By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)

The Story: Reshoots—the actor’s true death.

The Review: I don’t know how you feel about celebrity culture, but I’ve never had much patience or sympathy for it. To put it less gently, I look down a bit on celebrities and their divorces, benders, scandals, and other tabloid-generating behavior. It’s not fair—not always, because frequently all that stuff is just typical human failure, only with media sensationalism. I’m just saying it can be hard for me to drum up sympathy for these people, so ethereal and out-of-reach they seem.

Brubaker recognizes that, which is perhaps why this issue takes steps to contrast Valeria Sommers, the luminous ingénue of the silver screen, with Valeria Sommers (nee Jenny Summers of Pasadena), who befriended black kids in her youth, cringed at hack writing as her career blossomed, and otherwise seemed like a nice, entirely human gal navigating a bewildering business. Her death is going to be the anchor that keeps the series running; it’ll only have the necessary weight if we get to know her.

Yet it’s not really clear what her death has unleashed on these people. You can sense a profound change at work, but it’s slow to reveal itself. Her death has got these people thinking about who they are and what they’re doing, and they don’t much like it.

Victor Thursby, head of Victory Street Pictures, seems to take it harder than anyone, brushing away tears at her funeral, lamenting her ruined future as he and director Franz Schmitt review her last film, caressing and whispering to her projected face on the screen in private. This isn’t the behavior of a man who’s simply regretting the loss of an asset or even a sex toy. He’s acting like someone who’s lost the love of his life, making past and future achievements meaningless.

But grief, even sincere grief, can’t stop the relentless gears of this industry from turning. Thursby’s whole life, even from when he was still Noah Feldman, flashes before his eyes and he still calls for reshoots, an act Charlie sees as tantamount to erasing Valeria from the film. Not that he’s going to stop it. He didn’t lift a finger when she begged him to save her from a crap movie, and despite deep nostalgia for their past interactions, he’s resigned to letting those responsible for her death and those scrubbing her legacy get away with it.

This is making him sound like a most pathetic, reprehensible protagonist, but he’s also a fragile cog in the machine, trying to deflect attention from his weakness lest he be removed. His war experiences has left something in his mind, a big, fat block that’s prevented him from writing for years, leaving him dependent on Gil to support them both. Charlie’s Invisible Man fantasy underlines a desperation to be both noticed and overlooked: “He imagined it would be a relief, to have a mask everyone can see…but that made them look away all the same.”

If redemption is in the works, it’ll come from Charlie’s dissatisfaction with being a loser. Admitting that he only told Gil the truth of Valeria’s death so “he could be the strong one…the one who keeps it together,” Charlie shows that while he’s not willing to stand up to the big guns, he’ll prey on those just as vulnerable to feel better about himself. His concern for Gil’s family is as much about needling at Gil’s failures as receiving the gratitude of Gil’s attractive, increasingly affectionate wife.

Phillips’ art always seems like he’s either in the wrong biz or born in the wrong era or both; he should be directing hardboiled gumshoe films at their black-and-white height. He comes pretty close to it in this series, with a reel of panels from Valeria’s film looking exactly like it came from Otto Preminger, Orson Welles, or Alfred Hitchcock. It’s not just the style, but the body language and expressions of the actors that capture the period’s predilection for tense melodrama.

Conclusion: The characters’ complications make them difficult to understand, even unsympathetic, but also enormously compelling.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – The Supreme Court ruling mentioned in the issue is most likely a reference to U.S. v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948), which found the major film studios had violated antitrust laws by acting as producers and distributors both, essentially forcing theaters to show their movies on their schedule at their prices. If not for the Paramount Decree, we’d probably only be watching Michael Bay action flicks, rom-coms starring Katharine Heigl, and an endless parade of Madea and Jackass features right about now.