Grimm Fairy Tales Vol. 1 Review

(This review may contain spoilers for the story content.)

Introduction: To spotlight yet another independent publisher, I decided to read and review the first trade volume of Grimm Fairy Tales, the flagship title of Zenescope Entertainment. The comic focuses on retelling dark, twisted versions of classic fairy tales (at times, more twisted than the original versions of these tales that already existed)—all the while connecting these new adaptations to an overarching plot. Do not fret, I will elaborate on how this title does so later in the review. Zenescope’s most popular title with over 150 issues and multiple spinoff series, Grimm Fairy Tales is written by company co-founder Ralph Tedesco and Joe Tyler, with various other comic professionals alternating responsibilities for pencils, colors, etc. The first trade volume of the comic contains issues #1-6 and serves as an introduction to the title.

Plot Summary: Before diving into the specific plots found within the issues, describing the narrative structure used in the comic is essential. Each issue consists of a frame story and retelling of a fairy tale. In the frame story, seemingly everyday people (in these issues’ cases, predominantly older teenagers) deal with certain issues or problems in their lives, only to come across a Dr. Sela Mathers—professor of literature who specializes in the real-world applications of fairy tales—or Sela’s special book of fairy tales. In either event, the character(s) listen or read a fairy tale that is “coincidentally” applicable to the situation. Here, the scene shifts to the fairy tale, which is the dominant story of each issue. These stories use the characters having problems (or at least their likenesses) in the stories as the respective leading roles. Once the fairy tales have reached their endings, the characters have been influenced and affected by the story, and they are able to confront their problems on some level.

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One of the “Robber’s Bridegroom” sisters learns that her coveted husband is a cannibal

In the first issue, a girl who wants to keep her virginity is being pressured by her boyfriend to have sex, but she is able to decide to break things off after experiencing a new take on the “Little Red Riding Hood” tale. The second issue features a modest, reserved college girl who wanted to join a sorority being told that she was not worthy, but after attending a lecture by Dr. Mathers and experiencing “Cinderella,” she is able to not feel as disheartened. The third issue involves two runaway siblings who are convinced to return home after Sela recounts the tale of “Hansel and Gretel.” The fourth issue focuses on a girl who has learned she is pregnant but is being pushed by her boyfriend to give it up, but after hearing a retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin,” she decides she could not let her child go. In the fifth issue, a nice and nerdy boy is being taken advantage of by a popular girl he is smitten with, but after finding Sela’s book and reading “Sleeping Beauty,” he is able to recognize the girl’s intentions and stand up for himself. Finally, in the sixth issue, two sisters are fighting over a guy who does not particularly seem worth it, but Sela intervenes and calms the sisters by telling them the story of “The Robber Bridegroom.”

Plot Analysis: In terms of structure, with the way that the stories are framed, the issues have a tone that could be described as a darker version of after-school specials, in that a young person has a problem and a guide of some sort helps the person come to a solution. These stories are presented in an episodic way, in that they seemingly do not connect—except for the fact that Sela and her book of fairy tales are always involved. Sela’s presence unifies the issues’ individual stories with a mysterious overarching plot. Now, that overarching plot does not come into fruition within the first six issues, so the first trade is somewhat lacking in terms of having a “complete” story. However, I do not think that this aspect of the trade is a blemish, per se. I do not mind a slow-build story, and after researching the title further after reading this trade, I have learned a little bit about where Grimm Fairy Tales is going beyond these first six issues. I will touch upon and give small teasers about what is coming later in the title to pique your interest in my “Final Remarks” section, but for now I will mostly stick with reviewing this first trade as its own standalone item. I will say, though, that while the first trade does not reveal the larger picture about Sela’s and her tales’ roles, the stories tease the mystery enough that I feel compelled to read further issues, and I believe that line of thinking is what Tedesco and Tyler were going for whilst plotting the title. A long game can be quite rewarding.

