With "Fairest" #7, creator Bill Willingham opens up the world of "Fables" to other creators, with long-time Willingham-collaborator Matthew Sturges and "Cinderella" artist Shawn McManus first up to bat. As good news for anyone with whom "Fairest" #1-6 didn't click, you're in luck. After all, if you don't like one story in an anthology series, you just have to wait until the next one rolls around.
Sturges and McManus jump to the 1940s, with Beast on a personal mission to hunt down the dreaded Lamia; a beautiful woman who can shift between human and snake, but also a deadly killer. On its surface, "Fairest" #7 is a hard-boiled detective story with what feels like a slightly artificial deadline, as Beast tries to capture the Lamia once more before Saint-George finds and kills her on his own. As the story unfolds, though, Sturges offers up a revelation about the relationship between Lamia and Beast that forever casts them in a different light.
"Fairest" #7 is a "twist" story, where at the 11th hour you'll learn something completely out of the blue that the reader isn't supposed to see coming. Having read a lot of both good and bad twists over the years, it's nice to see that this twist from Sturges feels like it fits into the "Fables" universe. If you go back and re-read "Fairest" #7, the clues are certainly there. Perhaps more importantly, it's this sort of redefining the different storybook characters of "Fables" that Willingham's made a trademark. It also helps that this isn't happening to a more beloved "Fables" character like Snow White or Bigby Wolf; Sturges has picked just the right one with whom to throw open a revelation.
More importantly, Sturges and McManus effortlessly evoke that previously-mentioned hard-boiled detective in "Fairest" #7. McManus's art is welcome here (doubly so since his "Cinderella" arc with Chris Roberson planned for 2013 has since been cancelled), with its wide jaws, muted color scheme and period costumes. There's no mistaking the feel that the duo's going for the second you open the book, and it's McManus who instantly sets that stage. Sturges follows through on the great visuals well, too. The dialogue sounded right to my ears, and the pacing and the scenes that we get are fun.
As a one-off, "Fairest" #7 hits all the right notes; it evokes a different place and time well, it has a strong twist at the end that has lasting ramifications for a "Fables" character, and it's memorable. After the disappointment of the opening storyline for "Fairest" #1-6, "Fairest" #7 is a nice reminder that this book is going to have lots of different creators tackling its pages. Ultimately, this is much more what I was expecting in the first place.