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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Fairest #15



*Note: Technically this will be a review for a comic which was released last Wednesday, but who is counting?  

Want to know one of the best things about being able to write comic reviews for a website?  Not only does it give you an open forum to discuss the comics which everyone else is reading, but it also gives you a chance to hype the comics you love to a wider audience.  One such comic that we here at Geek Rex have been meaning to promote is Fairest.  A second spin-off series from the comic book Fables, Fairest tells the stories of the female characters in the Fables-universe who do not really get as much attention as possible in the main book.  While the first arc was written by Fables creator/writer Bill Willingham, the comic has grown to be a great platform for up and coming comic writers to tell stories about fairy tale characters, but with that classic Fables spin.  The comic has also been able to showcase fantastic artwork which has become synonymous with Fables.  Now that Fairest has begun a new story arc, we decided this would be the perfect time to jump into reviewing the book.  Want to see what some of your favorite ladies from fairy tales are up to?  Keep reading to find out!


Fairest #15 takes a new spin on the series' promise to focus on rather unknown characters by introducing a brand new character to the Fables-universe.  Nalayani is a Fable who hails from the Indu region, also known as the place where Indian fairy tales reside.  After her village is destroyed for the third time, Nalayani goes in search of the mysterious new Maharaja in the hopes that he will be able to save her people.  As she ventures away from her home, however, Nalayani finds out that Indu is still a very dangerous place even without the forces of the Emperor.

When Fables started out as a comic telling the stories of fairy tale characters in a modern setting, Bill Willingham obviously began with the stories and people we all know and love.  This meant that characters like Snow White, Prince Charming, Cinderella, and the Big Bad Wolf were playing major roles in the story Willingham was crafting.  By using these characters, we as readers are able to bring in our own perceptions of these people and what they should be (based on the original stories or their Disney counterparts), and it made the changes in their character for Fables surprising, yet exciting.  There is just one thing all of these Fables (as they are called) have in common: all of their stories come from Europe.  After a while, main Fables antagonist the Adversary had conquered all of the European Fable lands and began moving towards Indu.  In doing so, Willingham was able to bring in familiar characters like Sinbad and Aladdin, but also other characters who, despite having their own ancient stories told of them, were almost utterly unfamiliar to modern American readers.  This is a very intimidating story-telling move on Willingham's part; he very much so risked the familiarity of the other characters by asking readers to trust him with these new Fables.  Thus far, everything has actually worked quite well, and things continue in this way for the newest arc on Fairest: "The Return of the Maharaja."

As mentioned, Nalayani is a completely new character to this universe, making this an incredibly accessible read for new readers as even die-hard Fables fans such as this reviewer are being introduced to Nalayani and her world too.  There was a bit of danger in this series choosing so early to introduce a brand new character, particularly one from Indu.  What if readers were unfamiliar with the character?  Would they be turned off from the series if the Indu characters were not as engaging as the fairy tale characters we are more familiar with?  All of these doubts can be cast aside.  While the story does contain some references to aspects of Indian folklore that may very well be connected to their tales, this issue feels very much so like a self-contained story that is quite easy to follow. Nalayani is every inch the perfect female character for a Fables story.  She obviously comes with quite a bit of baggage, but having your village destroyed more than once while creepy men try to scavenge from you will probably do that.  This woman is very set in her ways, seeing herself as the only one fit to protect her village. The role consumes her so much that even the idea of seeking out this rumored new Maharaja seems like something she is only stooping to because she was asked.  When Nalayani goes out on her adventure, we get to see how she handles herself on her own...let's just say she would be just fine.  Nalayani is a complete badass with archery skills that would make the likes of Hawkeye turn his head.  Not only is she a great character to watch in action, but she is already completely relatable.  We have only known her for one issue, but it is very easy to pull for her as a character.  

