By: Bill Willingham (writer), Phil Jiminez (penciller), Andy Lanning (inker), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist)

The Story: Hustlin’ ain’t an easy biz, even for the Prince of Thieves.

The Review: I’ve said this at least once, that Fables just has so much going on at any one time, with so many different characters in all manner of places, that it just doesn’t seem like one title can contain them all.  This series is no stranger to spin-offs, what with Jack of Fables being a successful ongoing in its own right, as well as the highly popular Cinderella minis.  A showcase title of all the non-principal Fables, however, has been long past due.

Now, taking Fairest on its face—judging by its cover, if you will—it’d be a stretch to predict whether this series will serve as that showcase.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a title of featuring all the lovely ladies (and gentlemen) from the Fables canon; as a lover of the original Kingdom Hearts, I can’t help feeling fascinated with the idea of seeing all these good-looking people, stars in their original incarnations, learn to live in peace and humility with each other.

Over time, it seems most of the Fable princesses and princes have grown enough to shrug off the cloak of their nobility.  A good thing, too; if Ali Baba, who bears only an ironic form of princeship, is any indication, the pride and self-concern of these people in their raw personalities would have been unbearable as a group.  Actually, even one on his own might not be the most tolerable person to hang around with, either.  Ali may redeem himself in part by his chops for swordsmanship and sneaking around, but such outright greed isn’t exactly a compelling quality for a protagonist—especially nowadays, when money is such a touchy issue in real life.

Another reason why this issue doesn’t quite capture your heart is the storytelling here is more straightforward than nearly everything Willingham’s ever done on Fables.  In fact, you can’t help noticing it evokes an almost Shrekish tone, mixed with a bit of Princess Bride, from its emphasis on pure action-adventure with plenty of hit-or-miss comedy thrown in.  By now, the fantasy spoof is a genre all its own, so you won’t be blown away seeing yet another series with fairy tale characters anachronistically making smart remarks using modern-day American lingo (Jonah the bottle imp: “If magic were moolah, a genie would be Bill Gates, or George Soros, where I’d be just some poor wage-slave two months behind on the car payment.”).

Still, going for pure entertainment is no evil, and for the most part, the debut issue keeps you duly amused.  Besides, word on the web is the series has some serious storylines coming down the pike, and we get hints even here that this story arc may have some important implications for the Fables universe as a whole.  Briar Rose single-handedly brought down most of the Empire (and the Snow Queen with it) when she put herself to sleep; what does it mean should she finally awake?

One thing you can count on: with Jiminez on board, you always have the guarantee of stunning art—and ain’t it, though?  Like Jim Lee, Ed Benes, or other artists of pop comics, Jiminez can dynamic, no-frills action sequences and attractive characters, though he has the sensitivity to make them look strong or beautiful without gross exaggeration.  Unlike Lee or Benes, Jiminez pours full-bodied detail into his work, making every panel look like a piece of art unto itself.  I certainly can’t imagine many artists who could’ve drawn the full page splash of Briar Rose and Lumi with such exquisite grace and yet distinguish with visceral feeling their different beauties.  Fairest, indeed.  Kudos to Lanning and Dalhouse also, whose work gives a humming life to Jiminez’s pencils.

Conclusion: It’s always tough grading and reviewing a debut, because you really never know how a story will turn out from its beginning.  To be perfectly safe, all I can guarantee is lovely art and a lively, if a bit bland plot.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – What with Ali Baba having only money on his mind as he kisses Briar Rose, I’m starting to suspect all this talk about needing “true love” to awaken her is a piece of crap—unless the true love doesn’t have to be specific to her.  True love of gold-digging, perhaps.