Co-creators Aaron and Latour were both born in the South (although Aaron doesn’t live there any more): this series is their way of making peace with the place. Call it a love/hate letter. The cast aren’t just any Southerners. They’re small town rednecks full of ignorance, hate, and casual violence. Their lives revolve around football and BBQ. In short, they’re the negative stereotype that the rest of the county tends to have about Southerners. As Latour’s introduction describes them, “The assholes you might think Southerners are. The rednecks we’re afraid we might really be.”
Earl Tubb has returned to Craw County, Alabama after a long absence. He intends to pack up the family house, talk to a realtor, visit a relative, and be gone in three days. He soon finds himself haunted by memories, and becomes entangled in the troubles of an old friend. Next thing he knows he’s standing up for justice with a club in his hand against the petty tyranny of Euless Boss, the high school football coach and major business owner who seems to run the town.
In the four issues collected here we meet a rich cast of characters, and the core conflict is firmly introduced. Earl’s conflicts with his father are shown in flashback. Like many before him, he needed to leave so badly that he joined the Army to do it. Upon his return he’s still reluctant to call the place home, but he finally does so. It’s a story full of BBQ, pie, and lots of beatings–by the last issue it seems like half the characters sport bandages from previous encounters.
All along we see Earl leaving voice mails about the trip. Just when I was ready to assume that the identity of the person being called was going to be a cliffhanger there’s an Epilogue with a surprise reveal. Let’s just say further complications are hinted at…nicely done.
Continuing with the local color scheme, the “Cover Gallery & Sketchbook” in the back also includes a recipe for fried apple pies by Betty Aaron, Jason’s mom.
As with other recent Hickman collections, this volume has a subtitle everywhere except on the book itself. As the story opens we see Oppenheimer attempting to gain control of all of the Manhattan Projects, by torturing the imprisoned group of scientists and military.
But the big event here for me was the conclusion of the “Infinite/Finite Oppenheimers” story line. Robert and Joseph Oppenheimer have been waging war for control of Joseph’s mind, a trippy event happening entirely internally. For the conclusion Hickman pulls a neat trick: we see the effects of the final battle in the real world, immediately followed by the story of the internal conflict that was happening inside Oppenheimer’s mind. Which is immediately followed by perhaps the most ironic event in the series so far, which I won’t spoil here.
In addition to the resolution of the Oppenheimer conflict, we also get the return of the real Albert Einstein (you may recall that he was replaced early on by Albrecht Einstein, a traveler from an alternate dimension). Indications are that this is where the action is going next. Oppenheimer appears to be out of the picture, but with alternate dimensions one never knows.
So it still looks like anything could happen! Just what I expect from this series.
This is another Fairest story arc that risks being seen as about the male lead rather than the female one. The Maharaja on the throne through most of the story is none other than Prince Charming, who is his usual dashing self. The strikingly beautiful heroine is a Fable as well, but not much is made of that in-story, and few non-Indian readers would be familiar with her.
When Nalayani’s village is attacked, she goes on a quest to seek help from the new Maharaja. She became the village’s defender when the village was stripped of men when the Adversary’s army invaded her fabled land, and she’s extraordinarily good with a bow and arrow. She also represents an earlier incarnation of Draupadi, the chief female heroine in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Williams even uses some of her legend in his plot, although I had to do a bit of research to ferret that out.
In the course of the story Prince Charming receives a curse that can only be cured by true love. Which seems like a death sentence, but he truly falls in love with Nalayani. Ironically, she is completely immune to his charms. Nice twist there. But since the reader has been familiar with Charming (and Nalayani is effectively a new character), the story becomes about his character development.
As the story ends Charming and Nalayani are returning to the Mundy together, so there may be further complications there, either in later Fairest stories or in Fables. The art starts out at a very high level, with Sadowski’s pencils and Jimenez’s inks. But as the story goes on six other artists contribute, often alternating pages within a single issue. They do a heroic job maintaining a level of visual consistency, but the stylistic shifts can’t help but distract sometimes.