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

The Story: When will people ever learn that you can’t always trust a foxy lady?

The Review: Any time you spin off a title, you’re going to have to run into questions of whether there’s actually demand for the sibling series (and material to meet it), or whether you’re simply being exploitive.  Let’s be honest with ourselves; most spin-offs fall clearly and pathetically into the latter category.  For most of Fairest’s run, the jury was still out on where the series stands.  It’s not as if there’d been a huge outcry for more stories featuring Fables’ most beautiful stars.

Between her rock-solid first issue and the one on review today, Beukes has made a strong case that Fairest has a whole wealth of stories we’d be interested to hear, but which Fables doesn’t have the time to service.  Flashing back to the early days of Fabletown reminds us that while Snow White and Bigby were out determining the fate of fairy tale characters everywhere, every Fable had a life to live, and there’s no reason to believe theirs were any less intriguing or eventful than their deputy mayor and sheriff.

In the case of Rapunzel, her backstory just grows more complicated with every page—nay, with every aside a character makes.  It’s apparently not enough that Rapunzel had children, and that she “lost” them, but then comes a pointed remark by a Japanese talking cat (appropriately named Neko): “Just because Rapunzel made those things doesn’t mean she can control them.”  Note the emphasis on “made.”  Last issue showed Frau Totenkinder losing her gasket over her daughter’s pregnancy; the conception was apparently more complicated than Beukes let on.

That seems par for the course for our heroine, though.  No Fable has escaped from their past without some craziness going down—taken literally, nearly every fairy tale has an appalling element to it—but Rapunzel has lost not only one, but two worlds, and she’s engaged in some pretty wild lifestyle choices.  The more you learn of her past, the more you want to know, which is all you can ask for in character writing.

At the end of the day, however, Rapunzel’s misadventures in Japan, and whatever consequences she’s to reap now, remain an elaborate distraction from the real conflict in her life.  Who knows why, after all this time, her determination to face her past head-on has suddenly reignited, but it’s clear she will risk and do anything to put her troubles to bed once and for all.  I appreciate proactiveness in characters, and the fact Rapunzel only half-knows the risks of what she’s doing while she’s doing them makes her that much more worthy a protagonist.

That’s why it’s a little less startling that of all people to be taken by surprise by a first attack, it’d be Jack.  The guy has always had more than his fair share of luck when it comes to getting out of scrapes, perhaps to his own arrogant overconfidence.  “It’s a popularity thing,” he explains when a woman remarks on his healing burns.  “People love your story, you’re basically invincible.”  How does that factor into a total ravaging, though—and not the good kind, despite its delivery by a pert and shapely redhead?

The blank, beautiful stares I found so unnerving last issue have gone, and now emotion and personality jumps from the characters’ faces.  Miranda, like Amy Reeder, proves to be the artist of every fantasy writer’s dreams, being capable of drawing everything with almost perfect style and flair.  Prepare to be blown away by amazing cityscapes and incredible costume designs, both ancient and modern.  His sense of action is also top-notch, whether it be an assassin bursting through a wall or a pachinko machine blasting its payout.  De La Cruz’s colors possess a muted elegance in the Hidden Kingdom, but take on vibrant, pop hues in modern-day Japan.

Conclusion: The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, though the big picture is far from revealed.  Still, what you can see is very alluring, especially when rendered with such rich, eye-catching art.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Looking at Jack and his cutie pick-ups, I’d never have thought you could dance so recklessly to “I Believe I Can Fly.”

– Okay, I can’t help it.  How does Tomoko stuff her fox-tails in that form-fitting spandex outfit without showing it in the back porch?  You know what I mean?