types that populate the film would probably enjoy.
The comic book character Scott Pilgrim got his name from the 1997 song “Scott Pilgrim” by all-girl Canadian power pop band Plumtree, who Bryan Lee O’Malley was a fan of. They broke up in 2000, but got a resurgence in popularity thanks to the movie/comic. The song itself has a kind of rough punk sound, but it’s still melodic and catchy like Sex Bob-Omb’s songs about thresholds, garbage trucks, and of course, summer. It doesn’t play during one of the glorious battle sequences, but when Scott is just going through the motions of his fairly normal slacker life, including playing video games at an arcade with his high school girlfriend and walking to his tiny apartment that his amazingly sassy gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) pays for. Scott Pilgrim is a slice of life story about a boy in a band who falls for a girl – that just happens to feature old school video game elements and physics.
The repeated lyric “I’ve liked you for a thousand years” in “Scott Pilgrim” could easily describe Scott’s feelings for Ramona, as he fell in love with her when she was using the Subspace pathway in his mostly empty head way before he ran into her in real life at a party. Also, it’s flat out cool to see the evolution of a character from song title to Bryan Lee O’Malley drawing and finally in flesh and blood, courtesy of Michael Cera wearing a Plumtree shirt, while kind of/sort of rocking out on the bass.
5. “By Your Side” by Beachwood Sparks from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Although it features fight scenes ripped out of Street Fighter or Double Dragon, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a romantic comedy at its core. It has one garbage fire of a meet cute, with Scott using a Pacman-related chat-up line on Ramona, then “stalking her for the rest of the party.” He finds out that she’s a courier for Amazon.ca, orders a package, and then waits by his door for several days just so he can ask her out. Reluctantly, Ramona agrees to a date with Scott, and they end up walking through snow-covered Toronto before evacuating to Ramona’s apartment for tea and chill via Subspace pathway.
Scott and Ramona share a kinda cute, kinda awkward chemistry that is helped a lot by Michael Cera’s total awkwardness and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s utter cool. She says the word “date” like it’s not a big deal, then takes the lead as they start making out to L.A. alt-country band Beachwood Sparks’ cover of “By Your Side” by Sade. Cartoon hearts appear around their head, and it’s a sweet moment. Edgar Wright interweaves the repeated lyric “Oh when you’re cold, I’ll be there by your side” with the fact that it is literally cold, so she cuddles under blankets with Scott, and he spends the night even though they don’t have sex.
“By Your Side” is singlehandedly responsible for setting up Scott and Ramona as two people who could actually be a couple once the dust clears and all the evil exes are reduced to piles of gold coins. It gives what could be a supremely awkward scene a warm feeling of romance, and the “heavenly visuals” from Wright help too. It makes you want to root for Scott and Ramona as a couple, even though he’s technically still dating Knives Chau. Plus, it’s just a damn good love song.
4. “Black Sheep” by Metric from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Remember that ex of yours that got famous all of a sudden? In Scott Pilgrim’s case, that person is Canadian alt rock chanteuse Envy Adams (Brie Larson), who is the frontwoman of Clash at Demonhead. He and his shitty band, Sex Bob-Omb, get a once in a lifetime opportunity to open for indie darlings Clash at Demonhead at the famous Toronto concert venue, Lee’s Palace. As well as Scott’s ex, Envy, the band features Ramona’s third evil ex, Todd (Brandon Routh), who has superpowers because he’s vegan. The fictional band Clash at Demonhead is based on the real-life successful Canadian indie band, Metric, and Envy herself is based on their charismatic frontwoman, Emily Haines.
Even though much of the Scott/Envy material from the original comic is cut, Edgar Wright uses her appearance to flip the “evil ex” formula a bit and have Scott come to terms with running into someone from his own past that also happens to be connected to someone from Ramona’s. It’s super complicated, and comes to a head when Clash at Demonhead performs the Metric song “Black Sheep,” with Brie Larson providing vocals in-character as Envy Adams. The song’s venue-filling power, coupled with Envy’s success and strutting stage moves, incites Scott into action as he challenges Todd to both a bass battle and a more traditional fist fight. He gets his ass kicked musically and physically, but is saved by the timely intervention of the vegan police when it’s revealed that Todd has used non-vegan creamer and eaten chicken parmesan.
The epic sound combined with Edgar Wright’s music video directing style of “Black Sheep” demonstrates just how pathetic Scott is compared to his ex, with Clash of Demonhead being a world class indie outfit while Sex Bob-Omb sounds like a garage band that desperately needs to practice more in said garage. The lyric “You crack the whip, shape-shift, and trick, the past again” also applies to his relationship with Envy, who comes into his life just as he is about to start a new relationship with Ramona. She also changed her name from Natalie to the more theatrical Envy, and there is tension between her stage persona and insecurity about her past.
