Vertigo's 'Fairest' lives up to title; 'Saucer Country' takes first intriguing step

Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

Call it self-fulfilling prophecy, but I’ve read the first issues of two of DC’s four new Vertigo books, and I feel about them exactly as I expected to.

 

Fairest #1 ($2.99), which arrived March 7, was just as much fun as I’d hoped. For those who missed my previous column on this topic (and for shame!), Fairest is a spinoff from Vertigo’s popular and award-winning Fables series, which posits that all fairy tale characters exist, with each as proportionally powerful as the number of mortals who remember and/or believe in them. This new title focuses on the histories and solo adventures of the ladies in our fairy tales, from Cinderella (who has already had two solo miniseries) to Snow White.

 

It starts with a wraparound cover featuring 12 gals and one guy by the fantastic Adam Hughes; it’s not only gorgeous but a fun challenge to identify all the characters. I was only able to ID them all  because I’ve read more than 100 issues of Fables, and it wasn’t easy – there sure are a lot of blondes! I’ll provide a hint in that those depicted are Ali Baba, Beauty (of “and the Beast”), Bo Peep, Briar Rose (“Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella, Ozma, Princess Alder, Rapunzel, Rose Red, Snow Queen, Snow White, Mrs. Jack Spratt and Thumbelina. Good luck!

 

The insides are by writer Bill Willingham, the creator and writer of “Fables,” and fan favorite artist Phil Jimenez (“Wonder Woman”), and are a delight. Jimenez pours a ton of detail on the page, mirroring the monthly effort of Mark Buckingham over in “Fables.” And Willingham’s efforts here are as entertaining as they are in “Fables;” with witty dialogue, specific characterization, pell-mell adventure and little details that tickle your childhood fairy-tale memories.

 

One oddity must be mentioned: In a book devoted to women, none show up until page 13 (actually two, Snow Queen and Briar Rose), and no Fairest has any dialogue until the last page. The focus of this first issue is on Ali “Prince of Thieves” Baba, a sarcastic effrit and an angry wooden soldier carved by Gepetto. They are all males, which indicates that the book won’t be entirely free of Y chromosomes – it’s just that men won’t be the focus. I’m sure Briar Rose (and possibly the Snow Queen) will have their fair share of adventure soon enough.

 

And I’ll be there to read it, because Fairest #1 was enormous fun. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and caution that remote viewing of the series through a magic mirror or crystal ball is considered piracy.

 

A little lower on my enthusiasm scale is Saucer Country #1 ($2.99), which arrived March 14. The series, unlike most comics, won’t shy away from actual politics. It stars a divorced, female, Hispanic governor of a southwestern state who is considering a run for the presidency on what is the (unnamed) Democratic ticket. Her opponents, whose affiliation is equally unnamed, are clearly Republicans.

 

This is the part that interests me, primarily for the novelty. I don’t want many or even most of my funnybooks to provide political commentary, as I prefer my fantasy to be an escape from all that. But once in a blue moon some real-world issues and controversies can add a little reaffirming verisimilitude – as long it doesn’t devolve into the writer standing on a soapbox. Screeds aren’t fun to read even when you agree with the politics, and are flat-out intolerable when you don’t.

 

The name of the book refers to what will surely become the main plot before long, in that our heroine comes to the realization on the last page that she had been abducted by aliens. This will certainly complicate her campaign, as if an alcoholic ex-husband and brutal politics aren’t problem enough. But the press material indicates she now believes we’re being invaded – and she needs to be president to stop it. It’s not clear in the first issue if it’s true or if there’s some other reason for the governor’s recovered memories, but it does add a whole new meaning to the term “illegal aliens.”

 

Saucer Country is by British writer Paul Cornell, known primarily for television drama like Doctor Who, and his current runs on DC’s Demon Knights and Stormwatch. The art is by Ryan Kelly, who put in years of solid work on Vertigo’s “Lucifer.” That’s a pretty good line-up, so I’m looking forward to a political potboiler with a side order of aliens – or maybe it’ll be the other way around.

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

1. The first issue of Fairest sports a wraparound cover depicting 13 characters expected to appear in the series. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

2. The second issue of Fairest, due in April, show Ali Baba and Briar Rose with an interfering effrit. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

3. The third issue of Fairest features Snow Queen on the cover. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

4. The cover of the first issue of Saucer Country shows the lead character haunted by gray aliens. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

5. The second issue of Saucer Country is due in April. Courtesy DC Entertainment.

6. The third issue of Saucer Country is due in May.  Courtesy DC Entertainment. 

 

 

Views: 2260

Comment by Figserello on March 23, 2012 at 12:16am

Screeds aren’t fun to read even when you agree with the politics, and are flat-out intolerable when you don’t.

 

It's funny you should say this.  It sums up in a nutshell why I had to stop reading Fables.

Comment by Captain Comics on March 23, 2012 at 2:36pm

How so?

Comment by Chris Fluit on March 23, 2012 at 4:40pm

I'm with Cap.  I've found Fables to be largely apolitical.  Instead, my observation is that some readers are reading Willingham's political opinions into the book in a way that just isn't there.

However, I couldn't say the same thing for Saucer Country.  For one thing, I just don't want to read a book with that much political input.  That's on me.  I'd rather get away from those contentious issues when reading comics.  But the politics struck me as a little bit off too, like they didn't quite understand the reasons behind the issues.  Maybe that's me reacting to Cornell, a British writer, commenting on American politics.  But, even if I was interested in a heavily political comic, the actual comic wasn't quite there for me. 

