Debut issue of ‘Fairlady’ is outdated, lackluster story with stellar art

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

High fantasy. The remains of a world once ravaged by war. A buddy cop, “case of the week”-style narrative. All of these things daringly come together in the debut issue of “Fairlady,” and the end result is not exactly successful.

In a letter at the end of the issue, writer Brian Schirmer states that he pitched this comic series as “a gender-swapped ‘Magnum, P.I.’ in a post-War-of-the-Ring world.” It sounds like a lofty concept — and it is.

Readers diving into the first issue of what Schirmer has promised to be a series may not know what exactly to expect from the story, which doesn’t seem all that unusual, considering its desire to blur the sometimes tenuous lines between different genres. On the surface, the concept is exciting; it’s always impressive to see these risk-taking stories do well.

But that isn’t the case for “Fairlady.” Its title refers to Jenner Faulds, a woman who posed as a man in order to be let into the military when her region — known as
The Feld — went to war. After returning home, she becomes a “Fairlady,” the female equivalent of a “Fairman” — the region’s private investigators for hire. The opening page of the comic introduces us to these details, noting that Jenner takes on the cases “that nobody else wants” while also overseeing security at a wizard’s tower.

It is also said that Jenner is the “land’s only Fairlady.” This is part of the reason that the story feels so lackluster in the first place. It feels outdated to read a story set in a fantasy world that still holds so fast to sexist ideals. Why did Jenner have to hide her gender in order to fight in the war? Why is she the only Fairlady in The Feld? Why does structural sexism still have a place in a story whose concept is innovative enough that it shouldn’t have to rely on tradition in any way, shape or form? The story might be trying to get at some sort of commentary on feminism and sexism, but it does not pull it off.

And although it might just be too soon in the comic’s run to tell, there does not appear to be much of a relationship between Jenner and Oanu, her cat-human hybrid partner. Throughout the course of the issue, their relationship comes across as purely professional. There are no lighthearted or intimate exchanges that develop their dynamic as anything more than colleagues. Future issues could very well change this. It seems odd, however, that the first issue fails to set them up as anything more than people who work together.

That being said, the comic still has its moments. One such moment takes place at the beginning of the story when Jenner is mentally profiling a crime scene, the house of a missing woman she has been tasked to find. The setting is displayed on the page, and each item of importance is circled, with text explaining what it is connected to the item with an arrow. Even though the scene is still, unlike what we are used to seeing on television, it still feels like we’re getting a glance into Jenner’s thought process as a Fairlady. Scenes such as this one call back to other, superior buddy cop series that the comic is trying to emulate, even if the actual buddy cop dynamic does not.

There is also the art — done by Marissa Louise and Claudia Balboni — which is stellar enough to stand on its own. Although the first issue doesn’t do much in terms of narrative world-building, the art on each and every page gives readers a great sense of what this world is actually like with careful attention to detail and a varied color palette that emphasizes the whimsicalities of this high fantasy universe.

Another review of “Fairlady” notes the comic’s artistic similarities to “Saga,” another series by Image Comics that is currently on hiatus. If you’re looking for something less outdated, perhaps it would be best to start there instead.

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.