For many years, I've marvelled at Bill Willingham's ability to plumb the world of fairy-tales to produce his Fables series, the spin-out novel, and various other media. Few other creators combine such consistent skill with such astounding volume.
But Willingham appears to only just be getting started. He's spun out another side-series from the main Fables trunk. This one is called Fairest, and the first collection, Fairest: Wide Awake is now out from Vertigo. Fairest centers around the lives of many of the great women of fabledom: Briar Rose, Sleeping Beauty's fairy godmothers and the frost queen, merging their stories with the tale of Ali Baba (albeit a different Ali Baba than the one you may have encountered in legends). There's also a hard-boiled bonus story about the perilous and tragic existence of the Lamia.
But the main story is about Briar Rose and Ali Baba. It opens with Ali Baba in the wreckage of a city that has been destroyed in a great battle, happening upon a magic bottle. He uncorks it, and out springs a bottle imp, a kind of distant cousin to a djinn, unable to grant wishes, but able nevertheless to tell you things it has no business knowing. It tells Ali Baba -- the prince of thieves -- that there lies nearby a sleeping princess who awaits a true love's kiss from a prince (even a prince of thieves), and that she has been enchanted to be rich forever, and that she might marry and enrich her prince.
But when Ali Baba steals into a goblin camp and finds the princess sleeping on her bier, he discovers two princesses: one red-haired and human, the other made of ice. He kisses them both, and rouses the frost queen, who has been spelled to sleep and who isn't very happy. He and Briar Rose and the bottle imp have to run for their lives.
What follows is a mix of Scheherezade and Sleeping Beauty, brilliantly told, with excellent dramatic and comedic timing. The writing's only half the story, though the artist team, led by Phil Jimenez, creates a stunning series of generous, daring graphic layouts, using nontraditional panel-orders, two-page spreads, and great panoramas to bring the whole thing to life.
By the time I put the book down I was already anticipating the further adventures of the Fairest fables. Willingham's love for these characters is a abundantly clear and palpable on every page. I can only assume he's got a lot more planned for us.
Published 6:40 am Tue, Nov 27, 2012
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