It shows that everyone has the skeletons of failed relationships in their closets, including Canadian indie rock goddesses played by future Academy Award-winning actresses.
3. “Loaded” by Primal Scream from The World’s End (2013)
In The World’s End, the final installment of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, Simon Pegg plays his biggest man-child yet, Gary “Fucking” King. He’s a drug and alcohol addict, a pathological liar, a bit of a thief, and he still wears the same duster and sunglasses that he did has a teenager. After a foreshadowing-filled flashback of his hard partying life in the small town of Newton Haven, as well as a failed attempt to complete the Golden Mile pub crawl, Wright abruptly cuts to the 41 year old Gary telling the story of how he and friends almost drank twelve pints in twelve pubs over the course of a single night.
It seems like The World’s End is going to be a darker version of the redemption story that Simon Pegg’s character Shaun had in Shaun of the Dead, but dialogue from the 1966 Peter Fonda biker flick The Wild Angels shows that he has no intention of getting his act together. This immediately cuts into the 1990 track “Loaded” by Primal Scream, a Scottish dance/rock band that Gary and the lads probably listened to after a night of getting hammered. Edgar Wright uses the song for some visual irony in a montage of Gary’s childhood friends, Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and even Nick Frost’s character, Andy, getting ready for a full day of adulting that includes family, children, an office, putting on a suit, working out, and more. They have grown up, while Gary is strutting around like Andrew Eldritch, the frontman of the 1980s British Goth band Sisters of Mercy, and he basically blackmails them into trying the Golden Mile again.
For Gary’s friends, “Loaded” is a nostalgic reminder of their dissolute youthful years, but for him it’s a manifesto. Towards the end of the film, Gary tells the Network, a group of aliens who are trying to make Earth better-behaved by replacing people with copies of themselves, that he wants to live out the lyrics of this song. He wants life to be a great adventure filled with pints of ale, pratfalls, attractive women, and great British music from the late 80s and early 90s, like Primal Scream.
2. “Step Back in Time” by Kylie Minogue from The World’s End (2013)
To be honest, I could fill this whole list with songs from The World’s End, which boasts a soundtrack that is perfect for a Brit Pop or Madchester-themed party, with cuts from artists like Blur, Pulp, James, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, and of course, The Stone Roses. However, Edgar Wright decided to use the 1990 pop hit “Step Back in Time” by Kylie Minogue in a pivotal part of the film. The song pops up in the 8th pub on the crawl, The Mermaid, where a “disco” for young people is being held, and its beats and airy lyrics may or may not bring you back to your high school prom.
Instead of learning about the reason why everyone in Newton Haven is robots, Steven, Gary, Andy, and Peter are too busy dancing with three young women that resemble the “girls” they ran into during their first attempt at the Golden Mile decades ago. It feels like they’ve traveled in time, and they’re too drunk to care that the women just want them to assimilate and be docile “blanks” like the rest of Newton Haven (except for the conspiracy theorist Basil (played by David Bradley). “Step Back in Time” is also about Kylie Minogue wishing she was young again, with lines like “Remember the old days/Remember the O’Jay’s/Walkin’ in rhythm, life was for livin’.” She wishes she was in the disco/funk 1970s, while Gary and his friends wish they were in the Brit Pop 1990s – not three drunk forty-somethings running from blue liquid-splattering robots in their old hometown.
In the Mermaid scene, it really feels like Edgar Wright has come full circle from the rave scene in Spaced. The screen pulsates like it did back in “Epiphanies,” but the subtext behind the party is much more sinister. These aren’t a tight-knit group of friends finally letting loose, but ones who have drifted apart and are trying to rekindle their relationship in a pretty toxic way. The name of the pub is a dead giveaway, because traditionally mermaids led sailors to their deaths (and weren’t cheery, singing gingers in Disney movies).
1. “This Corrosion” by Sisters of Mercy from The World’s End (2013)
Sisters of Mercy seems to be the visual medium through which Gary King presents himself to the world, so it’s fitting that their most epic single, “This Corrosion,” is a part of both The World’s End‘s climax and its final scene. Gary and Andy finally reach The World’s End pub when the film decides to go full-blown science fiction. The 40-piece choir intro of “This Corrosion” soars, as The Network offers Gary a chance to be young again, showing him a vision of his younger self while saying he’ll have “selective memories” about the good times of his youth – and not when his friend Andy almost died while drunk-driving him to the hospital after a wild night. Edgar Wright’s camera lingers, and it looks like Gary will take the deal, but he twists his younger self’s head off causing, the blue robot blood to splatter everywhere.