Throughout the first part of her adventure, Nalayani befriends a creature named Tabaqui.  The two of them form what begins as a working relationship of helping each other survive the harsh conditions of Indu, but quickly evolves into a budding friendship.  Despite calling him a jackal, Tabaqui's design very much so looks wolf-like.  Upon further research into Indian fairy tales, it would appear Tabaqui is a character featured in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.  This would make the fifth character from that work to appear in Fables as Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and Shere Khan have also made appearances.  While his appearance in this issue is rather brief, Tabaqui quickly becomes a very likable character (something helped out greatly by the way he is drawn).  The friendship which evolves between Nalayani and Tabaqui is also an interesting one in terms of its relationship to Fables.  In the main book, Snow White and Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf) have a romantic connection that eventually turned into marriage.  While it may be stretching a bit, the brief friendship between the characters in this issue brings up some interesting parallels between the Indu characters and Fables' main characters.  Unfortunately, what happens with Tabaqui somewhat crushes any hopes of these parallels continuing, but his character is a great one for this one issue.

So, you may be wondering what the big deal is with the Maharaja.  It is a fair question as that is the person Nalayani is seeking and it is also used in the title for this arc.  Basically, in Indian culture, the Maharaja is a term for a member of the nobility who governs over a state of land.  In more relatable terms, a Maharaja is a prince of sorts.  While the we do meet this new Maharaja at the end of this issue, it is still a bit unclear what role this character will play in the rest of the story....but the identity of this character is one which makes for a huge shock if you are a Fables fan going into this story.  For the purposes of this review, we will not spoil the identity of the Maharaja, but let us just say that we should have seen it coming from the name he is given early on in the issue (Shah-ah-Ming).  The reason the identity of this character is such a surprise is that this was a person presumed dead for quite some time in Fables, which brings up a lot of questions as to when this story is taking place.  Hopefully these questions will be answered soon, because, if the story is in the present, there is going to have to be a lot of explaining in the coming issues.

The writer for this new arc on Fairest is a bit of a newcomer: Sean E. Williams.  In interviews, Williams has said that this a story idea which he pitched to Bill Willingham a while back and, fortunately, he gladly allowed it to be told.  This may be his first foray into Fables, but you would think Williams had been writing it for years as his style meshes quite well with that of Willingham.  Sean E. Williams takes the seemingly impossible task with this issue of introducing a new character in a still unfamiliar land and makes it completely relatable and, more importantly, engaging.  He seems to have a very good eye for character, and he has already made Nalayani feel very fleshed out just in one issue.  As this arc continues, we can only hope that this trend continues and that, once "Return of the Maharaja" concludes, we will see Williams back in the Fables-universe very soon.

On art duties for this arc we have Stephen Sadowski.  Just as Williams proves he is more than capable of writing a Fables story, Sadowski shows he is just as capable of drawing one.  In fact, both writer and artist do such a good job blending in that one could almost read the entire issue and think it was done by the team normally writing/drawing Fables.  Perhaps this does not seem like a compliment, but more as a comment on how neither of these men stand out in their work.  That is not the case by any means.  With a Fables story, there comes a very high expectation in terms of art.  Thankfully, Sadowski is already meeting those expectations.

Overall, this is a very standout issue of Fairest.  The recent Rapunzel arc on the series was good in terms of how twisted the narrative became, but it was ultimately a mess when reading the book on a monthly basis.  With "Return of the Maharaja," there is already a sense that this story is going to be a bit more easy to follow.  Not only are we introduced to a fascinating new character, but we get a huge plot twist on the final page that will leave long time Fables fans clamoring for the next issue.  Not only is this story setting itself up to be great for long-time fans, but is also an excellent jumping on point for new readers.  Fairest just may be one of the most important comics currently being produced as it gives readers strong, heroic female characters that are not used simply for sex appeal to male readers.  This is something all comics should strive for.


Rating: A+

Summary: Fairest #15 gives us the start of a new arc with a brand new character to the Fables-universe and a plot twist that makes the story a must-read for long time fans and newcomers alike.
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