FAIREST IN ALL THE LAND HC
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Various
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: November 20, 2013
The Magic Mirror sees all, mostly. But for some reason, there’s a blind spot in his wisdom that’s never been there before. So when the fairest in all the lands start falling prey to a serial killer, it’s up to one of their own, Cinderella, to piece it all together. Add in a flying car that used to be a witch, a badger who has a thing for the ladies, and some missing objects from an office no one can get to anymore, and you have a recipe for mayhem right out of a fairy tale.
Willingham has created a vast world from which to draw on for the Fables franchise, but what’s perhaps the most entertaining part of the series (and its literal sister-title Fairest) is the blending of stories in an “everything exists at once” type way, without apology. Where television’s Once Upon a Time seems determined to make everything connected and linear (Peter Pan’s Crocodile is the same as Beauty’s Beast, etc.), Fables revels in the sheer magnitude of its characters and ways to tell a story. Most of the time this is a huge asset, but in the latest original graphic novel at hand, this methodology starts to wear out around the edges.
What I most appreciate about the graphic novel is the way it treats time, through the vehicle of the Magic Mirror’s blindspot, to tell a murder mystery in non-consecutive bits. As a structuring device, we’ve seen quite a few writers play with broken timelines lately, and here it seems done with careful purpose and determination. Jumping back and forth actually heightens the mystery, so things that made the reader question their read are quickly replaced with a-ha moments. It becomes a bit roller coaster-esque, but from a writing standpoint, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. Where the book lags significantly is in the beginning and end with the overarching narrative involving the Magic Mirror and the remaining inhabitants of the Main Office. I’d honestly say to skip the way too long prose pieces, but they do include information critical to the story as a whole. Skim, maybe? Either way, they don’t do the series justice, as it relies on a partnership of words and beautifully rendered drawings that just isn’t happening in these two extended parts.
The rest of the book, though? There are some magnificent moments worth pointing out, and a few fails as well. Co-creator Mark Buckinham is of course on hand to deliver his fantastic, characteristic take on the world of Fables, but he’s joined by some of the finest artists to render the lovely ladies of Fairest — and frankly, a bit outdone by them. Chris Sprouse’s rendering of Briar Rose’s stint in an all-girl band is exceptionally drawn, as is Gene Ha’s sequence involving Rose Red, Snow White, and the Moon (who I’m not sure I ever realized was female). Adam Hughes presents a breathtaking few pages of the Snow Queen, and you can’t find anyone more perfect to illustrate a mystery involving beautiful women than Phil Noto. There are some odd choices among the bunch, however, with Kevin Maguire’s pages being so poorly chosen for the artist’s capabilities. Why take one of the true masters of the facial expression and give him four pages of a car to draw?
Consistency is a real issue as well, as the art styles jump so radically from one to another, without the same structure as the previous original graphic novel, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, to support it. In short, minor characters don’t resemble each other in facial appearance or even dress from sequence to sequence, leaving the entire book feeling too much like a hodge-podge read in one sitting. Taken individually, almost every short chapter is magnificent. Taken together, it’s a tough read.
A solid story that probably should have been restricted in its art choices a bit more, Fairest in All the Land is worth checking out if you have a favorite artist among the many listed below, or are a die hard Fables completist, but not something I’d recommend to someone wanting their first taste of what is truly a magnificent world.
The Verdict: 7.0/10