Fairy tales are hot items these days. Whether it’s television or movies, both are looking for new ways to reintroduce us to our favorite story book characters. But most comic book fans already have a favorite modern re-working of classic fairy tales: Bill Willingham’s Fables. The series began in 2002 and brought some of the most recognizable fable characters out of the fantasy world and into our own as they fled an evil empire ravaging their homelands. Vertigo’s popular monthly series has spawned quite a few different spin-offs and this week saw the release of their newest title, Fairest.
Fairest features stories focused on the fairest of Fables: Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and so on. This first arc follows Sleeping Beauty, other wise known as Briar Rose, who had previously played an important, tactical role, during the war with the empire when she snuck into the Imperial City, pricked her finger and cursed everyone in town to slumber indefinitely. Still asleep, Briar Rose was last seen being whisked away by a goblin army.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “Do I need to be reading Fables in order to enjoy Fairest?” No, but a familiarity with the fairy tale world Willingham has created helps and having even a little of a character’s backstory brings fuller understanding. Willingham’s fairy tales read truer to Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen’s original tales than anything Disney ever produced. Fables doesn’t shy away from dark themes, violence or at times squeamish sexual content so I expect Fairest won’t be all princesses and tea parties.
Fairest begins with Ali Baba, Prince of Thieves and his companion, Jonah the bottle imp, as they seek out the finest loot left over from the ruined Imperial City. Their partnership proves to be really entertaining as Jonah, a connoisseur of our pop culture, isn’t one to ever stop talking, even while the poor Ali is desperately trying to avoid becoming lunch for a giant, unruly beast. Jonah provides the comics’ humor with lightning quick dialogue littered with funny anachronisms and references. For instance, in this fictional world there were seven seasons of Firefly! Seven! Man, fairy tales truly are where dreams come true.
The action is equally matched to humor, and Willingham does a nice job at creating a sense of danger in the short time we’re with these two. Besides the possibility of tangling with goblins, our adventurers are also being tailed by a wooden soldier, formerly of the Empire. The final confrontation between him and Ali is expertly plotted in dialogue and artwork, and the Prince of Thieves shines as our dashing hero who proves himself worthy of waking Sleeping Beauty with true love’s kiss.
If there’s anything to fault in Willingham’s script it’s the questions raised by why these familiar characters; Ali Baba, Sleeping Beauty, are in these unfamiliar situations. The plot of the book is easy enough to follow but if you’re new to Fables you might find yourself wishing you knew why and how you’re where you are in Fairest. And maybe that’s the point, to intrigue new readers just enough they’ll check out an already successful series.
But for being a series about Fables’ loveliest ladies there really isn’t much from them until the end. Oh, did I say ladies, well…you’ll just have to read and see. Which brings me to why you should most definitely be checking out Fairest, the book is a thing of beauty! Phil Jimenez is responsible for the pencils on this first six issue story arc and his interiors are gorgeous. There’s a particularly lovely page when Ali happens upon the sleeping beauties which is breathtaking. And his Ali isn’t too hard on the eyes, either. Jimenez is capable of delivering not only beautiful characters but thrilling action with a keen attention to detail. I also need to hand it to Andrew Dalhouse for some spectacular coloring because without it the art wouldn’t glow like it does on the page. Add in an amazing wrap-around cover from the equally amazing Adam Hughes and you’re looking at one damn pretty book.
Fairest #1 sets us up for what promises to be a fun and exciting return to the homelands after what some have considered to be a bit of an underwhelming stint in the Fables line. Willingham’s script is just as witty as you’d expect and the storytelling is concise, but it suffers a little from wanting that Fables backstory in order to fully enjoy. All in all, I’m excited to see where Fairest leads us next, and what new adventures are to be discovered in their fairy tale world.