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With 'Night Fever,' Phillips and Brubaker venture stupendously into the surreal
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With ‘Night Fever,’ Phillips and Brubaker venture stupendously into the surreal

Magnificently unsettling, compelling character work; the sort that sticks with you.

I think it’s fair to say that I love Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker’s work and that I love writing about it. Since I started writing for AIPT in 2020, I’ve reviewed all but one of their Reckless books, their tremendous Process Edition of Pulp, and the third deluxe edition of Criminal—plus a feature on the material collected in the first two Criminal volumes. Their decades-long collaboration has consistently resulted in striking, creative, compelling comics. Night Fever, the newest of their ongoing work in graphic novellas, is a fine example of how they (and colorist Jacob Phillips) excel in their medium of choice.

Night Fever

Image Comics

Consider the above page from the team’s comic trailer for Night Fever. Jacob Phillips uses deep, dramatic colors to emphasize the intensity and surreality of the night world protagonist Jonathan Webb descends into over the course of the book. He introduces these colors in an eerie, reoccurring dream of Webb’s:

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Image reveals Sean Phillips 'Night Fever' cover out June 14

Image Comics

The deep, vibrant red of Webb’s dream pulls the eye right to the center of the page. In both the trailer image above and the opening of Night Fever proper, the dream is bookended by a sedate, beige plane ride — it’s a visual jolt that lays out the rules of the comic’s images and narrative.

Webb is not Ethan Reckless, one of Criminal‘s doomed Lawless family, or its monstrous Archie pastiche Riley Richards. He’s a book salesman struggling with professional ennui, the boredom of middle age, and insomnia. But his journey may well be one of the strangest a Phillips/Brubaker protagonist has ever embarked on—a trip into a vicious night that will warp his sense of self and mutate his perception of reality.

Both Sean and Jacob Phillips have a ball with Webb’s increasingly wild journey. Jacob bounces the pastels of the day off the dramatic night spaces. Sean builds on the work he has done with black space in Reckless. But where Ethan Reckless’ black pages are tied to his damaged memory or serve as chapter breaks, Webb interacts far more directly with the vast darkness, either interacting with an increasingly surreal, boundless space and falling into the BLACK or taking in an object (whether as mundane as a streetlamp or as unreal as a gargantuan screaming version of himself).

Image reveals Sean Phillips 'Night Fever' cover out June 14

Image Comics

It’s gorgeous, terrifying work — ably counterbalanced by Phillips’ reliably clear, confident action beats and Webb’s allegedly ordinary, increasingly frayed regular life. Indeed, I would go so far as to write that a late book sequence where Webb ponders whether he could have split himself into the family man who upholds his obligations and the thrill-seeking sleepless hedonist he believes to be his truest self may well be one of the finest pieces of both Phillips’ oeuvres.

Script-wise, it’s neat to see Brubaker working with the same tools he wielded so stupendously in Criminal: The Last of the Innocent (my personal favorite of Phillips and Brubaker’s work). Jonathan Webb is not as straightforwardly monstrous as Riley Richards, but he is, in his own way, capable of similar viciousness. But where Richards deliberately hollowed himself out, Webb is far less certain of himself, a man as perplexed — even unsettled — by his transformations as he is enthralled by them. It’s magnificently unsettling, compelling character work; the sort that sticks with you.

In other words? Night Fever is a very, very fine comic. Acknowledging that Phillips and Brubaker’s work is darn near catnip for me, it’s an impeccably crafted that sees the team push themselves in exciting ways. In particular, I hope that Sean Phillips continues his exploration of the surreal and experimentation with black pages and their interaction with the classical comics form. It’s so, so cool.

With 'Night Fever,' Phillips and Brubaker venture stupendously into the surreal
With ‘Night Fever,’ Phillips and Brubaker venture stupendously into the surreal
Night Fever
Night Fever is a very, very fine comic. Acknowledging that Phillips and Brubaker's work is darn near catnip for me, it's an impeccably crafted that sees the team push themselves in exciting ways. In particular, I hope that Sean Phillips continues his exploration of the surreal and experimentation with black pages and their interaction with the classical comics form. It's so, so cool.
Reader Rating1 Votes
9.3
Jacob Phillips' colors are stupendous, particularly the contrasts he crafts between Webb's regular life and the nightworld he's pulled into.
Sean Phillips gets to jump into the surreal, and does so to terrific, terrific effect—I'm particularly taken with his use of black space, an interesting evolution from his RECKLESS work.
It's a treat to see Brubaker delve into a different sort of vicious with Jonathan Webb. He's not as venal as Riley Richards, but he's a tremendously compelling protagonist.
9.5
Great

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