Fantasy world. Private Investigator. Procedural stories. That’s Fairlady‘s approach. Simple, elegant and accessible, it’s a refreshingly fun story that could only exist in comics. Throw out the dull realism and context of TV dramas and replace it with colorful, popping fantasy packed with Wizard Towers, Dragons and every other big idea you want and then make all of that the background dressing for a fairly small story wherein the characters just explore and investigate things. It’s a good approach. It’s made even better when your lead is a woman of color who’s incredibly competent, fighting against the odds and teamed up with a beefy Catman for a partner.
With each issue of the book delivering one standalone, complete story or “case,” if you will, the book is easy to get invested in and enjoy. You can pick up any installment and read on like it’s your first or hand it to someone else, because there’s very little barrier to entry. And in a market full of massive decompression, the standalone done-in-one format really shines, allowing people to get to know the characters in a variety of contexts. And that’s the specialty here: variety. One story can be about a man supposedly slain by a dragon and another can be a missing person’s case; each issue is something different and interesting, with something to offer that the last didn’t. It’s a classic way of doing things, with the book basically being a mashup of a great old school TV procedural and something like Septimus Heap.
And the other thing that makes the book so refreshing is its low-key nature. There are a lot of books out there and the stakes are usually especially high, from cosmic apocalypse, to wars, to the very status quo being fragile and in danger. Fairlady isn’t a book that’s like that. It isn’t concerned with anything of the sort. It’s set in a wondrous world, where people reside within the remains of an ancient mech, but it’s just about the day-to-day adventures and mysteries. There’s that touch of slice of life in a fantasy world that really works and the small scale nature of things, where the book is just laid back, makes it almost relaxing. It’s almost counter-programming meant to relax and be a release from all of that. This is what you read at the end of the day to be transported and to grin, because it’s packed with a good deal of charm.
Brian Schirmer’s voice for the characters continues to really work here, especially with David Bowman’s lettering being a great match. Having done that first issue, the team’s work feels more comfortable and confident here. That’s especially evident when the the book hits the moment of credits, with a big “Image Comics Proudly Presents…” being followed by a giant double page-spread to showcase the title and the team. It’s similar to the first issue, sure, but that came fairly early. This? This takes its time, coming after the case has been set and then acting as almost a perfect cutaway. There’s a sense of ease the issue communicates at this point — “We’re here now, we’ve got this” — and that’s really nice. Bowman’s location letters to set the stage are really fun, as always and he letters Schirmer’s banter for the characters rather nicely.
Jen Faulds, our protagonist, and Oanu, her Catman partner, are brought to life beautifully once again by Claudia Balboni and Marissa Louise, who have to do a lot of work, moving from one giant setting to another, maintaining the snappy sense of rhythm the book has, much like Jen herself. Louise’s colors, which move from natural light green and serene sky blue to darker shades and evolve to fit the story, are a treat. Her choice to cast the suspects during investigation scenes in a darker palette communicates the suspicion and uncertainty perfectly well. And Balboni really does the heavy lifting here, with strong layouts that effectively guide the reader’s eye and convey story context very naturally, by simply suggesting things with her simple choices. The expressiveness and body language of the characters is also really solid, as a mystery book like this needs that sort of little touch — those little bits to really help sell the entire thing. The team of Louise and Balboni also do a really neat and standout sequence at the end of this issue, emulating a sort of simplistic crayon-scribbled artwork to depict a plan, which is perfect given the story context, and also properly hilarious.
The only really hurdle of the book is, while it’s very good at the setup and build part of the mystery, it definitely struggles with the release and resolution. The pace can be thrown off a bit and the resolution can come across as awkward and that’s really where the book needs to tighten things up, hitting that point much more strongly and effectively. If it can payoff all that it builds a bit better and just flow right into that resolution, with all the pieces there, guiding the reader along on the mystery solving case, then it’s bound to be an even stronger title. That’s one of the hurdles with a book like this, due to the premise. You’re a new fantasy world and the rules are still unfamiliar, so there’s that barrier, where in you’re not there with the character and you don’t feel like you could put together the puzzle yourself yet, because anything could happen. That’s also a silver lining, but some of the best mysteries do invite the audience in and as it goes on, hopefully the book can tap into that sensibility and really use it. It’s a solid title that could be even better.
Fairlady #2 continues the trend of the all new fantasy procedural series being a relaxing breath of fresh air. There’s a lot of charm here and it’s a great deal of fun to be in this world and to get to know its characters and inner workings.