This is because Gary King (and by extension, humanity) doesn’t like being told what to do by an alien light show that replaces flesh-and-blood human beings with robots before useing their empty shells for compost. Sure, this whole film is about him rekindling memories of his ill-spent youth by doing the Golden Mile pub crawl, but that was on his own terms. With his love of songs like “Loaded’ and “I’m Free,” Gary is all about that lovely human free will, even though he can barely spell and do basic arithmetic. Like he says, “It’s our basic human right to be fuck ups.” Except this time his fuck-up leads to the literal end of the world as we know it.
This is where “This Corrosion” kicks in one final time, as Edgar Wright courts controversy by setting The World’s End in a far-flung, post-apocalyptic future where Gary’s duster that was out of place in London’s financial district fits right in as he leads a band of young robots through the devastated landscape like some kind of Goth Man with No Name (Edgar Wright’s first, unreleased film was the spaghetti western Fistful of Fingers). However, Gary drinks water now, and has found meaning and adventure in a way that doesn’t involve copious amounts of alcohol and hanging his friends out to dry. Still, he will always be responsible for the end of human civilization.
‘The Fade Out’ Demonstrates a Mastery of the Noir Genre
Whenever someone who doesn’t read comics asks me what comic I would recommend, I always answer The Fade Out…
Modern noir masterminds Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips began their five-year deal with Image Comics in 2014. It was an unprecedented deal, allowing them to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects. Their first project would be The Fade Out, a sprawling saga of corruption and redemption set against a gritty West Coast Hollywood backdrop.
As the premiere storytellers of crime/noir comics, The Fade Out saw them return to the familiar conventions of the genre, weaving a tangled web through the underbelly of a 1940’s film industry. In addition to unsettling narrative themes of ambiguity and violent death, certain stylistic characteristics immediately spring out: stark, angular shadows; the isolated feel of modern cities; conflicted anti-heroes and boiled down dialogue. It is everything a fan of detective stories could want. The multi-layered plot grabs you immediately — and Brubaker’s achievement as a writer cannot be overrated. This first issue alone moves swiftly from scene to scene, yet finds ample time to quickly define his characters. More importantly, it is quick to establish a mystery, making readers eager to see what happens next. And as you keep reading, The Fade Out keeps spooling out more narrative twists until the ingenious maze turns into an oppressive tangle.
What is it About?
The Fade Out tells the story of Charlie Parish, a struggling screenplay writer who finds himself smack in the middle of the murder of a Hollywood starlet named Valeria Sommers. The story is framed from the perspective of Charlie, a man plagued with nightmares from the war, and now struggling to hide a dark and terrible secret. Luckily for him, a power-crazed Hollywood mogul and his security chief will do anything to avoid another scandal, including a cover-up that frames the crime as an act of suicide. That’s just the beginning, as Brubaker’s script quickly establishes the central conflict before moving on to introduce the key players.
Via Charlie’s quintessential, hard-boiled third-person narration and various flashbacks, we meet a heap of supporting players including Earl Rath (an Errol Flynn lookalike and movie star womanizer) – Gil Mason (one time writer and full time alcoholic) – Dotty Quinn (publicity girl and all-around sweetheart) – Phil Brodsky ( the studio’s Head of Security), and the aforementioned Valeria Sommers, an up and coming actress killed before her time. Like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, Valeria is a mystery and remembered differently by different people and part of the fun in reading The Fade Out is discovering exactly who Valeria Somers actually was. The rest of the cast comes across as the usual noir stereotypes – a collection of tough guys, femme-Fatales and corrupt businessmen, but everyone seems to hold some dark secret that makes them necessary in telling the bigger story. And while our protagonist fits the mold of a noir anti-hero, he quickly becomes a likable and sympathetic character, and someone we can root for.
At the center of this series is the relationship between Charlie and his partner Gil. Brubaker presents Gil as an alcoholic devastated by his professional blacklisting in Hollywood while being investigated for communism. For the unfamiliar, the Hollywood blacklist was rooted in events of the 1930s and the early 1940s, encompassing the height of the Great Depression and World War II. The U.S. government began turning its attention to the possible links between Hollywood and the party during this period and many screenwriters, producers, and directors were banned. In The Fade Out, for example, we learn that Gil has been working as a ghostwriter for Charlie. The two support one another both financially and artistically and despite his addiction, Gil remains a proficient author of successful screenplays and uses Charlie’s name to allow his work to be sold and brought to life on the big screen. Gil may be a drunk, but he’s a talented drunk, but for Charlie, he’s a mere typist who’s experienced in the war have left him with a prolonged writer’s block.
Brubaker does a superb job in sketching out the main cast here and fleshing out a larger sense of emotional damage the protagonist Charlie Parish carries with him. Charlie is more or less an anti-social loner that is subject to existential angst. He’s burdened with a sense of guilt, desperation, and frustration. Much like Fred MacMurray’s Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, Charlie is a nice guy, modestly successful, but a man with a faint smell of cynical opportunism within his persona. While he may be our protagonist, he can’t be trusted, and so we sense that his fall from grace isn’t from a great moral height.