The absence of a larger plot within these six issues, however, does not detract too much from the quality of the issues themselves. Despite each story within this trade volume being mostly independent, the issues were definitely entertaining. I have not personally read all of the original, occasionally gruesome fairy tales that this comic series covers, but I knew some of the gory details. Grimm Fairy Tales adapts these stories into a cornucopia of chaos, turning these already twisted stories a few shades darker. From cannibalism to people’s flesh melting off their bodies, the comic holds few bars. For instance, after forfeiting her soul for a new life as a princess, Cinderella has her devilish “fairy godmother” order crows to kill her evil step-siblings and step-mother, pecking out their eyes after clawing them to death. Now, not every moment is filled with something dark, and not every horrid action is visually depicted. So the issues have a sort of balance to them. An interesting point that draws my interest is that these tales seem to be more than fiction. Earlier in my review, I described the character reading or listening to a tale as “experiencing.” I did that intentionally. The character in question sometimes seems to go in a trance or dreamlike state where the stories are more than just words. And while their likenesses seem to be actors in a stage play within these tales, there is evidence that they are more involved than they seem on the surface. Little Red’s real-world counterpart had forest leaves surrounding her and a cut on her face after reading the tale of her fictional self, for instance. Hansel’s counterpart called the story “too real.” These details add to the grander mystery the comic title is waiting for readers to unveil. In sum, I can say that the individual stories are well-done enough that I am not upset that I have to read more of them to get to that overarching plot I know is waiting for me.

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Cinderella’s evil stepsisters are swarmed and killed by crows

Characterization: As I just went over, the issues within the trade are a little episodic, and each issue deals with a new character or set of characters (besides Sela). So, each character has limited panel-time, meaning that the opportunities for enriching characterization are limited. Couple the episodic nature of the title with the framing, which uses characters from the “real world” and fantasy ones, and characters (at least the “real” ones) get even less time to reveal who they are beyond the problems they are facing. In a way, I would call this lack of character exploration a weakness of the title, but the characters do serve their roles well in each issue. They are not without personality. They simply have not yet had much of a chance to do more beyond reading/listening to fairy tales that impact them. Sela is the character we see the most, but she remains fairly aloof and mysterious throughout her appearances. Most of the stories focus on the fairy tales’ central characters, and their personalities shine fairly brightly despite their relatively short time to do so—for better or worse.

Art: When I began looking into Zenescope Entertainment, the only thing I had known about it was that a friend told me Zenescope had a reputation for “fan service,” in relation to the way females are drawn and positioned. After six issues of Grimm Fairy Tales, I can tell you that the series is not nearly as bad as I had imagined after hearing this anecdote. Now, the girls are drawn with curvy figures, but they are not often presented in necessarily scantily-clad ways. The majority of the fan service I saw was reflected in the covers, whereas the interior pencils were much tamer (save, perhaps, the first issue, wherein the Big Bad Wolf claws away and shreds a portion of Red’s top, although nothing is actually ever shown). There are no nude shots or hot-and-heavy scenes, but there is admittedly a provocative tone to the art. This comic is not for children, but it also would not have an R-rating if it were a movie. Personally, I actually found the art fairly appealing. From the people to the monsters, I was fairly pleased. Now, in some issues, I believe the bodies were drawn more beautifully than some of the characters’ faces, but I still enjoyed the art throughout the trade. Furthermore, the colors were executed remarkably well, with bright colors catching the eye when appropriate, all while keeping good visual contrast in other moments.

Final Remarks: As promised, here are a few teasers about Grimm Fairy Tales that may pique your interest and further make you consider giving the title a chance. I noted how the fairy tales seem to be more than fiction. Well, later in the comic title, the episodic story mechanic shifts a little to focus on the “real world” overarching plot. It is revealed that there are four realms that are connected to Earth: Wonderland, Oz, Neverland, and Myst. Sela’s stories connect these worlds, and she is working against an evil that is seeking to conquer all five of them. Sela’s actions in these six issues are her not only helping others but also reaching out to them. Red’s and Cinderella’s real-world counterparts make continued appearances, for instance. I have still yet to read what is ahead, but after having an idea as to what larger-scale events are in store, I am looking forward to acquiring and reading more from this title. As a traditional final remark, I shall say that I have enjoyed venturing into Grimm Fairy Tales from Zenescope, and if anything I described in this review appeals to you, I hope you shall give the series a chance as well.

Closing: I know I have said a lot about this story, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have read. If you have any thoughts on the comic or on my review, feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have an amazing day.

