Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love #1

When it comes to the supernatural land of Fabletown, the less the modern world knows about it, the better. In fact, the sheer existence of the settlement depends on it. So what to do when bits and pieces of contraband and supernatural artifacts begin appearing outside the city walls? Why, look no further than Cinderella herself; shoe salesman by day, secret agent by night.

In case you’re still in the dark, the entire Fables, er, fable is based on the modernization and revitalization of the tired old residents of fairy tales you grew up with as a child. Cinderella herself is a perfect example. While the idea of the bashful former younger stepsister as an international agent of espionage may not sound particularly fitting in theory, it shines in print. Who better to do your secret dirty work than the girl everyone in town sees as the shallow, empty-headed ditz with more time for fashion than friends? And, surprisingly enough, Cindy (as her close acquaintances know her) actually makes for a convincing, effective field agent. Chris Roberson, the writer of this particular spin-off, wastes no time in establishing that. He opens the issue in the midst of a particularly short scuffle atop Big Ben that doesn’t turn out so well for the bad guy.

If you’re a stranger to Fables, you’ll likely miss out on a few specific details but the major points of emphasis are laid out in the open for the uninitiated. Cindy handles most of those explanations internally, with a handful of thought bubbles spilled across each page, but they’re sparse enough to leave the majority of the layout open for moving the primary plotline forward. It reads smoothly and easily, even if it does get a bit cutesy from time to time. Needless to say, if talking animals aren’t your thing you may want to look somewhere else.

Shawn McManus fits this series like a glass slipper. His simple style is right at home with the characters Disney reinvented a generation ago, but his tremendous knack for scene-stealing perspective and strong grasp of the characters’ multifaceted personalities are his most important tools. McManus grabbed my attention with the issue’s first big panel, the aforementioned fracas at the tip of London’s best-known timepiece, and kept hold until the midway point, when that sharp eye for detail began to wane. By the time Cindy lands in Dubai, the first stop on her search for the men behind this naughty smuggling operation, it’s like a different artist has climbed into the driver’s seat. He’s still working the simple, cartoonish overall style with various degrees of success, but the heart stopping scenery that initially caught my eye has faded away into something more mundane.

Those same flaws can be applied to this issue as a whole. Everything starts out well enough: a good, original premise, a solid set of initial cast members, a fine series of opening panoramas. But then, upon closer inspection, the magic begins to wear off and we’re left with something a bit less spectacular and a bit more everyday. It’s less than it could have been, a few missed opportunities from a must-read. The concept and strong introduction is enough to make it worth borrowing this month, but things are going to have to pick up in a hurry to keep it at that level the next time around.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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