By: Lauren Beukes (story), Inaki Miranda (art), Eva De La Cruz (colors)

The Story: What’s up, boy? Who fell down the well?

The Review: When I wrote the first draft of this review, I originally praised DC for maintaining its interest in Vertigo, because honestly, there’s where most of the really original (if not always outstanding) titles are.  Then I found out from their April solicitations that Saucer Country, a title I only recently declared as one of my favorites, was getting canned.  Once again, I prove to have a gift for clinging to things that are destined to leave me.*

Anyway, before my enthusiasm got mercilessly shot down, I also made a point of commending DC for using Vertigo as a convenient way of cultivating talent to potentially leverage them for their mainstream books later.  What brought about this now-premature approval was this mostly amazing issue of Fairest, which makes me feel the smartest choice would be to let Beukes pitch an ongoing Vertigo title of her choice before priming her as a natural successor to Justice League Dark or Sword of Sorcery.

One of Beukes’ strengths that I’ve admired since her first issue is her commitment to research.  As we know very well by now, plenty of have people have tried and failed to step into another writer’s shoes and emulate the characterization and style of their predecessors.  Kudos to Beukes for not only making Bigby, Snow, Totenkinder, and Jack sound true to themselves, but for putting to good use Fables’ convoluted continuity on top of all that.

It also takes a lot of research to pull off a story having to do with any culture not your own.  Some writers think they can get away with some shoddy dialect work and racial stereotypes (about seventy-five percent of the time, those writers are Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray), but Beukes goes well beyond that.  She actually evokes the spirit of the Japanese culture, paying due respect to their fairy tale traditions and playing into their quiet but deadly approach to intrigue.

In the Hidden Kingdom, secrets can be passed on through poems and pottery; foxfire can be used for political control; and sumo is not just a sport but a way of life.  But it’s more than even that, I’d say.  Even as the Japanese have a deeper appreciation for the natural than we do, they also freely embrace the supernatural more than we do.  It’s why some of the best horror movies originated in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Using Rapunzel as a stand-in for Sadako is quite clever in itself, but Beukes impresses even more with the thoroughly convincing way she depicts the Fable’s horrific experience in the well.  I don’t know what inspired Beukes to employ an insect motif with Rapunzel, but she is pulling it off in spades.

Of course, such a particular idea requires an artist with incredible range to pull off, and Miranda is certainly that.  Smooth and attractive his figures may be in moments of quiet, but when the scene turns towards the dark, Miranda goes wholeheartedly with it.  Seeing Rapunzel buried beneath hundreds of corpses in the well, feeding on her own hair to survive, is probably the first major shudder-inducing moment I’ve seen this year.  A shout-out too to De La Cruz, whose icy blues and grays in those scenes give color and pay tribute to The Ring at the same time.

Conclusion: Beukes fearlessly weaves folk tales and ghost stories to create a product that is far more than just a good mash-up.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Please leave out the cracks about my love life.  I am well aware and don’t need another reason to cry in the shower.

– I have a slight phobia of bugs.  I don’t scream or sweat or anything when I see them in my daily life, but seeing them close-up in pictures or film makes me twitch uncontrollably.  What I’m saying is I ever see anything looking remotely like those “bezoars,” I will haul ass in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.