Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

20 May 2016

I Hate Fairyland,v. 1: Madly Ever After

Collects: I Hate Fairyland #1-5 (2015-6)

Released: April 2016 (Image)

Format: 128 pages / color / $9.99 / ISBN: 9781632156853

What is this?: A young girl kidnapped by Fairyland tries to find her home for 27 years, trapped physically at the same age and growing increasingly violent.

The culprit: Skottie Young

I don’t know that I’m the right audience for I Hate Fairyland, v. 1: Madly Ever After.

I mean, I thought I was. I Hate Fairyland features Gertrude, a woman in her mid-30s who has been trapped in Fairyland in a child’s unaging body for almost three decades. Unable to find the way out of Fairyland and into her own world again, Gertrude gleefully takes out her frustrations on the pastel-and-spun-sugar world around her. Unremitting violence against all those fairy-tale clichés seemed like something I would enjoy.

I Hate Fairyland coverAs it turns out, the violence gets boring. Writer / artist Skottie Young doesn’t skimp on the blood, bone, or gore as Gertrude destroys anthropomorphic heavenly bodies, anthropomorphic animals, and anthropomorphic plants. (I think she has it in for things that look or act human-like but aren’t.) For variety, she also kills some giants. Gertrude’s violence on the page is mostly perpetrated against those who can’t fight back. Perhaps that’s why the mayhem’s appeal begins to pall after an issue or two. Most of the big fights — the ones against opponents who can fight back — happen between books or off-panel. Some bits of violence don’t grow old, though; I enjoyed Gertrude’s deadly attacks against the book’s narrators, especially once the narrators started to understand the peril they were in.

For many people, Young’s art is going to be the appeal. Young’s work is hyper-cartoony, with expressions and violence amped up to 11. Nothing is too small for him to exaggerate. (Young’s work in I Hate Fairyland is an amusing counterpoint to all his variant covers for Marvel, in which he draws cute versions of characters.) There’s no doubt Young is an outstanding visual storyteller; his art is clear, and he draws admirably clear battle scenes.

So I can’t fault Young as an artist at all. On the other hand, I’m more interested in the story and jokes.

Much like with Rocket Raccoon, v. 2: Storytailer, though, I have my doubts about Young as a writer. Given that I Hate Fairyland is labeled a mature book, I wish Young had done more with Gertrude’s emotional traumas. As written, Gertrude is a shallow character mostly concerned with vengeance against a world she feels wronged her. Shallow characters are fine, if the book is entertaining other ways, but I think developing Gertrude’s character would have served the book much better.

Other than her heartbreaking introduction in #1 and a moment in #2, when it’s revealed Gertrude has the sexual urges of a woman her actual age rather than her body’s apparent age, not much is done with her longings to be normal. (Later in the issue, Gertrude gives her sidekick, Larry, a long list of things she misses from her world, but that list reads as an indictment of Fairyland.) Gertrude’s story is tragic, and I think I Hate Fairyland would be much funnier if that were exploited more than the straight mayhem.

Another concern the book does not address is whether Gertrude can’t find her way home because she is incompetent or because of her attitude. There’s a great deal of difference about how we feel toward Gertrude depending on that answer. If it’s the latter, Gertrude is somewhat justified in her hatred of Fairyland. If she’s stuck in Fairyland because she can’t follow directions or figure out riddles — and that’s the way the text leans ever-so-slightly — then she’s just a violent boob, and her suffering is something she’s earned.

Certainly some of the page space could be repurposed to develop Gertrude more. A running subplot involves Queen Cloudia trying to get rid of Gertrude, who’s making a mess of her Fairyland; since Cloudia is a ho-hum villain, trimming some of those pages would improve the book. Also, Young spends eight pages on a gag where Larry lives an entire life — building a house, getting married, having kids, then getting divorced — while Gertrude is unconscious. It’s not a bad joke, but the amount of time that actually passes is unclear, and certain parts of the gag don’t land (why does Gertrude grow a beard while unconscious? why does Larry’s wife go from happy to angrily leaving him between panels?). I think those pages could have better been used elsewhere.

One joke that does not disappoint is the appearance of Happy, a girl Queen Cloudia brings to Fairyland in issue #4 to find the way out of Fairyland before Gertrude can. (Under the laws of Fairyland, this will allow Cloudia to attack Gertrude openly.) Happy is unremittingly cheerful, and her adventures show both the sickeningly sweet and childishly kind quests Gertrude is homicidally reacting against and also the way the quests should have been approached in the first place: with patience, compassion, and with childlike wonder.

After encountering Happy’s rainbows and cheerfulness, Gertrude decides she has to up her game, which is an argument that Happy (or another competent antagonist) should have appeared earlier in the book. This prompts Gertrude to approach one of the Seven Dooms and ask for his power to confront Happy. The tests he puts Gertrude through aren’t great, but what comes out of it is very satisfying.

Other than Happy and smashing the narrators, the book’s humor is hit and miss. Frequently, the characters substitute “cute” words for obscenities, but the results are more annoying than funny: “muffin-fluffer,” “hug off,” and “plush” are clunky rather than clever curse words. The violence stops amusing after the first issue or so. On the other hand, a few jokes, like Happy’s entire existence and a series of dialogue written as “blah blah blah” (she’s actually saying “blah blah blah,” not just running her mouth), are genuinely funny.

If you’re a fan of Young, you know you want this. If you are undecided about him, I’m torn over whether to recommend the book. On one hand, the plotting and pacing is mediocre, and the humor isn’t strong enough to make up for that. On the other, the book really picks up at the end, which makes for a satisfying conclusion. It’s possible Young is finding his groove, which means the next volume might be an improvement, and the experience of reading v. 1 could be improved by what comes after.

For the moment, though, I’m sticking with a dead-center, neither-approve-or-disapprove rating.

Rating: I Hate Fairyland symbol I Hate Fairyland symbol I Hate Fairyland symbol (3 of 5)

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