The Fade Out is a Modern Masterpiece
What makes The Fade Out great is how quick it establishes many subtle, subliminal clues between the flashbacks and real-time sequences; every page is loaded with rich painstaking detail, making this the most ambitious series yet from the award-winning duo. Brubaker pulls from the decades-old lineage of hardboiled tough guys channeling the likes of Sam Spade, Walter Neff, and Joe Gillis. Tension and suspense are increased by the use of Charlie’s inner monologues and flashbacks, in that the audience is always cognizant of impending doom. The seamless connection and disconnection, between the thoughts of a character and what we see on the page, is brilliant. The voice-over in the series isn’t used to tell us what we are seeing, rather tell us what we aren’t seeing. More so, it lulls the reader into a false sense of security. Notes of racism, sexism, and antisemitism are also peripherally present, but this allows for Brubaker and Phillips to naturally explore a time and place where these behaviours were socially acceptable.
As the story unfolds, The Fade Out moves away from beaten-down protagonists Charlie Parish, shifting its spotlight on new characters while more familiar faces slide into the background. Using unexpected flashbacks and unique third-person narration, Brubaker reveals the complicated personalities of these additional characters at the opposite end of the Hollywood spectrum. Included are Mr. Thursby (head of Victory Street Pictures who has been doing everything in his power to silence the true nature of Valeria Sommers’ death), and Maya Silver (a young actress hoping to replace Valeria’s lead role in an upcoming film). Ed Brubaker shows us more of the dirty side of the film industry, capturing the various power struggles and moral dilemmas that come with seeking fame and fortune. Maya, for example, is an actress waiting for her big break and hoping to fill the void left behind by Valeria Sommers. She’s been promised the role that once belonged to the now-deceased actress, but she’s had to endure countless indignities to help get her to where she is now. Maya has certainly been a victim of a horribly sexist system, but while she is preyed upon, she’s far from weak. Her past continues to haunt her, but with the help of a new friend, she may be able to finally escape her demons.
Many of the characters in The Fade Out are polar opposites but they share one common goal: they will do anything it takes to ensure the film moves forward, and that they each remain involved. Thursby who wields immense power in Hollywood, reflects on his voluptuous past, wishing he could go return to the life he once knew; meanwhile Maya longs to escape her demeaning past and climb up the ladder of success. Thursby is a man who was once happy and free, only now he seems trapped by the studio system. In a way, he probably feels just as trapped as his actors do. As The Fade Out slowly begins to pull the curtain back, the story reveals a chilling noir tale about murder, immorality, gender roles, lust, greed and the position of women in the early 20th century.
Characters are the focus of The Fade Out, not just plot beats and despite the central mystery, The Fade Out is not about solving the question of who killed Valeria Sommers, but about the consequences that a corrupt Hollywood system had on her, and continues to have on everyone else involved. If anything, The Fade Out is a study of men and women destroyed by the 50s success ethic, left broken, alone, and in some cases, left dead.
If there was ever a comic that would make a great television series, it is this…
The artwork for The Fade Out is exquisite. Each panel is framed and lit much like a movie from the late 40s, and as you are reading, you can’t help but visualize it on the big screen. Sean Phillips is indisputably one of the most talented artists in the business, and when it comes to depicting gritty, realistic settings, he’s the best. Phillips’ character designs are so photo-realistic that one Tyler Graves looks like a young Montgomery Clift reincarnated in animated form.
Phillips has been a regular collaborator of Brubaker’s for quite a while now, but this is the first time they’ve worked with Elizabeth Breitweiser, and her work here is a blessing. Everything from the backgrounds, landscapes, dutch angles, heavy shadows, low-key lighting, and depth of field captures the era and look of noir perfectly. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Breitweiser must also be given credit for her fabulous work as the colourist. There’s something to appreciate around every corner — most of all, visuals to astound and amaze. Mostly, though, the book comes across like the fever dream of an artist who’s been up all night watching every black-and-white crime movie made in the ‘40s.
The series also masters the art of juxtaposition juggling between multiple timelines and subplots seamlessly. Along with the third person narrative, Brubaker and co. communicate subtle relationships between characters, plot, and an overall arching theme of corruption. The level of detail and the attention to every line of dialogue speaks to the effort to capture 1940s Hollywood as accurately as possible – so much so – they hired Amy Condit (a Hollywood expert who manages the L.A. Police museum), as a research assistant.
