Jenner Faulds posed as a man to fight in the War of the Harshlands. After the war ended, she became a “Fairman” private investigator. As the only “Fairlady” in The Feld, she gets kicked the work that no one else wants. But, sometimes, the least desirable cases are the most crucial. In their new genre-blending collaboration, writer Brian Schirmer and artist Claudia Balboni drop a private eye procedural into a colorful, but perilous, fantasy world.
“The Case of the Blue Rock” is a 30-page, self contained Fairlady mystery, and Schirmer promises that all subsequent issues will be the same length and episodic format. The story begins with Jenner and her partner Oanu, an imposing bipedal feline, tracking down a missing bookkeeper who’s gotten in too deep with some dangerous money lenders. The case seems straightforward at first, but soon it brings Jenner and Oanu face to face with the lingering and willfully ignored fallout of the war.
In the backup pages, Schirmer says his original pitch was “a gender-swapped Magnum. P.I. in a post-War-of-the-Ring world.” And they pretty much nail it with issue one. Fairlady has all of the hallmarks of a quality crime procedural and gives the reader quick impressions of a rich fantasy world that compels further exploration. One of the strengths of the debut issue is that it doesn’t bite off more backstory than the reader can chew. I never felt like I was swimming through complex mythologies or puzzling over the connections between races, magic users, and political alliances. There were just enough arcane elements to draw me in, but not so much that it detracted from the main mystery.
But Fairlady‘s greatest strength is its main character. Schirmer and Balboni have so far risen to the challenge of creating a convincing female lead. They put a lot of thought into Jenner and the proof is in the panels. She is cool and confident in a way that is neither cliche nor derivative of her male counterparts. And the story culminates with a glimpse at her personal code – the moral compass guiding her actions – that will no doubt become very important as the series moves forward. One thing I hope is given more emphasis in future issues is Jenner’s relationship with Oanu. I could tell that she trusts him implicitly, but their history wasn’t retold and their interactions were limited. After all, what’s more important in a detective drama than the connection between partners?
Balboni’s character design is impeccable, which is especially important when the lead is a strong and silent type. Jenner’s facial expressions are meticulously rendered, and she communicates so much with just a smirk or a cold stare. The backgrounds in the book are particularly arresting. Combined with Marissa Louise’s vibrant color palette, Balboni’s environments are surprisingly flushed out considering this is only issue one. I’m specifically referring to a two-page sequence where Jenner and Oanu make the journey from The Feld to Nerraw. A series of wide panels showcase arcane landscapes and mysterious landmarks while the characters ride in the distance. Each new location reflects the confidence of its creators and makes the whole thing feel like a well-established world in a long-running series.
I wouldn’t necessarily categorize Fairlady as noir, but there’s no mistaking its serious tone. In issue one, Jenner sees the damage the war has caused to the civilian population, while seeming to deal with her own post-traumatic stress. And the series has positioned itself to responsibly address other things like prejudice and sexism. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next episode.
Creative Team: Brian Schirmer (writer), Claudia Balboni (artist), Marissa Louise (colors), David Bowman (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics
Click here to purchase.