Embrace Nerdom,
-Nerdy N8

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8 thoughts on “Grimm Fairy Tales Vol. 1 Review

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  1. While I’m not sure my interest is piqued quite enough for a purchase, there’s more content here than I realized. Zenescope has a reputation as “that fanservicey publisher,” so I was expecting the cheesecake to be through the roof. Maybe they’re more akin to Top Cow then, which successfully mixes fanservice and actually compelling stories.

    The review makes it seem interesting enough, but not sure it’s exactly to my particular taste.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was pleased as well to know that Zenescope could produce more than just eye-candy covers. The concepts for the stories have pulled in my curiosity. I find myself now looking at other comics produced by Zenescope, so perhaps you all can expect another review of a Zenescope comic at some point.

      Part of what has drawn me in is definitely the emphasis of a fantasy element, which is a genre I find myself favoring. In addition, I like stories that involve alternate worlds and those who seek to maintain peace between them.

      I can understand that this comic in particular may not be to your taste, Michael, and that is fair. I am pleased to see you give your thoughts, though. Thank you very much.

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    1. Remember that the title seems to be a slow build into the larger story. I hear people recommend getting the first three trades and reading them back-to-back to get the strongest feel for the title. Each trade after the first one (for a good while at least) receives a higher overall rating.

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    2. I hope you do, Luca! I recommend you read my comment below, published in response to Roscoe’s comment. It details more of the series that I have read since writing this review. It may help pique your interest all the more, as more of the title’s layout is revealed.

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  2. Fan-service? Ha! A new term for me, so thanks for *that* image. (Very timely, as far as my criticisms of the latest Heroes-in-Crisis goes – as much as I like Clay Mann’s renderings of Lois Lane as far back as Batman: Superfriends) The way that you describe the Grimm storyline, it does seem to have some substance; despite Kate Beckinsale (in her low-rider Valerius-from-2004’s-“Van Helsing” prime) being on the cover.

    The one place a bit of excitement might be fitting is Little Red Riding Hood […and the Outlaws? 8^)]. The Big Bad Wolf, as Neil Gaiman explains it, tells LRRH to toss her clothes in the fire “You won’t need them any more.” And yet, what might have seemed a sexy story to medieval peasants is now one of horror in the post-Weinstein era.

    I gotta tell you, I went into this thinking it was just another sexy fairy-tale public domain rewrite of Hans Christian A, but after your review and scanning the wikis that are being developed around Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales I’m having second thoughts.

    An aside – as a student of the history of photography, i’ve got to point out that they should have called their publishing company Zenetrope; and not Zenescope. A *Zeotrope* is the familiar aparatus of a spinning cylinder with slits (and sometimes mirrors) and sequential images that created the first illusion of animation. A *Zeoscope* measures alcohal content. So a Zenescope would measure how disorientating a comic was. 🤪

    I am interested in where this story goes, as whatever is building up, builds up. The reality-intersecting-with-stories and Story-within-a-Story has been done before; and by the greats. Rod Serling. Neil Gaiman. S.T Coleridge. Chaucer, FGS. So it will take a bit to impress. A bit of ‘Sandman: World’s End’, a bit of ‘Twilight Zone’, a bit of ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. (Sorry, but it’s hard not to drop names when talking about re-writing classic literature or folk tales.)

    I am interested in this ‘Dr Sela Mathers’ (which has to be an anagram, but i couldn’t break it) and where she goes with her captive audience; a la the-Mariner’s wedding-guest. And her best friend Liesel van Helsing – Abraham van Helsing’s daughter. There’s that Hugh Jackman film referenced again.

    Mathers has entries on at least 3 wiki; so she’s either a popular character or one with an obsessed fan. (You didn’t start 3 other wikis, did you N8? @8^) )

    You say there’s a lack of character development from the “real world” listener Mathers’ fairy tales; but not from their fairy tale avatars? You want to call the lack of character exploration a weakness, but don’t? Is it too much like Senior Art class to ask if the lack-of-characterization of the real world analogues is on purpose? Since they manage to create character in the fairy tale, I assume they have some skill at it. Character can always be created with only a few words and actions. F Miller was always good at this, as was Ann Nocenti back when she wrote for Marvel. If anything I’m thinking of Barbie’s no-character real life outside her dreams in Sandman: A Doll’s House – a boring person, and that was her character until she dreamed.

