"Fairest" #15 is in many ways the most successful opening chapter of a story on the series to date, and it's the sort of first issue that makes me wish that it had in fact kicked off the book as a whole. Sean E. Williams, Stephen Sadowski and Phil Jimenez start by telling a story that feels very removed from the main "Fables" title, but by the end of this first issue it's apparent just how well it fits in with everything else to date.
Williams paces out his Vertigo debut well; readers are quickly introduced to Nalayani, a Fable in a world "far removed from Fabletown" that resembles the myths and legends of the Indian subcontinent. I'm not familiar with the character of Nalayani outside of "Fairest" #15, but I like what I see here courtesy Williams. She's the sort of character who has a strong head on her shoulders and has the prowess and skill to match with her convictions. As Nalayani travels to find the new Maharaja in search of help for her village, it's easy to see her as being the "fairest" focus for this title's storyline. And then, at the last moment... Williams pulls out the rug from under the reader with a lovely surprise that ties this story into the overall "Fables" narrative. That's in many ways exactly how "Fairest" should work; telling stories outside Willingham's ongoing saga that still none the less have a strong impact on the parent title. It's a fun little twist and it quickly turns "Fairest" into a must-read instead of a good diversion when you have the chance.
It doesn't hurt that the art is by Sadowski and Jimenez. I can't remember the last time I've seen a comic from Sadowski, but it's been far too long; his pencils are lush and full without ever looking exploitative or over-the-top. Nalayani is dressed modestly (but still attractive), and more importantly she's drawn with a physical strength to match the way that Williams writes her. A scene as simple as her aiming a bow gives her a strong presence on the page, and when action breaks out (like an attack from the fox-like Dhole) characters and creatures spring and roll across the page in a way that feels extremely energetic. Add in some inks by Jimenez and this art looks so smooth it makes me wonder why it's taken this long for the duo to work together. My only complaint with the visuals is, shockingly, letterer Todd Klein. He's normally a master of his craft, but the font used for Nalayani's words is actually a little hard to read in places. I like the idea of it being crafted off of Hindi, but the execution leaves a little something to be desired.
"Fairest" is a book that's gotten better with each story, and this is by far the best to date. After a slow start, it's nice to see the comic settling well into a groove. More like this, please.