Fairest: Wide Awake, Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, & various artists

Fairest, Vol.1Fairest: Wide Awake

Form: Comic Book (Trade Paperback)
Series: Fairest, Volume 1 (Issues 1-7) – Spinoff from Fables

Writers: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges
Artists:
Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Steve Sadowski, Mark Farmer, Andrew Pepoy, Shawn McManus
Colourists: Andrew Dalhouse, Shawn McManus
Letterer: Todd Klien
Cover Art: Adam Hughes

Rating:

So I’m going to skip the blurb on this one as, although the first book of its own series, it contains some pretty big spoilers for events in its parent series, Fables. In fact I’m not sure how someone trying to read this series without having read Fables first would be able to get into it, as it does rely quite a bit on knowing the character’s backstories already. But I enjoyed it, not as much as I was hoping, but a lot more than I was fearing after the last Cinderella book. It’s not the best, and I battled for a long time with myself over whether it should really  be a 3 or 4 star read, but in the end, despite a few misgivings, I decided to be generous. Definitely worth checking out if you’re following Fables already, it has the same sort of feel to it – something the previous spinoff, Jack of Fables didn’t – but I’m not sure I’d recommend that someone new to the Fables universe starts here.

Fairest is, or is meant to be, a female-led spinoff from the main series, taking its name from the idea that with all the fairytale characters now living together there are lots and lots of ‘fairest of the all’s. I say ‘meant to be’ however because for the first half of the ‘Wide Awake‘ storyline it seemed a very standard male-led story with Ali Baba as the roguish hero and the second story ‘Lamia‘ is an entirely male led ‘film noir’ detective story. I liked both stories, but this is definitely something I want to see done better in future books – females taking leading roles rather than being either love interests or the motivation for men’s adventures.

Still,as I said, I liked both stories. Wide Awake, the longer of the two takes up 6 of the 7 issues collected in this volume and is focussed, as you might expect from the title, on Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), last seen in the main comics in an enchanted sleep with Lumi, the Snow Queen, being carted away by goblins. The story opens with Ali Baba (of forty thieves fame),  accompanied by an exposition-loving bottle imp, breaking into the goblin camp and waking Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Unfortunately with Briar Rose awake her spell breaks and wakes the Snow Queen up as well and the Snow Queen is (or was) a serious bady. I have to say I felt she was a little ‘de-fanged’ here. And, though I liked it, the story seemed both to drag on and to be a little rushed in places. There is an awful lot of exposition on Briar Rose’s origins but very little new – the fairies who blessed/cursed her have specific names, but actually it follows most versions or the ‘original story’ too closely to surprise anyone and I found the idea that she had never heard this story before kind of laughable. But while that stuff seemed to slow things down the ‘present day’ stuff seemed rather rushed, making the relationships between the characters and their motivations seem very shallow. Limitation of the format, I guess, and the difference in reading these things in monthly instalments vs s all together in a trade paperback. Despite a few problems it certainly had a nice Fables-y feel to it though, a much more promising start than the last spinoff I read.

The second story, Lamia, I’m still conflicted about. It’s a good little story, it’s got a nice art style to it as well, but it has some pretty huge implications for characters in the main comic and on how the reader now has to perceive those characters both going forward and with hindsight, and I’m just not sure I want to see those implications played out. I liked the reading I already had of them. But I guess I’ll just wait and see, it could turn out to be amazing.

A solid start to the series, not the most welcoming for new readers but I guess that’s not really the intention. What I would like to see going forward though is a lot more ‘female led stories about women’ and less ‘stories about men thinking about women’. With the title and publicity promoting this as a series about female characters I would like those female characters to have more agency, more varied goals and ambitions, and not to be called ‘bitches’ so often by the men they share the page with. And since each story apparently has a different writer I would like to see more women writing and drawing these stories too, and drawing them without ‘male gaze’ fanservice. I like Bill Willinghams writing on Fables, I liked most of the art in this book (though I couldn’t work out what was happening in the action scenes) but I won’t lie that I am worried this series won’t live up to the awesomeness that it could be if it continues to be so male dominated.

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