Ballad of Sleeping Beauty #1

Written by Gabriel Benson
Art by Mike Hawthorne
32 pages, color
Published by Beckett Comics

The story of Sleeping Beauty is certainly a classic fairy tale—a baby girl is cursed to fall into eternal slumber on her 18th birthday, with only a handsome prince able to break the spell. What Gabriel Benson and Mike Hawthorne have done, though, is moved the story out of its traditional home of medieval Europe and into a slightly more contemporary setting: the Wild West. And you know? It fits really well.

In the town of Briar Rose, the inhabitants were able to easily ignore the old Indian woman who came seeking help during the snowstorm. They remembered some of the other Indian tribes ambushing and attacking them as they journeyed west of the Mississippi River to found Briar Rose, and prejudices die hard. What they weren’t so able to ignore was when she reappeared to curse the firstborn child of the town, dooming her and the townspeople to eternal slumber in 18 years time. Now a young man wants to seek out Briar Rose and break the curse… but first he’s got to get that hangman’s noose off from around his neck, and the only source of help he can find is the mysterious Cole. Who, of course, is right next to him awaiting death by hanging.

Writer Benson has a thin line to walk with The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty—trying to keep the basic story of Sleeping Beauty intact, while changing and adding enough that it won’t bore the audience. I think he’s found a good balance here; between the slight changes to the story of Sleeping Beauty itself plus the addition of Cole’s own story, and my interest was piqued. I appreciated the fact that the curse this time doesn’t happen simply because of an evil faerie wasn’t invited to a party, but because of prejudice and fear applied to an innocent old woman turned away in an hour of need. It makes the curse less random and casts a less-than-perfect light upon the people of Briar Rose. Cole’s story itself has only just begun, but there’s just enough there to make me want to know more; Benson’s doling out of the facts works perfectly here. There’s a good insinuation here that Cole’s life has been less than perfect as well, and it’s these shades of grey that make the Wild West setting of The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty work, in an era and place where there were no easy choices or solutions.

I’m always happy to see Hawthorne’s art, be it Three Days in Europe or Ruule, and The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty is no exception. There’s a real cinematic quality to his art, and he’s able to set the tone of The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty quickly in the opening scene of the family trying to escape the town of Briar Rose with dire consequences. (And a nice answer, incidentally, to why the town hadn’t been abandoned after the curse.) His storytelling is really tight here, with close-ups on characters’s faces to help bring you into their heads. Last but not least, Hawthorne (along with colorist Mike Atiyeh) do a nice job of making Briar Rose and the other locations of The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty characters in their own right. With striking visual designs for the places and a dramatic color palette, the world of The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty is intriguing in its own right.

This is easily the strongest debut from Beckett Comics to date, and it makes sense that they’d make this first issue their Free Comic Book Day offering. It certainly works on me; after getting the first taste for free, I’m going to be back to see just what happens in chapter two. Well done, everyone involved.

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