A Classic take on Classic Hollywood
Brubaker’s name has been synonymous with the noir genre from the very start of his career, but The Fade Out marked his first trip into Hollywoodland, the never-innocent city of illusions. The Fade Out relishes in classic Hollywood tropes – so much so – that every page looks like a storyboard from an Anthony Mann film. This is clearly, a labor of love from its creative team who even went the extra mile by assembling a series of supplementary content that helps readers get into the mindset of the time. The painstaking attention to historical detail cannot be overlooked. Using the murder of a Hollywood starlet as a catalyst to expose the web of dark secrets that runs through the City of Angels, the award-winning team has put together one of the most intriguing comics of the decade and a series that is destined to be a cult classic. Everything from the distinctive characters to the shadowy visuals to the thick labyrinthine plot, the cynical, hopeless tone, the dialogue and so on, makes it an incredibly fascinating read.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips will always be remembered as one of the greatest teams in comics’ canon. Their work is unmistakable, and consistent in quality since their early days working on the indie crime series Sleeper, to the modern masterpiece that is Criminal. Like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee or Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, they can do no wrong when working side by side. Fade Out isn’t quite up there with classic Hollywood noirs, but it’s the closest thing since Chinatown. This is a wonderfully entertaining series in which dark secrets; the mystery and allure of Hollywood; double-crossing; and secret alliances, are all but some of the ingredients found.
Ed Brubaker’s darker than dark drama about the inner workings of Hollywood is essential reading and further proof that Brubaker and Sean Phillips are two of the industry’s best, performing at the top of their game. Every chapter of The Fade Out is designed to set up the many things to come and advances the plot a few inches forward while exploring the backgrounds of the entire cast. The dead body which turns up at the start is just but one mystery – The Fade Out has so many more mysterious for readers to unravel.
Given the success of The Fade Out, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning creators renewed their exclusive deal with Image Comics in 2018. And thanks to Image Comics, the duo can continue to follow their creative instincts and continue to produce what is arguably some of the best stories you’ll find in the medium without having to sacrifice their artistic and creative freedom.
– Ricky D
Dark Horse’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Graphic Novel Series Is The Fourth Season We Never Got
“Alright, Team Avatar is back!”
Avatar: The Last Airbender is- and will always be- my favorite television show of all time. Its sixty-one episode story never ceases to amaze me every time I rewatch it, but it always leaves me wishing that Team Avatar could reunite for another adventure or two, whether that be for explanations regarding their future lives before the events of its successor series or completing yet another unresolved plotline.
After all these years, I finally discovered what I had been looking for; more Avatar that is on par with the storytelling and animation of the original series that will make any fan squeal with joy. Its time for fans to step up and recognize what should practically be considered as The Last Airbender’s fourth season; the stories that are still making their way to printing presses rather than television production.
If you are craving for more Avatar in anticipation for the Netflix live-action remake, wanting something to fill your desires after a rewatch, or even just dying for a new story after a first viewing, then this series of graphic novels will surely peak your interests. Team Avatar’s adventures are far from over because Dark Horse’s Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel series is the fourth unforeseen season of the show that you always wanted and it is something that every fan should indulge themselves in whether they are looking for some ongoing laughs from the heroes or serious answers to what they want to know most.
From Moving Presentations to Still Pages
In 2010, show producers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko originally pitched an idea to Nickolodean; to continue Team Avatar’s story through a 90-minute television special known simply as The Search. This story would have wrapped up all loose ends by closing off the story’s only real cliffhanger, the resolution for the disappearance of Zuko’s missing mother. Despite interest in the project, the executives at Nickelodeon ultimately deemed that the special would never see the light of day on the small screen as they declined the proposal in favor of creating an original series about the next Avatar who would succeed Aang.
The Legend of Korra was conceived thanks to the failed pitch that was The Search, but that did not stop DiMartino and Konietzko from allowing their unused story to go to waste. During the concept stages of Korra, the two producers managed to strike a deal, allowing Nickelodeon to partner with Dark Horse Comics in order to finish the final story of Avatar: The Last Airbender while tieing in many of the events that would build up the world seen in the The Legend of Korra through a series of various graphic novels- which are still ongoing today.
The Search, The Promise, Team Avatar Tales, Smoke and Shadow, North and South, and the currently ongoing Imbalanced are the story arcs that truthfully culminate into the epilogue fourth season of The Last Airbender that fans have pleaded for. Each volume adds up to about one or two new full-length episodes of the show that have the same story-telling and animation quality as what we originally fell in love with. These stories help establish events that strengthen the extended continuity that The Legend of Korra added to Team Avatar’s story while giving The Last Airbender’s fans more of what they want; stories featuring their favorite characters that do not threaten the shows neverending appeal- if anything they add more to love about an already fantastic series.
