Written by Bill Willingham
Pencilled by Phil Jimenez
Inked by Andy Lanning
32 pages, color
Published by Vertigo
The idea behind Fairest, the new spin-off from Fables, seemed simple enough. The back cover declares it to be about "the fairest flowers in the land" and in interviews creator Bill Willingham has talked about it being a place to tell stories about characters like Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella, Rapunzel… in other words, the female characters of Fables. So why is it, then, that Fairest #1 is starring Ali Baba?
To be fair, Ali Baba is hiding on the back half of the wrap-around cover for Fairest #1 (along with twelve women), and nowhere does it say point-blank that this is solely a book about Fables‘ female characters. I actually see the merit in occasionally mixing up Fairest by throwing in a particularly good looking male character. But doing so right off the bat feels like it’s sending the wrong message, that whatever you wanted Fairest to be, you’re not getting it.
A bigger problem with Fairest #1 is that even if this had just been an issue of Fables, it’s an awfully dull story. Ali Baba and a bottle imp named Jonah Panghammer are within the ruins of the capital city of the Empire, with Ali Baba being promised to get taken to where Sleeping Beauty awaits a prince to wake her from the slumber that brought the Empire to its knees and saved the residents of Fabletown. It’s not a bad concept, but both Ali Baba and Jonah are distinctly uninteresting characters. As a sidekick, Jonah comes across as irritating rather than funny, and Ali Baba is full of himself in a way that is annoying rather than entertaining (like Prince Charming was in Fables). Neither of them can carry this first issue, which in many ways has the same fault that the earlier spin-off series Jack of Fables did; the creators think the main character is clever and charismatic but never actually give us that.
It also doesn’t help that in terms of plot, it feels like the events of Fairest #1 are mostly a throwaway. Open the book with the final page, give a brief summary of Ali Baba meeting Jonah a page or two later, and you can move forward with the first issue at least having Sleeping Beauty as a co-star, if not the outright lead. This comic feels like a huge amount of padding, and when you consider that this is only issue #1, that’s a bad sign.
The saving grace for Fairest #1 is the art. Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning rarely disappoint, and this is not one of those moments. Their two-page opening spread of the ruined capitol city looks gorgeous in its devastation, with intricate pillars and stairways alongside charred vines of thorns and ashes. And while I’m not a fan of Ali Baba being the star of this opening story, I will give Jimenez credit in that he draws a quite attractive man. The pout when Ali Baba says, "No wishes?" is great—a good remind of how much the art can help tell the story—and in general we get more characterization from Jimenez’s poses and postures that he places Ali Baba in than the actual dialogue.
Fairest is fortunately an anthology title, with each new storyline being from a different creative team, and to that I say, "Thank goodness." Jimenez’s pencils are amazing and the Adam Hughes cover is beautiful, but at this point I feel fully prepared to wait until the next storyline kicks off. Who’s the fairest of them all? Not this comic.