Fairest has been among the better books coming from DC/Vertigo since it debuted last March. The current storyline, written by South African novelist Lauren Beukes, drawn by Spanish artist Inaki Miranda, and set in Japan, might qualify as a course in cross-cultural studies. As a hopeless Japanophile, I was really looking forward to the story’s second chapter in Fairest #9. Here’s the official description from Vertigo:
We look back to Rapunzel’s first fateful steps as she’s shipwrecked on the shores of the Hidden Kingdom. She’s charmed by the Celestial Court, but there is political intrigue afoot and a forbidden love affair when Rapunzel falls in love with Tomoko, a kitsune fox spirit. Meanwhile Joel Crow and Jack of Fables get more than they bargained for in a seedy pachinko parlor and karaoke club. And when Rapunzel is reunited with her former lover, she’s shocked at the monster Tomoko has become.
Beukes does some great world-building here (greatly aided by Miranda’s art), in both the semi-realistic Tokyo club scene and in the flashbacks to Rapunzel’s time in the mystical Hidden Kingdom. The greatest problem with the writing is that it feels rushed; an entire issue could easily have been devoted to the events in the past. The Japanese terms also come thick and fast, and in most cases the reader has to infer their meanings.
Packed as it is, this issue really has a little of everything. There are several steamy scenes and some pretty funny ones too. Those last mostly involve Jack, which should be no surprise. The dialogue is stilted in a few places.
Inaki Miranda’s art is awesomely detailed, in everything from extravagant Japanese palaces to minutely decorated kimonos. That attention to detail contributes to the book’s overcrowded quality, and frankly I’ll be amazed if Miranda can maintain this pace. He also likes to place standing figures in front of the panels, to one side of the page. In the case of the kimono it’s a visual treat, but it’s also in danger of being overused.
It may be as crowded as a Tokyo metro, but overall I enjoyed Chapter Two of “The Hidden Kingdom.” I know I’m partial to anything related to Japan, but Lauren Beukes has created some very interesting story threads that I can’t wait to see developed, especially now that the groundwork and backstories have been filled in.