Continuing What Was Already Perfected
The graphic novels produced by Dark Horse Comics are a justifiable canon extension to Team Avatar’s story that is both written and supervised by the shows original creators [DiMartino and Konietzko]- in other words, there is no need to worry about a new interpretation helmed by people who do not understand the series’ core ethics and values that can easily be misinterpreted just for unreasonable box office profit. Each volume of every story arc serves a legitimate and well thought out purpose to the world of Avatar. A single page is never wasted.
“There is no war within these walls.”
Each story arc continuously builds on the world of Avatar by presenting a slow technological transition into the twentieth-century inspired landscape seen in The Legend of Korra, while showing audiences what the characters and locations had in store during the near distant future after the defeat of Phoenix King Ozai and Prince Zuko’s reconquering of the throne. The comics allow the two series to seamlessly transition into one another by explaining how technology, freedom of speech, political ideology, and spiritual connection all began to expand over the course of just a few months as the four nations slowly became more united under the helm of the last surviving Airbender and the previously banished fire lord.
Every character is written as if they were pulled directly from the source material- just as they should be since the original producers behind both Avatar and Korra are directly involved with the production of every page printed in these books. Characters and locations are constantly being built up to fit their future roles seen throughout The Legend of Korra. Nothing ever feels out of place in these graphic novels. Reading through these books made me feel as if Avatar had never ended; a feeling that every reader should feel when they have fully emerged back into a previously ended story. Every word, character, and location builds an authentic atmosphere that will quickly pull you back into what you previously loved. Seriously, try and not to read these three panels below without hearing each character’s voice in your head.
If you have not read any of the current set of available graphic novels, I highly recommend you purchase at least one of the stories in order to see if this is what you are looking for- and believe me, it will not disappoint. While The Promise is the direct sequel to the finale of The Last Airbender– literally, as the first volume takes place seconds after the last scene in ‘Sozin’s Comet Part 4’ before the credits roll- the graphic novel that I personally believe will completely sell you on this series is The Search; the story arc that contains a resolution you are probably dying to know the answer to. Just sit back, throw on a soundtrack compilation, and enjoy where you last left off in the world of the four nations.
The Top Ten Space Opera Comics
Logan continues his list, this time giving his top 5 picks for the best Space Opera Comics.
The list of best comic book space operas continues from Part 1 and enters the 21st century, with a pair of crossovers from Marvel and DC, some indie excellence from Image Comics, and the great Black Mask Studios among the top 5:
5. Annihilation (Marvel; 2006-2007)
Even though it was released at the same time as Marvel’s famous Civil War event, cosmic counterpart Annihilation arguably holds up better a decade later. Annihilation is a beautiful hybrid of military science-fiction and space opera, following a rag-tag band of Marvel cosmic characters as they battle Annihilus and his Annihilation Wave, a group of bug-like creatures who are being manipulated by Thanos and want to suck the whole universe into the Negative Zone. The stakes are immediately raised when they wipe out the entire Nova Corps, except for Richard Rider. Annihilation is responsible for bringing now-popular characters like Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Nova, and Gamora into the limelight. Without this comic, there would probably be no Guardians of the Galaxy film, even if its tone is way grimmer, and Peter Quill is more crazy than sexy and charming in it.
Instead of crossing over into every Marvel comic under the sun, this event consisted of a prologue one-shot, five four-issue miniseries, and a six-issue core miniseries simply called Annihilation, written by Keith Giffen and drawn by Andrea DiVito. The minis remind me of George R.R. Martin using different narrators in A Song of Ice and Fire, and they provide different perspectives on the war against the Annihilation Wave. They are also more character-driven, whereas Annihilation is the big blockbuster finale, even if it doesn’t end in complete and utter triumph while leaving some threads open for Annihilation: Conquest and the excellent Nova solo comic, which immediately comments on how petty the heroes’ in-fighting in Civil War is in light of the events of its sister crossover.
Annihilation: Nova is the Hero’s Journey with a sense of humor, as future Guardians of the Galaxy writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, along with superstar artist Kev Walker, show how Richard Rider goes from runt of the Nova Corps litter to the leader of the fight against the Annihilation Wave. Annihilation: Super Skrull and Annihilation: Ronan cast the Marvel villains Kl’rt the Super Skrull and Ronan the Accuser as noble figures, with Kl’rt making a heroic sacrifice. Ronan’s story has an added element of existential crisis from writer Simon Furman, as he must find purpose in a world where the Kree have stripped his Accuser rank and are ruled by bureaucrats who don’t care how many Kree warriors die. Annihilation: Silver Surfer is the most cosmic comic of the bunch, with Silver Surfer and former Heralds of Galactus banding together to stop the nefarious figures that are using Annihilus and his carnivorous insect crew like puppets on strings.
Andrea DiVito and Scott Kolins are the standouts on Annihilation and Annihilation Prologue, as far as the art is concerned. They can lay down a double-page spread showing the destruction of planets and cosmic beings, while also highlighting the human moments in the middle of the action, like the rage in Drax’s face every time Thanos is mentioned.
