Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Night Fever’

“Wailin’ down the freeway adjust the cruisin’ power, the state trooper clocked me at ninety miles an hour”

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (along with Jacob Phillips, who finds time to color this while drawing other stuff) take a break from their Reckless stories to give us Night Fever, which is (of course) published by Image. Here we go!

There’s a certain level of excellence you can expect from a Brubillips book, and Night Fever does nothing to dispel that expectation. Jonathan Webb, a foreign sales agent for a publishing company, heads to “Europe” (the city is never identified) for a book fair, but he’s been having some problems – he isn’t sleeping well, and in a book he just read, the writer describes a dream he himself had several years earlier. Weird. One night, while he can’t sleep, he wanders the streets and decides to follow a well-dressed couple heading to a masquerade ball. He bluffs his way in and finds himself in one of those hedonistic parties that exist in fiction, and the name he picked is that of a dude who can get credit with the house, so he starts gambling and ends up a pretty decent winner. On the way home, however, he gets run down by a car and then, as the driver is about to shoot him, some dude runs in and rescues him. Said dude, Rainier, was at the party, but Webb – who’s narrating – mentions that he didn’t notice Rainier was there until he remembered later. Rainier convinces him to take revenge on the guy who robbed him, and Webb does, and this begins his weird adventures over the next few days, as he lives a different life than the one he had, mainly thanks to Rainier, who has access to the dark places of the city. He’s enjoying himself, obviously, but some strange things start to happen. I don’t want to give too much away, but obviously, Rainier is not exactly who he seems. But will Webb be able to get out from under his influence? I said Webb narrates, but is it in the past tense or the present tense? What will happen to our intrepid schlub?

Brubaker knows how to spool out a story like this, adding small, bizarre details that make the whole work well, all while making sure it makes sense and keeps us engaged. He’s been doing it for a long time, and he’s good at it, so Night Fever is an entertaining comic. It’s not quite a great comic, because it’s a bit too … safe? I guess? Brubaker isn’t the most unconventional writer, but with some of his work, he stretches a bit and makes old tropes sizzle a bit, which makes some of his work great. Here, he introduces a character who’s certainly relatable and sends him on his way, but he doesn’t really push the envelope too much. It’s an entertaining comic, certainly, and of course it looks great, because Phillips is a terrific artist and his son has become a superb colorist. This is a worthwhile read, because Brubaker and Phillips don’t know how to make a bad comic. But it’s not great. It’s mainly because this is basically a mid-life crisis story, and the protagonist, Webb, is a profoundly stupid man, so it’s hard to root for him. He’s 45 years old, with a wife and sons, and he has a job that allows him to go to Europe every so often. His life is pretty great, but of course, because he’s a stupid man, he wants the excitement that he thinks Rainier promises. Did he not stop to think that stealing a name off of a list of obviously rich and important people wouldn’t have consequences? Because of course it does. He keeps doing dumb things just because he thinks his life is worthless, and it’s a little frustrating reading this because Webb is so stupid. As I noted, Brubaker is good enough to make it entertaining and interesting, but he can’t hide the fact that Webb is an idiot. Now, the dream he has is interesting, as is the fact that the writer wrote about it, but that’s not explored nearly enough. I very much like the book, because I appreciate the craft that went into it and it is a fun, twisty, noir kind of book, but that doesn’t change the fact that the main character is a baby man. Come on, Webb, man the fuck up.

I wrote in yesterday’s review that I read that book and this one on the same day, and it was a perfectly fine day, so I hate that I’m so cynical about that one and this one, especially because I enjoyed both books. Night Fever is a neat story about a man getting deeper and deeper into something he doesn’t understand, which can make for great fiction, but Webb’s stupidity kept nagging at me. Brubaker puts him through a dark night of the soul, with some strange things that challenge what he thinks about this world and his life, but ultimately, he pulls back a bit and the comic suffers a bit for it. Still, it’s a cool comic with gorgeous art, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Maybe you won’t think the same about Webb that I do, and that will make the book more enjoyable, I think. Maybe.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


  1. tomfitz1

    Burgas: When I was reading this OGN, I was eerily reminded of a couple of films: BAD INFLUENCE and EYES WIDE SHUT.

    I can see Brubaker being influenced by these films while writing NIGHT FEVER.

    What do you think?

    1. Greg Burgas

      I think it’s pretty clear he was influenced by them – Brubaker knows his movies, and he’s not been shy about showing off influences, so that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

  2. Chris Schillig

    I buy all Brubaker/Phillips (now Brubaker/Phillips/Phillips, I guess) work sight unseen, and nothing in Night Fever will make me change. But, as much as I liked it, I wasn’t blown away by it. I did engage with it enough to warrant a second reading, so maybe I’ll find something then to tip the scales one way or another.

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