    Obviously i think there’s a lot going on in GFT; or i wouldn’t challenge your review for ‘longest article’ with this responce. GFS is another thing I’ll add to my to-it list.

    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, Roscoe.

      I kept you waiting a bit because I had wanted to read a little bit further into Grimm Fairy Tales and then provide some insights for you that may give you a better feel for the series and for how well or not you may enjoy it. I have gone out and read the first seven trade volumes now, whereas I had only read the first one at the time I wrote this review. As such, I have read issues #1-42 of Grimm Fairy Tales. I can tell you that each trade’s worth of issues help push an evolution within the series. So each trade seems to have a different purpose, and the stories adjust to meet those ends.

      I shall list brief descriptions of what each trade does and sets up and how GFT changes with each trade—all while trying to leave out a fair amount of details. There will be some spoilers, so read at your own discretion (this goes for anyone reading this comment). But if you would like to get a sense of how the series progresses and see if that progression interests you, reading on may be helpful.

      As I said, the first trade volume establishes GFT. The first trade focuses on the retellings of the classic fairy tales in ways that are applicable to the lives of the people within the frame stories. The frame stories do not receive as much attention as they do in later issues, as emphasis is placed on the mysteriousness of everything going on—from the way these stories seem to have more to them than fiction to the presence of Sela Mathers, who is seemingly everywhere she needs to be and who seemingly knows everything she needs to know about those she directly/indirectly helps through the stories she weaves. This trade’s set of issues (#1-6) have a sort of “after school special” tone to them, as Sela successfully uses these stories as warnings that help guide people into making good decisions.

      In the second trade volume (issues #7-12), a little more time is spent on the frame stories. The point of the series is that people are needing to be influenced by these stories, hopefully for the better. Well, we get to see the result of that influence more in this trade. Moreover, the people have a choice whether or not they take the advice of the stories to heart. Sela simply shows them another way. She does not force them to travel that path. As such, sometimes Sela’s attempts at changing people fail. And we see those failures in this trade. Sometimes, people lead themselves to their own ruin in their real lives anyway (sometimes even leading to death). There is one time that Sela seemingly herself allows for a punishment to translate from her tale to real life, as a girl who didn’t learn her lesson after “The Frog King” found herself green and scaly followed by Sela saying that some people cannot be taught despite one’s efforts otherwise. Additionally, the whole reader/listening being in a trance bit is cemented. The transition from the previous trade to this one shows that Sela’s attempts are not always successful, and she is starting to feel the negative effects of her failures/of the failures of human decision.

      In the third trade volume (issues #13-18), Sela becomes discontent with how many people still choose the wrong paths despite her efforts, and she takes a more active role in disciplining those who cannot break away from the evil that corrupts them. Sela shows that she wields more power than simply being able to show people realistic stories—as in one instance, she actually pulls three murderous robber hoodlums into her book and transforms them into anthropomorphic pigs (“Three Little Pigs”), forcing them to face the deadly consequences of ignoring her propositions of changing for the better. In a sense, Sela has fallen into darkness in doing all of these things; however, the one who (supposedly) gave Sela her powers helped convince her to not give up on humanity. Sela was tempted to abandon her mission of helping people, but that decision was said to be the result of Sela herself being human and thus having the capacity to choose good or not like every other human. Anyhow, this trade spent more time focusing on Sela in reality, although the fairy tales were still implemented, albeit to a lesser degree. Sela’s origin is touched upon (although more is revealed later), including the detail that Sela has been around on this mission for several centuries, being graced with immortality when she was given her powers.

      In the fourth trade volume (issues #19-24), readers are introduced to Belinda, Sela’s foil. She is offhandedly mentioned in the previous trade, but in this one she is prominently displayed. Whereas Sela uses her red fairy tale book for good, Belinda uses her purple book to convince those she influences to commit acts of evil (chiefly, murder). This trade shows Belinda intercepting the cases Sela was trying to get to first, and Belinda ends up being the one to successfully influence the people involved in the issues’ tales, thus winning out over Sela. At the end and climax of the trade, Sela and Belinda have an intense battle of sorcery. They use eldritch blasts and creatures/characters from their fairy tale books to battle each other in an intense spectacle. So, because this trade’s issues focused on Belinda beating Sela in their game of sorts, a lot of attention is paid to the frame story and how the real-world people are affected and influenced by the stories. The fantasy elements and the fairy tales are still implemented, but the focus is shifting in a pleasingly appropriate way. The battle at the end was intense, and ended in **spoiler alert** Sela’s apparent demise.

