Comics, Reviews

Night Fever HC Review: Revealing What's Beneath the Mask

Discover the story of a sleepless man who spirals into the dark corners of his mind and questions if he's wasted his entire life.

Night Fever Cover
Image: Image Comics
By: Javier ReyesFeb 23, 2024, 2:07 AM

Night Fever HC

Night Fever Full Cover

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Sean Phillips

Publisher: Image Comics

Release Date: June 13, 2023

Page Count: 120

Format: Comic

The legendary team of Brubaker and Phillips once again delivers a modern noir thriller classic about a man's strange existential crisis.

For years I’ve heard about how incredible the works of the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (socials: Twitter and IG) are. Fans of the noir genre often consider the comics Criminal, Kill or Be Killed, and The Fade Out as essential reading. While I’m not as engrossed in the genre as others, I have read a fair share of noir comics. Just never a Brubaker and Phillips comic, strangely enough. But after thoroughly enjoying The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi recently, I felt like it was about time to explore more noir titles and expand my appreciation of the dark and gritty genre. And what better place is there to start than with a new release from Brubaker and Phillips?

Night Fever continues the long-running collaboration of Brubaker and Phillips with Image Comics. Released as a standalone 120-page graphic novel, it tells the story of a man who can’t sleep and lives a double life as the man he wishes he could be at night. It’s a deep introspection of one man’s soul and the ugliness of self-resentment and personal dissatisfaction.

Night Fever Sleepless NightImage: Image Comics

Story Overview

It’s 1978, and book salesman Jonathan Webb is on a business trip to France. It was supposed to be a routine attendance at an international book fair to make deals with writers and publishers, something he’s been doing for decades. Things changed for Jonathan after he read a manuscript that eerily described the same recurring dream he had when he was younger. The experience of reading such a personal memory from someone else’s words shook Jonathan to his core, causing him to develop severe insomnia while in a foreign country.

The mixture of insomnia and unlocked emotional trauma causes Jonathan’s mind to race to strange places. As a man in his mid-40s with a successful but mundane career and a loving family, he begins questioning if his life currently is what he wants it to be. Then on one sleepless night, Jonathan finds himself in the company of a mysterious man named Reiner. Together they explore the secret underbelly of France, rubbing shoulders with strange and nefarious folk. As night falls, Jonathan gets to live a life he didn’t think was possible. This meeting flings Jonathan deeper into the hole of questioning what is real, who he is, and what his place is in the world.

Night Fever - Evening walkImage: Image Comics

A Man's Twisted Exploration of Himself

Nothing hits harder emotionally than someone going through a midlife crisis. Jonathan’s monologues often feel both poetically heartfelt and tragically heartbreaking. Brubaker’s writing taps directly into a creeping fear most people have in the back of their minds: the fear of living a wasted life.

At its core, Night Fever is the story of one man struggling to understand the meaning of his life and impending death. By most people’s standards, Jonathan lives a good life, albeit kind of ordinary and unexciting. He has a successful career with a loving family and a beautiful house. Characters in the story will even express jealousy toward his secure life. And yet, there’s a spark in his mind that feels everything he has is still not enough to make him happy. As the story progresses, that spark grows into a raging fire that consumes and warps Jonathan’s sense of reality. What others see as security, that dark part of him sees it as a prison that keeps him from living the life of his dreams. But because Jonathan can’t sleep, even his darkest dreams start to seep into his waking life.

Using insomnia as a crux in the story is a masterful idea because it allows the seamless blend of surrealism with reality. Knowing that Jonathan has not slept in days, you will often wonder if the events happening are real or strange hallucinations of a man’s sleepless stupor. By day, Jonathan is just a mild-mannered working man who acts distant from others. But come nighttime, the man transforms into someone daring and a bit of a wildcard. You constantly question which side of the man is the real Jonathan. I see this as something powerful about Brubaker’s character writing. Part of embracing the humanity of his characters is being unafraid of showing the parts that make them ugly and broken as well.

Night Fever - Poker nightImage: Image Comics

That concept of embracing the beauty and ugliness of people can also describe Sean Phillips’ artwork throughout this book. While far from ugly in a literal sense, Phillips has a palpable knack for capturing the subtle emotions of his characters. There’s a sequence in the book when Jonathan wishes that he could split himself into two. One being the loving family man and the other being the hedonistic party animal that cavorts throughout Europe. Within a single page, we see the two parts of Jonathan side-by-side and they both feel believable to the character. Just phenomenal work from top to bottom throughout the entire book.

But as great as the artwork by Sean Phillips is, the color work by Jacob Phillips needs to get a special mention as well. The light pastels that define the day strongly contrast against the deep blues and purples that make up the night. Similar to that feeling you get from watching horror movies, you can tell the mood drastically changes when the sun goes down. The coloring perfectly reflects not just the shift in time within the story but also Jonathan’s shifting mood and warping personality. The colors of each panel played just as strong of a role in storytelling as the script and illustrations.

Night Fever - Punching bad guysImage: Image Comics

Final Thoughts

As a late adopter of the Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips hype, Night Fever was a great introduction to their distinct brand noir brilliance. Seeing the back of the book adorned with the titles made by these creative powerhouses and the accolades they’ve collected inspired me to pick up more of their work from here. While Night Fevers feels a bit short, its story is a wild ride from start to finish and lingers with you after turning its final page.

Why You Should Read Night Fever

  • The high-quality writing and art are what you expect from Brubaker and Phillips
  • The story is short but grips your attention from the start and lingers with you even after it ends
  • The artwork by Sean and Jacob Phillips is a sight to behold
  • It’s unafraid of exploring strange directions for this story
TAGGED: Image Comics