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Tuesday June 17, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday June 17, 2014 MYT 7:54:26 AM
By MICHAEL CHEANG
This is not your typical fairy tale.
MIRROR Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Is it Snow White, stabbed in the chest with a fencing sword? Is it Rose Red, crushed to death by a falling moon? Maybe Morgan Le Fey, decapitated at the laundromat?
Suffice it to say, Fairest In All The Land is not your typical fairy tale.
This is a standalone graphic novel in Vertigo’s Fairest series, which is a spin-off that focuses on the female characters from Bill Willingham’s long-running Fables. While the series itself has been largely hit and miss, this graphic novel written by Willingham himself is at least one of those hits.
The premise is simple – a mysterious killer is going around killing the “the fairest in all the land”, with an all-woman hit list that includes Snow White, Rose Red, Little Bo Peep, the Snow Queen, and a few others. The Mayor of Fabletown, King Cole, ropes in superspy extraordinaire Cinderella to help with the investigation, despite her protests that “spying and detective work are two different skillsets”.
Once she gets on the case, however, it soon becomes clear that there is something much more sinister at work, and the murders may be the work of an old, old enemy of Fabletown.
Now, Fairest In All The Land may be called a standalone graphic novel, but the way the story unfolds is hardly self-contained. A rather long prologue narrated by the isolated Magic Mirror in Fabletown’s “Business Office” tries to make it easier for new readers to understand, because this book is still best enjoyed if you have a good knowledge of the Fables universe.
Speaking of which. Willingham has done such a phenomenal job building it up that almost every single character has his, her or its own backstory – some of which are essential to the overall story, while others are not so vital but still important in the context of the Fables worlds. While this undoubtedly gives the entire series an incredible range of characters, it also makes for a series that can be quite hard to jump in midway through.
In Fairest (which is written by various other writers besides Willingham), that universe was expanded even more, with the addition of more new characters, new backstories, etc.
With Fables wrapping up in January next year with issue #150, it seems as though Willingham is preparing for that end – using Fairest In All The Land as a convenient excuse to erase some of the missteps that the Fairest series made lately, and to kill off some of the less essential characters in an already bloated cast list.
Of course, you can’t have a book with a lot of beautiful women in it without having some of the best there is at drawing beautiful women for comics – the guest artists here include the likes of Adam Hughes (best known for his gorgeous illustrations of female superheroes), Phil Noto (another artist well known for his beautiful illustrations of women), and Gene Ha, as well as a host of others.
While having so many different styles of art throughout the book was a little distracting at first, Hughes and Noto’s depiction of the Fables characters make it ultimately rewarding.
The chapter by regular Fables artist Mark Buckingham, though short, is also a standout, which is only to be expected since he was the artist who originally drew Cinderella & Co.
All in all, Fairest In All The Land is a pretty well-done whodunit that ends up having greater repercussions for the overall Fables universe. The execution may be a bit haphazard, what with the plethora of artists working on the book, but the writing is quintessentially Fables, and Willingham displays his usual knack for tying up loose ends and plotlines, making this quite a satisfying read.
Fairest In All The Land and other collected editions of the Fables and Fairest series are available at the graphic novel section of Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my.
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MICHAEL CHEANG, Fairest In All The Land, Bill Willingham, Adam Hughes, Phil Noto, Mark Buckingham, Gene Ha, Fiona Meng, Ming Doyle, Renae de Liz, Chris Sprouse, Vertigo Comics
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