(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.
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.
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.