In "Fairest" #21 by Marc Andreyko and Shawn McManus, Snow White and Cinderella are pursued by a foe who is hunting to kill. This is the start of a new storyline, "Of Men and Mice," that takes place after the current "Camelot" storyline in its parent series, "Fables."
Fortunately, that's not as complicated as it might sound. Andreyko and McManus' storytelling feels smooth, with hints of suspense building towards a cryptic closing line. New readers will be easily able to pick up the basics through context.
The opening scene is a delightful flashback to a scene in the classic "Cinderella" fairy tale, first published by Charles Perrault, where the transformation for a poor girl from rags to fairy riches occurs through magic. McManus' art looks great and Andreyko embroiders some humor into this fragment of classic story. By the end of "Fairest" #21, it isn't clear why the flashback is there, except that Andreyko keeps readers hanging about the identity of the villain. It's likely that someone in the opening scene must be the origin of the mysterious hitmen dispatched to kill Cinderella.
Andreyko's script has excellent pacing and good dialogue, making for an enjoyable reading experience. The back-and-forth between Crispin and Beast in the shoe store scene is snappy and fun, particularly the line, "You don't have to get all butch about it." The ending page has an exaggerated punchline (it's pretty certain that what Cinderella will face will be worse than a routine, if awkward part of a physical check-up), but the namedropping of "Ultima Thule," meaning "a place beyond the borders of the known world" has the right resonance to carry the cliffhanger and create anticipation.
However, upon examination, the script has parts that don't hold up as well as the initial impression. In "Fables," Cinderella is part muscleman, part special agent and spy, and accordingly, the title page placed halfway through the issue seems to riff of the scene in "Avengers" that introduced Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. The scene also has echoes of "The Lion and the Mouse" fable, but all these elements don't add up. Why is Cinderella tied up on only her underwear (other than to provide some fan service)? If the trolls are so laughingly incompetent as to drop their guns when attacked, how did they manage to subdue and tie Cinderella up in the first place? The whole sex slavery plotline feels stale and sensationalistic, shoehorned in to provide a dramatic introduction for Cinderella and to prolong the time between the convergence of the protagonists. It's fun to see Cinderella break some noses, but it also feels like an awkward plot device.
McManus' art is confident and masterful enough to soften these flaws. There's an excellent sense of shape and depth in his backgrounds, with selective detail and balanced composition. The reader's eye is tempted to linger on clever details or references, like an owl carrying away a snake in the panel right before Snow White is shown reading "Harry Potter" to reading to her kids. Lee Loughridge's palette of warm and muted colors work well with McManus' linework, and the coloring feels particularly well-done in the opening flashback and in the near-monochrome scene hallway Cinderella walks down after sneaking back into her own home.
McManus' Cinderella looks like Barbie character he designed for the "A Game of You" storyline in "Sandman." His animals are expressive and cute, particularly for Dickory. Todd Klein's lettering is mostly subdued, the title lettering and sound effects call attention to themselves in a good way through the beautifully shaped letters.
"Fairest" #21 is an enjoyable and visually attractive read, but the story has yet to prove itself. "Of Men and Mice" is still in set-up mode, so it's hard to judge how the mystery and the rest of Andreyko's script will play out, but it's a promising start.