Annihilation and its follow-up, Annihilation Conquest (who can resist Ultron in space?), are memorable comics because they are good science fiction stories that happen to take place in the Marvel Universe. They add extra depths to characters that are one-note villains, like Super Skrull and Ronan, and tell a story about the cost of war and unlikely allies banding together in the face of disaster. If you pick up one Marvel “event comic” from the 2000s, make it Annihilation.
4. Sinestro Corps War (DC; 2007-2008)
In the DC Universe, the Green Lantern Corps are space cops who have overcome fear and can use their power rings to create projections of anything in their imagination to protect the universe. On the other side of the coin is the Sinestro Corps, who use yellow power rings to bring order to the universe through fear. The two sides comes to blows in the “Sinestro Corps War” storyline, told in the pages of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Dave Gibbons’ and Peter Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps, with art from Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Angel Unzueta, and countless fill-in pencilers, inkers, and colorists that bring these almost Biblical – and quite emotional – space battles to life. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but “Sinestro Corps War” succeeds because Johns take these godlike characters’ feelings and insecurities seriously, while also lifting Sinestro into the pantheon of archvillains. It was a coming out party for the Green Lantern franchise and may have partially been responsible for the greenlighting of the 2011 film.
The idea for “Sinestro Corps War” came from an obscure Green Lantern story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame, one that is very rooted in DC Comics continuity. However, Johns leans on a tremendous team of artists, including Reis and Van Sciver, to depict past events, like Hal Jordan becoming evil in the 1990s, all the way through to the present conflict. His almost religious reverence for the DC stories of the past pairs nicely with Gibbons’ cheeky character-driven writing, which makes even the most D-list members of the Green Lantern Corps compelling, like the combat medic Soranik Natu, who patrols Sinestro’s home planet, or the planet-sized Green Lantern, Mogo. A throwaway joke in a Moore and Gibbons comic becomes the heart and soul of Johns, Reis, Gibbons, and Gleason’s creation.
Fear is a powerful motivation for most human beings’ actions, and Geoff Johns leans on this terrifying, yet true reality to orchestrate the DC Universe’s finest soap opera since the days of Jack Kirby. He uses the emotional component of the Green Lanterns and Sinestro Corps’ powers, not just for cool action scenes, but also to explore the motivations and feelings of those who wield them, including the walking mediocrity, Hal Jordan. “Sinestro Corps War” established Ivan Reis (currently on Justice League of America) and Patrick Gleason (currently drawing Superman) as their go-to artist for blockbuster stories, while still keeping in mind the human aspects of these big-time characters, and not just doing double-page spreads. Best of all, it set the stage for Blackest Night, the most epic non-Grant-Morrison-written DC comic that didn’t make this list (because it is more of a superhero/horror book than space opera).
3. Saga (Image; 2012 to present)
When I started thinking about comics I was going to write about for Space Opera Month, Saga immediately popped up into my head. This Eisner, Harvey, and Hugo Award-winning science fiction comic by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) and Fiona Staples (Archie) is about a couple named Alana and Marko, who are from the perpetually-warring planet and moon of Landfall and Wreath. They fall in love, have a beautiful daughter named Hazel, and then go on the run from a variety of pursuers, including morally-ambiguous bounty hunter The Will, Mario’s ex-fiance Gwendolyn, a spider-legged bounty hunter named The Stalk, an aristocrat with a TV for a head called Prince Robot IV, and a cat named Lying Cat (who is literally a lie detector). One of the best parts of Saga is seeing Staples’ creative – and occasionally disturbing – design for the different beings that Alana and Marko run into, including a hipster teenage ghost who is their babysitter, an adorable and loyal (fan favorite) seal creature named Ghus, anthropomorphic fishnet stockings who live on the pleasure planet Sextillion, and countless others.
Even though it happens on a variety of strange planets against the backdrop of complicated political intrigue, Vaughan and Staples make Saga about the difficulty of starting a family, even though there are plenty of fire fights, magical duels, and timely escapes. Alana and Marko fight a lot of the time, and recently in the comics they have been separated. The series also doesn’t keep Hazel (who is the comic’s narrator) a baby forever. At the time of this writing, she has grown into a rambunctious little girl, who is slowly becoming aware of what the outside world thinks of her parents’ actions.
