A Free Comic Book Day offering should grab its reader and make them want to read more. After all, if they aren’t thrilled with a book they got for free, why would they want to spend money on it down the line? One of the offerings from Image this year is “Fractured Fables,” featuring five stories from an upcoming graphic novel by the same name as comic creators re-interpret classic fairy tales. My fear, though, is that if these are the five stories that were the cream of the crop, that the book is bound for disappointment.
I’m not saying it’s all bad, though. Two of the stories, “Red Riding Hood” and “The Real Princess,” were strong enough to make me want to read more. Bryan Talbot and Camilla d’Errico tackle “Red Riding Hood” as the infamous wolf decides that eating sheep is boring and it’s time to go for something a little more tasty. It’s not until the conclusion of the story (where we learn just why Red Riding Hood is going to Grandma’s, as well as why there are all those big signs pointing towards Grandma’s house) that the plot varies, but Talbot keeps it light and fun. The wolf imagining a side of onion rings and a double order of fries to get eaten alongside Red Riding Hood is a way that Talbot keeps it moving briskly, and I can imagine kids laughing a lot at the slightly silly dialogue that permeates the story. D’Errico is an artist that I’ve enjoyed for a long time now, and her art (along with colorist Edison Yan) looks almost airbrushed onto the page, with sweet innocent character designs that can turn into butt-kicking on the turn of a dime. It’s a smart story to open the comic with, and after reading it I was psyched for more.
Next up, though, is Doug TenNapel’s “Rumplestiltskin,” in which TenNapel’s big change was making the girl into an idiot who says, “duh” a lot. It’s the most sophisticated the story ever gets, and I suppose if having the heroine wiping her nose on her arm and saying “Duh, I want my epidural!” at childbirth is funny, you might have hit the jackpot. When Rumplestiltskin finally appears to take the firstborn child away, you’re cheering because you desperately want it to be over. This is a dud, no two ways about it; I can’t see kids finding this funny, to say nothing of adults.
Fortunately next up is “The Real Princess,” where Alexander Grecian and Christian Ward mix “Jack and the Beanstalk” with “The Princess and the Pea” into a single story. It’s a surprisingly funny story, and one that’s told at a brisk pace. As the two stories collide, it gets stranger and more bewildering by the panel, and I say that as a complement. It’s got just the right punch lines, and I was impressed with how clever Grecian’s merging turned out to be. Ward’s art is beautiful too, reminding me in some ways of David Mack’s painted art in “Kabuki.” It’s lush and colorful, and the page of the beanstalk growing through the stack of mattresses is just amazing. It’s the other high point of the comic, and worth a big thumbs up.
Derek McCulloch and Anthony Peruzzo’s “Raponsel” falls into the realm of just all right. Their take on the old story of Rapunzel isn’t bad, but it feels like it goes one joke too far even though it’s a relatively short story. Younger readers might find this funny if it’s read out loud to them, so that they can hear the exasperation on the part of the Prince as he keeps trying to rescue the woman in the tower, but it’s the sort of story that you’re not going to remember afterwards. Perfectly average, at the end of the day.
The comic closes with Ted McKeever’s take on the nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle, Diddle” as a young boy walks down the street even as the images around him slowly form the full rhyme. It’s a nice experiment, and I do like McKeever’s art, but I’m not sure most people will find it terribly entertaining, especially younger readers. Even when the final panel explains how it all comes together, I can see most people shrugging and turning the page. It’s an idea that I think is better in concept than reality, although new McKeever art is always a plus in my book.
If the entire “Fractured Fables” free comic was at the level of “Red Riding Hood” and “The Real Princess” I’d have been thrilled. Both of those stories stand out and make you want to read more. I’m not convinced, though, that the entire book will be that good based on the other stories chosen to be representative of the final product. There’s certainly a strong lineup of talent advertised at the end for the book, and I hope it all comes together. But based on just this Free Comic Book Day offering, I can’t see myself rushing back to the story to buy a copy of the book when it comes out. For this, I think I’ll wait for word of mouth to let me know how the final product is.