With his Fables series so popular that two TV networks ripped it off, writer Bill Willingham found that there was enough demand to launch a spin-off series exploring other corners of his fictional universe. His first six-issue arc probes the pre-Disney origins of Sleeping Beauty, who is in a love triangle with Ali Baba and the Snow Queen, while a tiny, naked, blue man watches. Can a comic book really live up to that set-up?
Previously in Fairest: Jonah, a genie whose only power is pop-culture knowledge, lead Ali Baba to find two beautiful women, both in a magical sleep. Awakening each of them with “true-love’s kiss”, Ali discovers that one is Briar Rose, THE Sleeping Beauty, while the other is the evil Snow Queen, Lumi. Sleeping Beauty’s origin is retold (basically the same as the movie, but with a lot more good fairies). Lumi accidentally summons Hadeon, the bad fairy that cursed Briar Rose all those years ago. As they are comic book characters meeting for the first time, they immediately launch into a chatty battle to the death. Which brings us to today…
WHERE TO START
The story boils down to a deconstruction of Sleeping Beauty. Her origin is brought back to its gritty roots, but the heart of the story is answering the question, “if you start with a baby, blessed and cursed by fairies, what kind of messed-up adult do you end up with?”
Also: how rare is “true love’s kiss” anyway? Indeed, the underlying theme of all the Fables-verse stories is examining what all the craziness of folk tales says about all the people who enjoy and retell them.
You don’t need to have read Fables to read Fairest, although you should, because if you like one, then you would like the other. It would give you some more backstory to Briar Rose and the Snow Queen, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the story. However, you do have to read the previous issues of Fairest to enjoy this issue. The action picks up directly from last issue, which is great in that it keeps up the momentum from the previous cliff-hanger, but bad because it’s not very new-reader friendly. This issue is the climax and resolution of a six issue arc, not a story in itself.
Viewed as a part of the larger story, this issue is well done. It starts in the middle of the climactic battle, but just when we think we know what’s going to happen, the story swerves. Then it swerves again. Without giving too much away, the reveals are handled well. I was surprised by them even though they had enough foreshadowing that they didn’t feel like they came completely from left field. The final surprise twist involves a Clintonian redefinition of the word “Dead” which isn’t terrible but looks a little clumsy compared to how well the other plot twists and fairy-tale logic were pulled off earlier in the arc. Such is the nature of Fairy Tale Logic.
The second half of the issue wraps up all the loose ends, which is nice–a luxury that we are not usually afforded in comic books where every answer must spawn three new questions and the story can never be allowed to end. Since the next issue starts a new arc with different characters, this issue can end by resolving the love triangle, decisively defeating the villain and riding off into the sunset. Although there are no loose ends, there are still some available plot hooks to be revisited and I expect to see these characters again someday. In fact, I’m looking forward to it, but for now I’m satisfied with a complete tale.
IF YOU CALL IT FAIREST, YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT NICE TO LOOK AT
The art is stunning. If I had free wall space, I could have that cover framed on my wall. Inside, the art is a seamless mix of realism and fantasy. For example, one of the characters is a woman from the waist up and a cloud of flowers below, but she still follows the rules of anatomy. Even her flower half is drawn to flow much like a long skirt to appear to the reader as logical, if no less fantastic.
The potential problem with having so many female characters is making them distinct enough that the reader never gets confused about who’s who, but Phil Jimenez is masterful at keeping each character unique (and consistent throughout). The character design alone on all the fairies is amazing. Willingham has conjured a mess of fairies, each with her own theme and implied backstory which is immediately captured in her appearance. You know everything you need to know in a glance and the writing can worry about what’s going on now, instead of trying to catch the reader up.
THE BOTTOM LINE: THE WHOLE IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
I don’t want to say that Willingham is writing for the trade, but I don’t know how else to finish this sentence. That’s not all bad. The full arc is a great story and when you read all of it, this issue is a wonderful ending. If they recapped everything each issue, it would take up at least 6-8 pages of the total story and repeatedly kill the story’s momentum. I give Fairest #6 3.5 out of 5 Stars, although I would give the eventual trade 4 or 4.5. The trade will rock. You should buy it. You will enjoy reading it and owning it. Of course, I read it in the original issues…