      In the fifth trade volume (issues #25-30), the story focuses on Belinda as a main character instead of Sela. Belinda uses her book to convince people to act in evil. Similarly to how the first trade starring Sela showed Sela succeeding unhindered in doing good, this trade shows Belinda succeeding unhindered in doing evil. The frame stories once again are less focused on, compared to the fairy tales, but they still receive more focus than the first trade’s issues received. In the last issue of the trade, Sela is revealed to be alive, however barely, and more is revealed about her origin.

      In the sixth trade volume (issues #31-36), a similar parallel to Sela situation in the second trade occurs in Belinda’s second trade as the star: She fails. Despite trying to use her book for evil, some humans manage to choose good after all—or at least the lesser of two evils. Similar to how the second trade (starring Sela) showed humans’ capacity for choosing evil despite being shown a path for good, this trade shows humans’ capacity for choosing good despite being tempted by evil. I think the parallel situation is fitting, but beyond that, I believe the order of things makes the stories stronger. By first showing humans falling into badness, seeing them strive for goodness provides hope for the reader in terms of this universe. I think it was clever. More importantly, in the final issue, Sela is shown to be alive and well again, ready to use her book for good.

      In the seventh trade volume (issues #37-42), the unifying purpose of the trade is to highlight the contest between Sela and Belinda in influencing others. The first issue (#37) reveals more about Sela’s origin, Belinda’s origin, and their relationship up to now. **Spoiler alert** We learn about the multiple worlds (Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, and Myst) and how Sela is a guardian/gatekeeper between them. We learn that Earth is connected to these worlds, and Sela is empowered using magic from Myst (which is unnamed at this time). She uses this magic when creating her fairy tale world within her book. Sela and Belinda have known each other for a long time, and Belinda occasionally convinces Sela when she is downtrodden to remove her memories of her discontent with humanity’s tendency to go toward darkness. This revelation shows that Sela’s lapse in the second and third trades was not her first, although it is the instance where she was finally able to refuse Belinda and break free. With the revelation of the five worlds, the plot point is given of a being from one of these worlds (known to people of Earth as Satan) who aims to corrupt Earth completely. Belinda works under this Dark One, and Sela aims to stop her from helping him conquer the five worlds using corruption. At the same time, though, Sela recognizes that Belinda is partially human and may have the potential of being redeemed. She says she would not have gotten close enough to Belinda if she had not had any good in her at all somewhere. I am intrigued as to how this will come to fruition.

      Finally, after seven trades in, I can see the direction this comic title’s plot is heading, and I am intrigued and invested enough to continue. The two are recruiting (to a degree) people whom they influence with their fairy tale books (for better or worse), and the ultimate mission seems to be at hand, and Sela is warned she has limited time before the Dark One mobilizes his forces in pursuit of domination. I am a lover of fantasy, so you can expect me to continue reading Grimm Fairy Tales.

      I know this comment was fairly long, and I hope I did not ruin anything for you by giving as many spoilers as I did. And when I say “you,” I mean both Roscoe and anyone reading this post who is interested.

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  3. That’s a lot of new mythology you’ve cataloguing. I did get the idea that it must have continued from reading the developing Wikis, but wow. The story is vaguly familiar even though I’ve never read it in quite this arrangement before. ‘Supernatural’ meets ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century’ maybe. With everyone I already name-dropped thrown in.

    It’s even more something that I’ll keep my eyes out for in future. Awesome extention of the review, through so many more volumes! I know that a synopsis takes time and dedication, and much of what we write gets cut before publication. With that in mind, I was wondering if I could give you a challenge? I’m sure that I sound like one of your professors, but can you take either one trade (or even the entire run of GFT) and turn it into a dust cover blurb that would sell the book?

    Liked by 1 person

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