“Fairest,” Bill Willingham’s latest “Fables” spinoff series with art by Phil Jimenez promises a lot of beautiful ladies with its title and Adam Hughes cover, but what you’ll find inside is a bit surprising.
While the title and the cover suggest this issue will be focused on Briar Rose, we spend most of the issue meeting Ali Baba (Prince of Theives) and his non-genie of the lamp, Jonah. Jonah leads Ali to the sleeping Briar Rose (and for some reason Lumi, The Snow Queen, also asleep next to her) while a wooden soldier rather pointlessly chases them. The plotting is not particularly strong here — unless I’m just missing something.
I will confess to being disappointed that we don’t see Briar Rose woken up until the final page and barely see her at all, asleep or otherwise, in the whole 22 pages. It’s understandable we’d need time to set up the story, but given we had a whole issue of set up last year in the regular “Fables” series in which Briar was also barely seen, it’s a little frustrating. There’s still plenty of opportunity to give Briar agency and make her the star (or a star) of this plot, but at this point it’s pretty unsatisfactory. Perhaps it would be less disappointing if what Willingham was doing with Ali Baba, Jonah and the wooden soldier was more engaging, but there’s just not much there beyond the introduction of the Prince of Theives and his genie.
Jimenez’s art is beautiful throughout and is clearly the star of this issue with new artists on the way for subsequent arcs. His pages are highly detailed and lovingly rendered with as much attention paid to the smallest moments as the most epic. The characters and overall feeling is incredibly consistent and Jimenez crafts a completely believable world whether we’re looking at beautiful sleeping princesses, mischievous bottle imps or a dashing prince of thieves. Andy Lanning’s inks are sufficiently bold to give Jimenez’s pencils even more weight and Andrew Dalhouse’s colors are rich. The colors trend a little too dark for my personal tastes, but they’re filled with depth and nuance.
Perhaps knowing what Willingham is capable of as a writer is part of what stands in the way of enjoying this first issue as much as I’d like. I’ve read amazing stories by Willingham and so far this just doesn’t feel like his best effort. The visuals are stunning and Willingham can easily turn this series around, but for now I’m not as impressed as I’d like to be.