(This Brubaker-Lutes collaboration originally appeared in five 1998 issues of DARK HORSE PRESENTS, but I've chosen to cite the date of the 2001 compilation since that's how most readers will encounter the work.)
If you look up the term "film blanc" online, you'll find citations that claim it means a film with an upbeat attitude, as against the "film noir," the "black film" that often if not always emphasizes pessimism. Long ago, though, I remember some obscure film-criticism essay in which the author argued that "films blancs" would be a proper term for films that still evinced the same downbeat emphasis as films noirs, but did so without the conspicuous use of heavy shadow and dim lighting. The one example I recall was the highly colorful 1945 production, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.
THE FALL, a black and white comic, feels like a film blanc along these lines. Although color's not part of the equation, neither black nor white is given any special attention. Lutes's linework is simple and clean, abjuring showy visuals and thus generally emulating the unobtrusive "classic Hollywood" style of storytelling. Thus Brubaker's modern-day "noir" script takes center stage.
Like many of the classic films noirs, THE FALL focuses on a semi-decent schmuck who blunders into the worlds of sin and crime, at least partly in response to his own moral ambivalence. The immediate significance of the title is with the season of fall, for both front and back covers of the collected work depict many orange-hued autumn leaves against a black expanse, their continuity broken only by a prostrate human hand.
The first panel of the story proper, taking place in 1988, places the hand in context: a woman is seen being hurled from a high roadway by a mostly unseen assailant. Thus her physical fall is correlated with that of the change of seasons-- and with a change in time, for once the setting of the murder has been established, the scene shifts to one of a man, our protagonist Kirk, raking leaves in a yard, about ten years later.
Kirk is defined by his job and by his ambivalent relationship with women. It's loosely implied that his former girlfriend Mara, seen only briefly in the story, ended the relationship, and Kirk, working for peanuts at a service station, is taking the split hard. He even feels alienated in his own apartment, because he's obliged to share the quarters with Jeff, a male roommate who implicitly does not fill the void for Kirk. It's his depression over Mara that moves him to take a walk on the sinful side.
A female customer, never before seen by Kirk, turns in a lost credit card to Kirk while he's alone at the register. Since it's a Gold Card, owned by a man named Wasserman, Kirk decides to use the card to do some shopping and alleviate his romantic depression. Then he destroys the card, assuming that no one can ever trace the petty theft back to him. However, the young woman turns up again, and Kirk learns that her name is June, and that she's married to the man who lost his card.
June may have a name that suggests summer rather than autumn, but she's got the deceptive nature of a true femme fatale, even though her stakes are petty ones. She doesn't want to inveigle Kirk into a life of crime; she just wants him to do unpaid chores around her house-- like the raking of leaves seen at the story's beginning. Brubaker's script implies that she enjoys having Kirk under her thumb, and truth to tell, the aimless Kirk rather enjoys the diversion she brings to his life. He even goes beyond their stated arrangement, digging up her garden for a replanting project-- at which point he finds something that ought not to be in a garden.
Rather than asking the guileful June about the purse, Kirk plays amateur detective, trying to find out about the purse's owner. He even falls a little in love with the missing owner, somewhat after the fashion of the 1944 film LAURA, and thus becomes even more fascinated when he learns that she was a woman named Emily, and the victim of an unsolved murder. I'll forego the fine points of Kirk's investigation, except to say that it leads him to yet another complicated skein in his relationship with June Wasserman, as well as making an ally who's the spitting image of Emily.
Without commenting on the identity of Emily's killer, I will note that he inverts the humorous "dominance" theme between Kirk and June. The killer waylaid Emily on the high roadway hoping to get sexual favors-- an appropriate site, since it was also a "make-out" locale-- and ended up killing her in the process. Brubaker and Lutes soft-pedal the references to the "women's empowerment" theme, but it's significant that at the climax, a female character is responsible for both Kirk and the killer taking the same big fall that Emily did a decade previous.
I confess that there's no single character in THE FALL whom I would deem truly mythic. The most mythic presence in the story is the unnamed site of Emily's death, since it functions as a locus that mediates between the world of the civilized roadway and the dark passions of nature, which end up precipitating not only Emily but also Kirk and the killer into the bosom of the forest below. Yet, just as the locale is a place where the symbols of "a physical fall" and "the season of fall" come together, a third correlation looms when one considers the Judeo-Christian concept of humankind's "fall" into a sinful existence. Since Kirk, unlike the killer, survives the deadly plunge, and goes on to pursue a more equitable relationship with the quixotic June, one might have deem that he experienced a "fortunate fall"-- one that started with a petty theft and ended with the solution of a murder. Or, as Thomas Aquinas put it:
"God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom"