'Fairlady' #1 Review: Fantasy Meets Procedural in a Stunning, Entertaining Debut

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(Photo: Image Comics)

What happens when you combine procedural case-solving a la Magnum P.I. with high fantasy? That's the central inspiration for Fairlady, a new Image Comics series from writer Brian Schirmer and artist Claudia Balboni, and while the question may not be one that readers ask themselves every day, it's one whose answer they won't want to miss thanks to an inventive, impressive debut.

Fairlady doesn't waste much time setting the stage for its protagonist, Jenner Faulds. Readers find out right away what they need to know about Jenner: that she's the only woman to serve as a Fairman, a specially licensed private investigator in an epic post-war fantasy realm. In fact, Fairlady #1 doesn't take much time to dig into the world's background at all, but that's actually a strength of the issue. Like an episode of a live-action police procedural, readers are dropped right into the mystery at hand.

That mystery at hand is another surprising strength of Fairlady #1 and it's something that may end up being a central strength of the entire series. Fairlady #1 is a "one and done" type of story. Unlike most comics which build up story arcs and leave fans with smaller cliffhangers as they work into a larger tale, Schirmer makes Fairlady #1 a complete mystery. There's a beginning, middle, and end with a definite conclusion. While that feels like it would be counterintuitive to building readership, the opposite is true. Schirmer's writing reveals just enough about Jenner as well as the world she lives in that you want to go on for her next case while still feeling satisfied.

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(Photo: Image Comics)

That satisfaction extends beyond the story's structure to the supporting characters as well. The Feld -- where Jenner lives and works -- is inhabited by an assortment of different types of creatures. While most of them are human, there are non-humans as well, including Jenner's partner Oanu who pretty much looks like a giant anthropomorphic house cat with a serious weightlifting routine at the gym. He's distinctive and serves as not just a capable partner for Jenner, but also as a reminder that this world is still a fantasy one with unique challenges and predicaments all its own.

However, the fantasy elements don't overshadow the core, real-life themes and elements woven through Fairlady #1. As the only woman in her field, Jenner faces pervasive sexism while Oanu experiences his own sort of discrimination -- the opening scene of the issue has Oanu punching a guy for the microaggression of saying he looks like a big house cat. These elements aren't done in a heavy-handed way, but they certainly leave an impact and gives even further depth to the overall story.

In addition to Schirmer's deft, detailed narrative, Balboni's art is stunning. Her work, along with that of colorist Marissa Louise, gives the world of Fairlady #1 a richness and a realism that is absolutely refreshing and stunning all at once. Jenner in particular is given a wide variety of expressions from panel to panel, practically leaping off the page in a way that is hard to make a fictional character do.

Overall, Fairlady #1 is a stellar first issue of what promises to be an excellent series. The writing, the complete "one and done" story format, the art, and even the carefully crafted culture of The Feld all makes the book a standout. Come for the anthropomorphic cat, stay for a genuinely original and fascinating story that will leave you wanting more in the best way possible.

Published by Image Comics

On April 10, 2019

Written by Brian Schirmer

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Art by Claudia Balboni

Colors by Marissa Louise