“Prince of Thieves, Chapter One: Wide Awake”
Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencils: Phil Jimenez
Inks: Andy Lanning
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artists: Adam Hughes (regular)/Jimenez & Lanning (variant)
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo imprint
Price: $2.99 US
While I loved the first few years of the series, I dropped Fables a while back, not long after the war with the Adversary/Emperor/Gepetto came to a close. It was a major turning point in the series, and I just wasn’t as taken with the new direction of the book then, though I still appreciated the overall premise. I had also lost interest in the spinoff Jack of Fables series, so I left Willingham’s characters (or his take on these characters) behind. When I saw this new spinoff title on my comic shop’s shelves this week, I felt prompted to venture back into the enchanted forests and valleys I’d visited with Willingham before, mainly because the notion of an all-female cast of protagonists appealed to me. I was also curious to see what Willingham had been up to with these characters. After reading the first issue, I can safely say I enjoyed what I found, but I must also admit I found it puzzling. For a comic book that purports to be about a number of fairy-tale women, the first issue is almost completely devoid of female characters. It seems like an odd choice and a misstep.
A legendary thief ventures into the war-torn ruins of the fairy-tale world the Fables once called home and happens upon an ornate bottle, home to a magical creature. Unfortunately for him, it’s not home to a wish-granting genie, but rather an intelligence-gathering imp with an agenda of his own. The unlikely partners continue their journey, unaware they’re being followed by one of the wooden puppet warriors crafted long ago by the man who once ruled over the magical lands with an iron fist. His nihilistic mission will soon come into conflict with the thief and imp’s quest to awaken a fair maiden from a deep sleep as a means to add to their power.
This stands out as one of Phil Jimenez’s finest efforts in recent memory. The George Perez-like detail he brings to projects is still on display, and so fans will definitely be pleased. But there’s a softer look at play at times that brings an almost painted look to his traditional comic line art. He’s joined by inker Andy Lanning, who’s probably the best embellisher he’s worked with over the years. The spread on pages 2 and 3 is stunning; the beauty of the classic architecture shines through despite most of it being rubble. And the splash a couple of pages later really pops, despite the stilted, forced yet iconic pose in which the protagonist finds himself. I also appreciated the design for Captain Oakheart, who comes across as formidable and not at all like the puppet he was created to be.
Given the strong push DC is trying to give its various new Vertigo titles, I was surprised to find the inaugural episode of this Fables spinoff carried the regular price a DC comic. The Vertigo imprint has had some success with introductory issues priced at $1, and I was fully expecting that practice to continue here. Perhaps DC thought the friendlier, enticing price point wasn’t as necessary for something connected to the strong Fables franchise, or maybe it’s thought better of the first-issue-for-a-buck marketing effort.
There’s no denying this is a Fables spinoff. One has to be familiar with a fair bit of continuity from the mother title to figure out where the characters are in this story and what their deal is (especially Oakheart). I haven’t read Fables in a while, but fortunately, what I remember from before I stopped following the book was enough to pick up on the appropriate and required references here. Of course, not everyone will be privy to the same backstory from Fables. Of course, one could argue DC expects only Fables readers to pick up Fairest, but limiting one’s expected readership to an audience within an established audience seems like it would be setting the bar far too low. Willingham’s script really could’ve used more exposition.
The most perplexing and troublesome aspect of this new title, which promises to focus on the female heroines of Willingham’s world of Fables, is how this first episode doesn’t really include any female characters. Oh sure, there are a couple of female forms in this story, but they’re little more than props at this point. I’m sure the cast of characters depicted on the wraparound cover by Adam Hughes will turn up and take center stage in this series, but I have to admit it was a bit disconcerting.
Those criticisms aside, I have to admit I enjoyed the three characters at the heart of this opening episode. Despite his destructive, murderous nature, there’s something noble and admirable about Oakheart, and the interplay between Ali Baba and Jonah is a lot of fun. Jonah’s modern vernacular plays a vitally important role here, as it brings the purple prose of the dialogue and fantasy elements in the plot down to earth. The script is fun and brisk, but it never feels too light or fleeting either. I’m curious enough to check out the second issue but not yet completely won over either. 6/10
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