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A straightforward crime mystery, in the mighty Ed Brubaker manner – The Fall

January 26, 2013

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The Fall was published at the end of Ed Brubaker’s independent years, before he dug his hands deep in the mainline Marvel and DC properties. His wheelhouse has always been crime fiction – a poorly exploited corner of the comic book genre – even when in the capes and tights playground, and Fall, while suffering from the occasional hiccups of a still-developing scripting repertoire, delivers gritty mystery cloaked in suburban camouflage. Together, Brubaker and artist Jason Lutes put together a short tale that pushes some of the same “Look Closer” buttons as American Beauty, a contemporary crime story that dealt with the darkness lurking behind finely manicured lawns.

The title has a tripartite meaning — the season in which the story is set, the tragic event that spurs on much of the action, and the protagonist’s plunge into the hidden truth behind someone else’s death. Originally published serially in Dark Horse PresentsFall was repackaged in 2001 in one volume, the cover of which is seen above. The story follows Kirk, a going nowhere night clerk at a gas station, and his slow immersion into a decade old mystery. One night a customer hands him a credit card that she found on the ground by the pumps, and Kirk tells her that he’ll put it in the lost and found. He doesn’t. Instead, he embarks on a one-night spree of illicit retail therapy — patching over a recent break-up, a crappy apartment, etc. — and thinks that’s the end of it. But it turns out that the lady who turned in the card (June) wasn’t just a customer, but was also the boss’s wife. Instead of turning him in, she ropes him into doing chores around the house while her husband is at work. Kirk, in spite of the power dynamic, enjoys her company, but makes an odd discovery one day in the garden:

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He doesn’t tell June about the purse, and instead takes it home and goes through its contents: day planner, driver’s license, loose change, the usual. It belonged to a woman named Emily Keating, and he starts to puzzle out who this woman was by checking out her old address, calling phone numbers from the planner, and even going to the library to look up newspaper articles on microfiche. (This is the second comic in a number of months where microfiche has come into play. This can’t be a too common occurrence. Is there a database someplace where these things are cross-referenced? An Elias Sports Bureau for comics?) It isn’t long before he learns that Emily died ten years earlier, in 1988. Strike that — she didn’t just die. She was murdered, thrown off of an overpass. A lot of the details are filled in after a chance, rain-soaked meeting, when Kirk spots a spitting image of the dead woman at the core of his obsession:

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It’s after this that the connections — between the purse, June, Emily — start to fall into place. The glue is a corrupt policeman, one who gives chase to the nosey Kirk in one of the few bits of action in the book:

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I’d like to thank the 1970s film industry for making fire escapes and rooftop chases de rigueur elements of crime stories. Seriously — no sarcasm.

Everything spins towards an end confrontation that’s overly melodramatic. Indeed, many of the character motivations feel forced, shoehorned into the story to get the plot from one stage to the next and bearing no relation to real world behavior or logic. This lack of organic momentum robs The Fall of any chance at becoming a classic of the field, but Brubaker’s script and Lutes’ art pair nicely with one another, the latter providing the blasé, generic streets and lawns of Middle America with a deceptively rich texture. You won’t carry the story with you for the rest of your days — you won’t develop a Kirk-like obsession over it — but you won’t be sorry you read it. It’s not a waste of time.

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