Fairlady #3 // Review
Sword and Sorcery private eye Jenner is brought into a room with a dead barbarian on a table. She had been hired to find him...by the same dead barbarian lying on the table in front of her. Things get suitably confusing for Jenner in the third issue of Fairlady. “The Case of the Barbarian’s Secret” is written by series co-creator Brian Schirmer with art by Claudia Balboni. Schirmer and Balboni deliver a quick-paced mystery to the page with clever plot twists. As the series reaches its third issue the overall premise is firmly established. Schirmer and Balboni have managed to do the highly unlikely: they have found a fresh and novel approach to pulp sword and sorcery fantasy...a genre which has been done to death for decades.
Fairlady private eye Jenner is in a strange place. Her client’s dead. She’s not going to get paid, but that’s the least of her worries. The woman who loved the late barbarian (also a formidable barbarian warrior) blames Jenner for her death. When she identifies the body of the victim as someone OTHER than her lover, she and Jenner team-up to figure out just what the hell IS going on in an extremely fun third issue of the series.
Schirmer’s dialogue remains crisp and witty as his script delves into territory that could have easily veered into cheap Conan spoofery. Thankfully, Schirmer can do a little bit of world building while delivering a brilliant and witty mystery that far exceeds the sort of cheap farce that a story like this could have been. At the center of the story is a simple question: in a world where kings and queens are giving way to more progressive forms of government, what is the ultimate form of retirement for the ultimate fantasy hero? It’s a fascinating journey into a type of fantasy story that rests squarely outside the frame of traditional sword-and-sorcery cliches.
While there IS the threat of violence and a few rather large chickens (don’t ask,) Balboni isn’t given a whole lot of action to render. Usually, this would be a bit of a problem for a sword-bearing fantasy story. Balboni makes the drama interesting nonetheless. The story swings through dynamic page layouts and brilliantly strung-together scenes that are all quite well-paced. It’s remarkable what an impressive depth Balboni is able to achieve with an ensemble of characters who are all quite serious straight through the issue. Balboni is as good a storyteller as Schirmer, carving out subtlety in a visual narrative with simple, clean, uncluttered panels.
Schirmer and Balboni have only begun to scratch the surface of a very, very exciting, and idiosyncratic fantasy world. Jenner is given a bit more depth in a story that finds her contrasted against legendary barbarian warriors with basic skills far more advanced than her own. She’s dwarfed by legends but still manages to remain the most interesting character in her own book. Jenner is making quite an impression in her first three issues.