By: Lauren Beukes (story), Inaki Miranda (art), Eva de la Cruz (colors)

The Story: And here you thought the most dangerous thing about origami was the paper cuts.

The Review: I consider myself a cautious optimist by nature and practice.  I don’t blind myself to risks, but I tend to bet on the best possible outcome.  With showcase titles, I always look on the next feature with the hope that it’ll be better than the last. Fairest has so far produced only one complete arc, a harmless but not outstanding affair whose art far surpassed the story.  The standalone that came after, well—I still waver between calling it bad or just mediocre.

But when every new storyline comes attached with a whole new creative team, there’s always a chance a pleasant surprise lies in wait.  Beukes gets your attention right away by setting a trend of defeating expectations.  At first, Rapunzel’s morose opening monologue leads you to believe you’re in for a sizable set-up to a simmering drama, but then the windows burst, showering her and her loyal haircutter Joel with a thousand origami cranes and shards of glass, and you know you’re in for a different kind of treat.

Beukes sets her tale in the early days of Fables, perhaps even predating the period when the serious began.  As a latecomer to this universe, I appreciate the glimpse into the past, and I also like the specific tone of this time.  Snow and Bigby are rougher around the edges, and in fact all the characters lack polish in their maturity.  They seem set in a more urban, more accessible world—our world—than the deep mystical settings they live in now.

In the same way, the Fables’ powers are less grand at this point than what you’ll eventually see on a regular basis nowadays, but the smaller ambit of their magic only makes it seem more real.  My favorite flavor of magic in stories is when it gets practiced in covert and metaphorical ways, rather than splashy and scientific (see Justice League Dark), and Frau Totenkinder’s professional interest in these paper crafts breaking through her handmade wards fits the bill to a tee.

Beukes’ choice of setting also impresses.  Most stories, like most people, rarely venture out of their comfort zone, and putting Rapunzel in a completely different country with its own set of mythological figures not only adds an instant sense of tension, but also opens the floodgates of ideas wide open.  Japanese folklore and superstition are some of the richest traditions of all world cultures (for proof, just read the amazing xxxHolic), and if Beukes plays it right, as I sense she will, we’ll be assured of some brand-new material.

In terms of craft, Beukes offers a good showing immediately.  Aside from some excessively “writerly” bits (“The past is a dead dog.  You need to leave it in the gutter with the wet leaves and used condoms and trash…  That way you can’t see it padding after you.”), she delivers a well-paced issue that not only has a compelling plot but a fun mix of characters.  Any tale involving Jack Horner is bound to be an adventure, and his unpredictable behavior makes a nice contrast to Rapunzel’s focus on her quest at hand.

Miranda’s art seems inspired the energy and beauty of manga, which suits this particular story fine.  The panel of Rapunzel, Jack, and Joel Crow in the middle of downtown Shibuya is a thing of beauty—although Cruz’s breathtaking splashes of pop-art colors has just as much to do with it—overflowing with fully-formed, loving detail.  At times, Miranda also falls prey to certain weaknesses of manga artists: occasionally vacant and bland expressions and reality-defying movements (apparently, no one can shoot a gun quickly enough if the person is right next to them).  Overall, though, this is a good-looking book.

Conclusion: Beukes takes advantage of the possibilities of her subject’s world to produce an astonishingly strong debut, breaking a streak of mostly unremarkable issues.  Miranda’s art is bombastic, fueling the storyline with even greater energy.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I would love to know how Frau Totenkinder explains all the crazy stuff she used to do as the witch of every Fable’s tale.  “Get out, you slutty little girl!”