Fairer Sex, the: A Tale of Shades and Angels, Vol. 1

Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2005
By: Amos Simien

Writer(s): John Ira Thomas
Artist(s): Jeremy Smith
Publishers: Candle Light Press
From: USA
Price: $13.95 (USA) £7.50 (GB)

In Freedom City, Texas, people shop at the Five Corners Mall, a shopping complex built on the spot in Texas where five counties meet. One day, an ethereal beauty, a pistol-packing mama called The Madonna, (kinda like Dark Horse Comics' Ghost), walks through the mall and kills twelve men. Several women witness the rampage, and it turns out that these women were all victims of sex crimes. Sorting through the mess are detectives Fred Haygood and Tom Hobbes, and the duo's job won't be easy. The Madonna's motives aren't as clear as they seem at one point, and her actions may be an attempt to gain the attention of Freedom City's popular costumed hero, Night Angel.

The Fairer Sex: A Tale of Shades and Angels, Vol. 1 is a follow up of sorts to Numbers, the first "A Tale of Shades and Angels" book. Not only is it the best work to date from small publisher Candle Light Press, The Fairer Sex also marks a substantial leap in the storytelling abilities of writer John Ira Thomas and illustrator Jeremy Smith, not that they were bad. However, this is their most accessible work to date, and is certain evidence that their fictional world has gelled into something substantial and self-sustaining. They're really ready to let their readers own this universe the way readers buy into their favorite stories.

It is not an exaggeration to compare The Fairer Sex to Bendis and Oeming's Powers and Alan Moore and Zander Cannon's Top 10. Like both titles, TFS is something of a police procedural, and also involves cops, detectives, and superheroes in an urban crime drama setting. Some readers might connect TFS to a television drama like "NYPD Blue," but TFS is more a true independent like the 2002 film Narc. John Ira Thomas' writing is more novelistic, similar detective and crime prose, in which the investigations move slowly and the personal dramas of the individual players complicate the inevitable closing of the case. John certainly takes his time. His dialogue is concise and every word serves the story and colors the characters. The only time a conversation is forced is when a character wants to force it for his own purpose.

Every time I see Jeremy Smith's art, I think of early Steve Rude, but Smith's grasp of natural, non-fantastical settings is closer to the work of one of Rude's influences, Paul Gulacy. Smith mixes visual flair like Neal Adams, but is determined to make every bit of his illustrative eye candy direct mood, setting, character, and plot. There is a panel that epitomizes Smith's desire to create flashy comics that are as much about telling stories as they are about being pretty. The smoke from a car tearing up the driveway suddenly morphs into the driver admiring herself in the rearview mirror while applying lipstick. It's beautiful, cinematic in a Will Eisner sense, and establishes character and motivation.

As we wait for Vol. 2 later this year, it's with hopes that Thomas and Smith can sustain the growth they show here. Breaking out to a larger audience means they'll have to "bring it" again.

In a Word: Sexy.

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