Night Fever by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Jacob Phillips (colorist)Night Fever: We are our own worst enemies

Night Fever by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Jacob Phillips (colorist)Brubaker and Phillips have done it again in their latest offering: They have given us another noir comic that is as stunning visually as it is engaging narratively. In Night Fever, Jonathan Webb, a businessman in Europe, cannot sleep, and his insomnia leads him to venture out into the night. This journey into the darkness is both literal and figurative, of course, and his drug- and alcohol-fueled adventures take a dangerous turn as he starts finding out that not everyone he meets after the sun goes down has his best interests in mind. Add in some bad choices on the part of the protagonist, and we end up with another contemporary classic noir story.

The graphic novel introduces us early to the dream motif that runs throughout the comic: Webb, in 1978, is aboard a plane reading an advance manuscript for a book entitled And Then the Fire by Denn Pickett, whom his publishing firm represents. In the novel, the main character is plagued with a recurring dream, and Webb is convinced the dream in the book is exactly the same recurring dream that he used to have, an odd conviction for Webb. But this focus on dreams sets the stage for the dream-like nature of the entire comic: Webb seems to float through his adventures in a sleeplike stupor, as if his waking wanderings at night are themselves a dream state.

The nature of the dream introduces us to another motif in this comic: the shadow-self. In fact, Brubaker is quite explicit about this. He writes about the main character from And Then the Fire: “This dream haunts the character, Tom, and he comes to wonder if there’s some kind shadow-self living inside him . . . And if the dream is its cry to be set free.” This sense of a shadow-self is key to the theme running through tale, and the associated concept of a doppelganger is also brought into the story: Webb will find that his counterpart at night brings out the darkness buried deep inside of him.

This counterpart is named Rainer, and Webb is to blame for his encounter with his darker self. I won’t go into details in order to avoid spoilers, but I find it interesting that Webb himself is responsible for his own descent into the darkness, thus furthering the idea that it is the not external forces, but rather internal ones, that are the impetus for what happens to him. Ultimately, this story is about what Webb wonders after listening to a speech from Rainer: “Do we make traps for ourselves? Are we all secretly building the walls to our own prisons?” And our shadow-self is in touch with our secret desires that would tear those walls down with the help of our doppelganger. 

Night Fever is about middle-age ruts, and whether we want to, and whether we should, get out of those ruts. But this story of mid-life crisis, a familiar one, becomes unfamiliar and startling in the hands of Brubaker and Phillips. It is one thing for a story to be about a man who buys a sports car or has an affair, the common, run-of-the-mill choices a middle-aged man makes in his time of crisis. But Brubaker raises the stakes of the mid-life crisis plot by placing it in context of the noir genre. The unexpected happens to Webb and the ramifications of his actions will change his life. He will not be the same man at the end of the story as he was when we met him on his way to Europe. And the reader vicariously experiences the repercussions of the decisions Webb makes in his waking nightmare. It is a thrilling read, and whether you are a new fan of Brubaker and Phillips or a regular reader of their works, you will find it worth your while to descend into Night Fever.

Published in June 2023. An amazing new original graphic novel from the bestselling creators of PULP, RECKLESS, CRIMINAL, and KILL OR BE KILLED. Who are you, really? Are you the things you do, or are you the person inside your mind? In Europe on a business trip, Jonathan Webb can’t sleep. Instead, he finds himself wandering the night in a strange foreign city, with his new friend, the mysterious and violent Rainer as his guide. Rainer shows Jonathan the hidden world of the night, a world without rules or limits. But when the fun turns dangerous, Jonathan may find himself trapped in the dark… And the question is, what will he do to get home? NIGHT FEVER is a pulse-pounding noir thriller from grand masters Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. A Jekyll-and-Hyde story of a man facing the darkness inside himself, this riveting tour of the night is a must-have for all Brubaker and Phillips readers!


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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