Though I always enjoyed Bill Willingham’s surprise smash-hit Fables (by far Vertigo’s most financially successful property in many, many years), I never really looked forward to it. For me, the series peaked with its fourth trade, “March of the Wooden Soldiers“, which was the perfect combination of soapy plotting and military fantasy for which the series had always (in my opinion) been aiming. It remained solid for years after that, but with so many excellent books coming out, and such an enormous back-catalog to catch up on, I fell behind. But I always noticed its spin-offs, from the winning Cinderella books to the occasionally enjoyable Jack of Fables, and I was interested when I saw the new spin-0ff, Fairest, on the shelves. With a gorgeous Adam Hughes cover, pencils by the immensely respected Phil Jimenez, not to mention Willingham writing in his element, it seemed like a must-read.
And it is a fairly promising start – though it’s also a deeply flawed one. Fairest #1 follows young Ali Baba, the Prince of Thieves, who discovers a manipulative little imp in a jar and proceeds to get himself in all sorts of trouble heeding its advice. Jimenez’s design work is solid and his scenery is gorgeous. Jonah Panghammer and Ali Baba make a striking pair, well-drawn and with easy (though overused) banter. I think this was an okay first chapter.
Buuuut… that’s all it is. At the end of the book, I was left with no idea what the book was about. Are Ali Baba and Jonah the main characters, or is Jonah a villain? Who are the two unconscious women that look very strikingly like Jean Grey and Emma Frost? Judging from the media surrounding the series, the red-head is the main character, but here, a wooden soldier who gets decapitated is given significantly more page time than her. Aside from Ali and Jonah’s brief banter, we have nothing to grasp on to, and Ali and Jonah are still very broadly drawn caricatures thus far.
I will almost certainly check out the first trade, because the talent is top notch, the design is solid and the characters we’ve met so far have some mild potential. But I have little desire to check out issue two. I have no idea what this series is about, who these people are or why I should care, and that’s so vital to a successful first issue. The opening issue of Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love told us exactly what we could expect from the series. It gave us solid character beats, a little action, and the hints of a plot. Fairest has none of that, instead seemingly coasting on the success of the Fables brand. It’s not a bad book, but I doubt it will win many fans.
- Cal C.