Hazel’s coming of age and Alana and Marko’s relationship struggles keep Saga grounded, while Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples indulge in some seriously cool worldbuilding – like a romance novel that’s a secret revolutionary treatise, or how Alana used to be a kind of soap opera actress – while fleshing out an ever-expanding supporting cast. At its core, however, Saga is about how creating and nurturing life is better than taking one, even if it seems like the senseless violence will never cease… (Warning: Saga kills off characters on a Whedonesque level)
2.Starlight (Image; 2014)
He’s most famous for his violent, entertaining, and more than a little sophomoric Kick-Ass and Kingsman series, as well as a revisionist take on Marvel heroes in Ultimates and Civil War, but Starlight showcases a more mature side of comics’ Scottish enfant-terrible, Mark Millar. It also has some gorgeous Moebius-meets-Norman-Rockwell (but with a sense of humor) art from Goran Parlov (Fury MAX). The comic is about an elderly man named Duke McQueen, who saved the planet Tantalus and its queen from the tyrannical Typhon when he was a young man. After his victory, he left Tantalus to be with his beloved wife, Joanne, who passes away from cancer in Starlight #1. Duke is ridiculed for the outlandish accounts of his adventures, and is a lonely old dude who is almost forgotten. However, in Starlight he is called to save Tantalus from a new tyrant – with the help of his number one fan Krish Moor, who looks like he belongs in the Speed Racer universe, but has a sad backstory similar to Batman.
What makes Starlight so endearing is the character of Duke McQueen. Sure, he ends up being a double blaster-wielding, double-fisted hero in the end, but the early issues set him up as a sad old man who misses his wife. Goran Parlov is fantastic at drawing vehicles and sci-fi weaponry, but he also nails the sad moments, like Duke sitting alone and smoking under the stars, or a place setting for a family dinner that no one bothered to show up to. These emotional sequences make the action in the back half of the series that much exhilarating, as Duke inspires the Tantalans to rise up against their new tyrant, Kingfisher (who looks like Darth Vader and has the appetite for luxury of Jabba the Hutt).
Starlight is the old New Testament quote “No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” but on an intergalactic level. Sure, Duke saved a whole planet, but he’s treated as a crank by his family and neighbors. Duke’s journey from retired hero to returning hero is thrilling, and he’s a selfless, noble man with wry one-liners to boot. The miniseries is worth reading for Goran Parlov’s command of the comics medium ,as he excels at everything from double-page spreads of tyrannical mining planets, to furious car chases, and even an old man watching the stars that he once saved. It’s a pity that this was his last interior art, as of early 2017.
1. Space Riders (Black Mask; 2015, 2017)
With its Jack-Kirby-meets-a-Grimes-album cover (or a really well-done punk rock zine), art from artist Alexis Zirritt, and anything goes/picaresque-style plotting from writer Fabian Rangel, Space Riders is a fucking awesome four-issue space opera miniseries from Black Mask Studios, one of comics’ most innovative publishers. Space Riders follows the adventures of Capitan Peligro (Spanish for “Captain Danger”), his first mate Mono (a religiously devout baboon), and Yara, a badass, yet level-headed female android (who saves the crew’s bacon multiple times). Their ship is the Santa Muerte, a literal flying skull that has been discontinued by the EISF, the Space Riders’ employer. There is an overarching plot featuring gods, a tomb, and the fate of the universe, but Space Riders is really a comeback story, as Capitan Peligro must prove himself to his superiors and regain his rank and ride. He must deal with the legacy of his father, who was also a Space Rider, as well as also try to get revenge against his rival, Hammerhead.
It only took a few pages of Space Riders #1 to make me fall in love with Alexis Zirritt’s art and colors. Every page that he draws deserves to either be a poster or an album cover. With his intense reds and wobbly, seemingly LSD-laced pencils, Zirritt makes faster-than-light travel seem like the scariest shit ever for a human being. Jumping to hyperspace isn’t some mash-a-button-and-escape deal for Capitan Peligro, but a dark night of the soul, as he goes a little mad and ends up wrecking the Santa Muerte. This comic is packed to the gills with generally cool stuff, like a double-page splash of a space whale getting harassed by Viking-themed space biker gangs, along with your usual space opera fare, including killer robots and tractor beams. There are layers to this coolness, however, like the space whale being a riff on Moby Dick (but with Peligro wanting to protect this majestic – and possibly divine – creature instead of killing it like that windbag Captain Ahab). It’s a nice environmental parable that isn’t schmaltzy thanks to the presence of Tarantino-esque one-liners, chest mounted machine guns and – did I mention the Viking motorcycle gang?
Space Riders is a wild ride of a comic book, and it’s one of the books on this list that I feel comfortable recommending even to people who aren’t into science fiction, but still like cool action and characters with problems. Fabian Rangel and Alexis Zirritt don’t waste time on oodles of exposition, instead just throwing readers into intense situations and never letting off the gas. Capitan Peligro gets a solid character arc as he evolves from an utter fuck-up, and refuses promotion so he can be free to fly through space with his crew, beating bad guys and figuring out more about the mysterious dying gods in the current series, Space Riders: Galaxy of Brutality.
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