Saturday, February 04, 2012

“Grimm Fairy Tales” Volume 1 (Zenescope)


Our favourite fairy tales, reimagined

Writer: Ralph Tedesco, Joe Tyler | Artist: H.G. Young

Red Riding Hood is forced to confront the insatiable hunger of a terrifying beast; Cinderella seeks a shocking vengeance for the years of torture she’s endured; Hansel and Gretel realise that the problems they left behind at home are nothing compared to the horror that awaits them on their ill-advised journey; a desperate girl makes a deal with the hideous Rumplestiltskin only to find she may lose much more than she ever imagined; Sleeping Beauty learns that narcissism can be a very gruesome trait to possess; and an envious sister finds her extreme measures to capture the man of her dreams may lead to much worse than just heartbreak from the Robber Bridegroom.

This is the first review in what I hope to be an on-going series, in which I take a look at the first collected volumes of established comic series (I’ve already reviewed Irredeemable and Incorruptible). This volume collects the first six issues in Zenescope’s ground-breaking series of alternative fables. The series has just hit its 59th issue, but it has also spawned a number of short spin-offs and parallel series (Wonderland being perhaps the most popular). I’m only slowly becoming familiar with the Grimm Fairy Tales line of comics, having read just the 2011 Holiday Special and the inaugural issue of their latest spin-off series, Alice.

Like the original fairy tales, each story has a message, and in this series the writers have altered them slightly to look at modern day, as well as classic issues – some of them were surprising and not at all what I’d been expecting. It’s an interesting series and, while flawed, it has a lot going for it and it’s not hard to see why it has managed to establish itself so well.

The stories don’t appear to be fully interconnected at this early stage of the series, but there are hints of something larger going on. In all of these issues, contemporary stories are used to frame the main story to illuminate it’s theme. The mysterious Sela features in every issue, often introducing the fairy tale directly to the contemporary characters, or at least facilitating their discovery of it – she is a conduit for these tales, if you will.

Zenescope-GFT-01I wasn’t too impressed by the first issue, I have to be honest. The writing was ok, but I didn’t think it broke much new ground, and wasn’t particularly distinct from many of the existing alternate interpretations of the Red Riding Hood story (they revisit the tale in Myths & Legends Volume 1 to better effect – review to come sometime in the future). In this version, it is a cautionary tale about giving away your virtue, and the wolf is something far more dangerous than just a mere wolf.

The writing is fine, and the art is pretty good – alternating between highly-detailed and less-so, depending on the required feel for the panel. This style continues across the issues included in the collection. The colours are vivid, but darker moments add great contrast when the stories take more sinister turns.

Zenescope-GFT-02The Cinderella tale is told to a new student who fails to impress a sorority’s recruiting officers. Our character attends a lecture, and her professor tells a darker version of the Cinderella story most of us will know. The Fairy Godmother of this tale is not the kindly old, plump woman, and she demands something in return for helping Cinderella. While Cinderella gets to go to the ball, she has far more on her mind, and demands retribution against her stepfamily.

Zenescope-GFT-03In the third issue, we get a re-telling of Hansel and Gretel and the witch in the woods, as a means to warn against running away from home and disrespecting your parents. I liked the darker version of the witch in the woods – she doesn’t live in a gingerbread house, and her… appetites are even more gruesome. One thing, though, and this is something that has bothered me about the fairy tale my whole life: using breadcrumbs to mark your trail in a forest is quite possible the most stupid plan ever devised, in the history of terrible plans – this, I think, would have been the best place to diverge from the original text. Regardless, this was a pretty good re-telling of the tale, more horrific than many others I’ve read or heard. Like the other two stories, it has a message that is responsible – once again turning the tale into a modern-day parable.

Zenescope-GFT-04I liked the Rumpelstiltskin issue, as the evil little fellow felt more sinister. I also really liked the ending, which I don’t remember from the original fairy tale. The message from this issue can, ultimately, be interpreted as an anti-abortion story, which I’m not sure was the Grimms’ intent, but it’s framed in a rather strange way – ultimately, the queen is punished for ever having considered giving up her child, even though she did everything in her power to protect it.

Zenescope-GFT-05The Sleeping Beauty beauty tale was pretty interesting, and certainly more so than the one Disney has made popular. She can only be awoken by someone who truly loves her, otherwise whoever attempts to break the spell will meet a really unpleasant death (it happens, of course). The king offers Beauty’s hand in marriage to whoever can awaken her. When she is awoken by someone who would otherwise be deemed inappropriate, however, a more sinister aspect of Sleeping Beauty’s curse is revealed, when Beauty has difficulty holding to her father’s promise.

Zenescope-GFT-06The sixth and final issue that makes up this volume is another strange one. It has a message about jealousy, but is centred on a premise I’ve never been able to understand or accept – that of one sister killing another over the love of a king. This would still mean she was the second choice. I don’t understand why someone would be happy to know they were someone’s second choice and do everything to make it a reality. At the end, though, it morphs into a pretty horrific warning to be careful what you wish for. It’s nicely drawn and coloured and well-written.

Zenescope have a bit of a strange approach to cover art – their titles almost always feature highly sexualised, anatomically-improbable female figures (at the very least on alternate and limited edition covers), even if the stories contained within feature no sex or even particularly sexual themes. I’ve not yet been able to figure out why this is. Many of the later issues and stories are written by women, and these earlier ones voice a message of restraint, so I can’t believe it is just a gimmick to entice teenage boys. Unless the images are to entice, and the message to educate lustful teens? It is a mystery, as I’m pretty sure more recent stories move away from these sorts of messages.

Nevertheless, the Grimm Fairy Tales series is a pretty interesting one, and I look forward to reading more of it, and hopefully catching up with recent releases (eventually – that’s a lot of reading!). Rather than full reinterpretations, I would say these stories actually take the Grimms’ stories back to their original tone and intent, putting some original spin on certain aspects of the story to add flavour and some freshness, while retaining the more horrific and, well, grim feel. They’re well-done, well-conceived, and I know they get better as time goes by. I’ll certainly be catching up whenever the chance arises, as I really want to know how it develops and expands.


  1. All of them look pretty good.
    Anti-abortion interesting take on a modern way.

    1. It's not in-your-face, that bit, but it could be read that way. It's not preaching, either. Just surprised me that it was possible to read these stories as moralistic.