Comment by Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) on March 23, 2012 at 6:57pm

We've talked about Fables before: I don't get a political undertone to it either. And I'm probably directly opposite to Winningham politically, from what I know of his politics. I'm curious about Saucer Country, but I haven't liked most of what I've read about it so far. Timothy Callahan's When Words Collide column reviewed it. He didn't care for it, and it seems like the kind of thing he'd usually like.

Comment by Figserello on March 23, 2012 at 7:00pm
Unfortunately, I had read Willingham's flakey superhero essay before reading Fables, so I couldn't unread it going forward.

Fables is indeed apolitical insofar as Willingham doesn't directly write "Medicare sucks!", "Invasive ultrasound scanning now!" or "Vote Republican!" into his text. However, the deep meaning of much of Fables is very supportive of a certain way of looking at the world. "Right wing" may be too simplistic a label for the attitudes he is trying to promote, but on the Venn diagram there is a huge overlap between what Willingham wants us to see as worthwhile values, and the values the political right appeal to in order to promote their agenda.

Just for you, Chris, I'll only use examples that Willingham put into his series, rather than stuff that wasn't there that I read into it.

I don't have a lot of time today, so just a few pointers:

Animal Farm was an outrageous misappropriation of one of my favourite writer's work. Orwell showed that central to most revolutions is not just some idea of 'freedom' which BW's animals revolt for, but they are about the value and return on the peoples labour, and the distribution of available resources. BWs revolution left these out of the equation, so that revolution is presented as something only idle troublemakers get up to.

As begun in Animal Farm Fables constantly takes the side of the powerful against the weak. Bigby, whose true form is a powerful giant monster is the hero of the series. That's only one example. Might makes right is a recurring value. BW romanticises the hunters of the natural world and promotes their values above all others. That love of the raptor's strength and power of life and death over others is much vaunted on the extreme right, shall we say.

Ali Baba's Muslims are presented as duplicitous hypocrites with a nonsensical baroque religion, who are concealing a weapon of mass destruction when we meet them. Everything has its context. I found it extremely distasteful to put something like that out at a time when the neocons were using similar arguments to justify the pounding of Muslim families into mincemeat. Typical fawning approval on BW's part for those who hold the whip hand.

The final straw for me was where BW made so much of the trader who refused to serve Geppetto in Fabletown. Yes, they were right not to serve a mass murderer. Geppetto's great power is what saved his neck. Leaders must be respected in BW's world.

But, I was just dispirited, finally that BW had expended so much of his effort and talent on a set-up whose only real-world equivalent is the right of bigots not to serve minorities they don't like. There is no other parrallel. A dumb use of an extreme case to argue for less state control over what makes for a civil society.

That was my 'can't stands no more' moment.

I had a thread in the 'groups' section where I discussed each arc in depth, only discussing what BW chose to put in his pages, of course, or artfully omit, in the case of things like Animal Farm. I saved the posts and might stick them up again. The agenda BW is promoting bears some scrutiny, I think.
Comment by Chris Fluit on March 23, 2012 at 8:56pm

Unfortunately, I had read Willingham's flakey superhero essay before reading Fables, so I couldn't unread it going forward.

I get that.  Once you know where an author stands on a certain issue, it's hard to get that out of your head.  I know of plenty of other fans (including some of our friends on this site) who have trouble reading stories by certain authors because of things they've said on message boards or in articles. 

I tend to distinguish between what an author says in another setting and what is presented in their work.  However, there are certain authors who I won't read because of things they've said in their comic book work.

 

Yet, even with your examples, I'm not sure I agree with you regarding Fables.  And Cap and Mark Sullivan are apparently similarly skeptical.  I'm not interested in a lengthy discussion about it, though I appreciate your offer.  I do think we should be careful about assuming an author's intent based on a character's actions as I remember when Kurt Busiek was similarly accused of an anti-Muslim bias for introducing Infidel into Astro City

Comment by Captain Comics on March 23, 2012 at 10:09pm

I hadn't noticed any right-wing bias in Fables, although I'm aware of Willingham's politics. I plan to re-read the series as the Deluxe HCs come out, beginning this summer. I'll see if I feel I'm being proselytized when I'm looking for it.

Also, what is the "flakey superhero essay"? It's probably something I need to read.

Comment by Figserello on March 24, 2012 at 4:40am

"Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate..." for the Captain.*

 

I'm not interested in a lengthy discussion about it, though I appreciate your offer.

 

Then you are absolved of all further participation. Go in peace. :-)

 

If I can find them, I'll re-post my earlier musings in their own thread.  I know I'm just be a voice crying in the wilderness, grains landing on rocky soil etc. 

 

*Do you have Flakes in the US?  Cadbury's chocolate generally?

Comment by Captain Comics on March 24, 2012 at 5:04am

We have Cadbury's chocolate. Not sure about Flakes. We have Frosted Flakes!

OK, read the essay. Willingham is a typical American right-winger, who completely misinterprets everything to make his "team" the correct side on every historical question. Like Superman and Captain America, whom he thinks USED to be heroes when they were both conservatives, until they lost their way. (Note: They were both FDR democrats when they were created, and it took decades to turn them into conservative icons of the status quo. That's not opinion, folks, that's just history.)

Comment by Figserello on March 24, 2012 at 8:19am

History is not his forte.  Someone should tell him that the America whose 'way' he so venerates was actually founded by a revolutionaries-slash-idle troublemakers ...

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