'Night Fever' Travels Down Criminal Paths Not Yet Taken
We review the new noir nightmare from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It's not reckless.
Boooooooo! That was my immediate reaction after learning Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips would take a quick break from their Reckless novels to pursue something different. Night Fever, their latest Image Comics hardcover, doesn't mimic or reference anything the two have been up to during the last few years. And that's super cool, obviously, but also a little distressing as addiction has set adequately into my soul. I need to know where Ethan and Anna are heading, or better yet since we know where they're heading, how they will get there. Gah!
Patience. I was never taught it.
With my crybaby whining out of the way, we can focus on the Brubaker/Phillips joint that's here (or nearly here with a 6/14 release date). Night Fever is a crime story, but not necessarily like any crime story we've seen from these creators. You'll recognize the bad, entirely human decisions made by their lead and others, but the plot, especially the mood, doesn't share much in common with past works.
The previous Brubaker/Phillips collaboration Night Fever reflects the most is Fatale, a comic that plunges into the supernatural and pretty much every genre imaginable. That's not a spoiler! I'm not saying Night Fever travels in unreality, but I'm also not saying it doesn't. The comic rides a line where every page-turn could reveal something extraordinary, and the narrative's wobbly nature allows Sean Phillips (and colorist Jacob Phillips) to play a bit.
Once Jonathan Webb, "the hero," enters a world he's never explored, the barrier between certainty and fantasy erodes. This thin crumbling wall gives Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips space to stretch, breaking beyond their traditional, totally kickass style. There are images, layouts, and colors in Night Fever that you have yet to see in their bibliography. Yes, it was hard not to squeal when I first hit those pages.
When we meet Webb, he's struggling. It's 1978. He's attending an international book fair. On his flight over, he read through an advanced reading copy of "a strange little book" that profoundly disturbed him. Others at his publishing house believe it will be a sensation when it launches in the Fall. Webb doesn't doubt it, but he's more concerned by the dreams that plague the main character. They're Webb's dreams too.
The impossibility of finding his inner life fueling a fictional creation prevents Webb from sleeping. In this insomniac state, he ventures into a European nightlife where horrible violence awaits. Night Fever carries an uncomfortable charge, a sensation familiar to fans of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. There are worlds below our own, operated by creatures that look like us but cannot possibly belong to our species. Or, maybe, we don't belong. We may not be what we thought we were.
Webb's inward descent creates an exhilarating reading experience. Night Fever hits a stride somewhere in the middle, making the book unputdownable. Consider dread as an intoxicant. An apocalypse of some sort certainly awaits Webb, and you're jonzing to meet the catastrophe. When the comic finally reveals its climax, Brubaker is wicked enough not to let Webb off the hook. The poor sucker is left to dangle, as are we, his voyeurs. I'm hours away from having finished Night Fever, and it's gonna burrow around my insides for a while.
If Brubaker and Phillips must pause to let their Reckless love tank refuel, then we should be grateful they have the energy to unravel an utterly unique tale like Night Fever. Jonathan Webb might be sleepwalking, but these two are most definitely not. Years into their relationship and they're producing comics as viciously original as their first efforts.
Quickie Review: Night Fever is as good as anything Brubaker and Phillips have produced. However, the new noir nightmare has an unhinged quality often missing from earlier collaborations, and this shaky sensibility adds a compelling anxiety. Peppered throughout the book are numerous unforgettable sequences that will undoubtedly rank amongst the most memorable from their oeuvre. 10/10
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $24.99
On Sale: 6/14/23
Synopsis: A gripping new original graphic novel from ED BRUBAKER & SEAN PHILLIPS, the bestselling creators of PULP, RECKLESS, CRIMINAL, and KILL OR BE KILLED.Who are you, really? Are you the things you do, or are you the person inside your mind?In Europe on a business trip, Jonathan Webb can’t sleep. Instead, he finds himself wandering the night in a strange foreign city with his new friend, the mysterious and violent Rainer, as his guide. Rainer shows Jonathan the hidden world of the night, a world without rules or limits. But when the fun turns dangerous, Jonathan may find himself trapped in the dark—the question is, what will he do to get home?NIGHT FEVER is a pulse-pounding Jekyll-and-Hyde noir thriller about a man facing the darkness inside himself. This riveting tour of the night is a must-have for all BRUBAKER & PHILLIPS fans!