Drew: When I was in high school, I used to annoy a friend of mine by insisting that all ska music sounds the same. I suspect the vast majority of people might agree that ska has a pretty specific sound, but that’s true of virtually any artistic style, from country music to cubism — if you aren’t placing it in the appropriate context, you’ll only notice the most superficial elements, which necessarily define the genre. I’d argue that certain artists are so unique that they present a genre unto themselves, which is why sophomore efforts from those artists, say Spike Jonze’s Adaptation or Weezer’s Pinkerton, are chronically under-valued: we notice only the superficial similarities to their previous work, failing to appreciate what makes this one different. History tends to right those wrongs, but it can be hard to correct in the moment. So please, don’t hold it against me when I suggest that Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland presents a cuter, cruder take on his Rocket Raccoon.
That’s a terrible pull quote, but it should bring in the right crowd. There are obviously huge differences between Rocket and Gert, the ostensible hero of this series, but it’s hard to deny their similarities: an adorable exterior masks (or is compensated by) a vulgar, criminal, gun-loving streak. It’s easy to imagine Rocket in the same pose holding the same cannon-howitzer.
I hate to begrudge Young such a clever Seussian weapon design (guys, the cannons still have fuses), but it feels incredibly familiar.
Less familiar is the graphic violence, which verges on puerile here. I do think it serves a purpose in goosing our expectations of the storybook setting, which is exactly what helps distinguish this series from Rocket Raccoon. The issue opens with Gert wishing to be whisked off to the very kind of fantasy world Fairyland represents, but her fall down the rabbit hole is decidedly more traumatic than Alice’s.
That Gert would be gravely injured by her tumble into Fairyland is a brilliant turn, and clashes directly with what we expect of her lollipop-guild welcome. Young maintains these injuries throughout the scene, and never fixes Gert’s teeth, even twenty-seven years later.
Oh, right: the central conceit. A child adventurer jaded by being stuck for decades in a fantasy land is brilliant. Imagine if there was no Ruby Slippers quick-fix for Dorothy, or if Wendy and her brothers were stuck in Neverland. Indeed, it has all of the trappings of this kind of fantasy, from the straightforward mission to get home to the magical companion, it just doesn’t end how it’s supposed to. More importantly, there’s no Wicked Witch of the West or Goblin King to antagonize Gert when she arrives, leaving Gert to become the malevolent force within Fairyland. Her open hostility to Fairyland makes her some powerful enemies, including Queen Cloudia, who enlists the help of Bruud the Brutal to get rid of Gert permanently. Again, Young is playing with our expectations of Wonderland — a bloodthirsty Queen is something we’ve seen before, but this level of intrigue is altogether different.
If I had to point to what distinguishes this series from Rocket Raccoon, I think it would be all about those expectations. Rocket presents himself as a salty space pirate, but his friends are always aware of his heart-of-gold. Gert, on the other hand, isn’t concerned with how she presents herself — our reactions to her are all tied up in what we expect of a little girl lost in a cute fantasy land. When she works against those expectations, she ends up being kind of a sociopath, giving this issue a heartless cynicism that doesn’t leave any character standing out as likable. I suspect that will change as the series wears on, but nobody here was particularly sympathetic.
But maybe discussing this series in terms of how it relates to Rocket Raccoon is problematic. The charm of Young’s character designs and tone would certainly have a bigger impact on someone who hasn’t been immersed in his style for years, and that might help balance Gert’s monstrous actions. Ryan, I’m not sure how familiar you are with any of Young’s prior work, but I’m curious to hear your reactions. What did you think of the premise? The characters? Oh, and do you suppose the moon’s brain is made of cheese?
Ryan M: I haven’t read any of Young’s previous work, so I’m having trouble placing the story in context. The joy with which Gert murders and cannibalizes the denziens of Fairyland is truly insane when considering any conventional ethics. It’s hard to gauge whether the story is about a land where cruelty is commonplace but the design is adorable or if Gert is the outlier and the chaos that she causes is disruptive to the otherwise cheerful place.
For me, Gert’s murderous adventures were a slog, especially given my excitement at the premise. I love the idea of a girl visiting a magical world and taking thirty years to complete her quest. In some ways, Gert’s bizarre behavior makes sense. She was pulled away from her Mom and Dad at a young age and has now gone feral in Fairyland. That feels fresh and allows for stories about failed dreams, frustration, entering middle-age trapped in a persona that you chose decades ago. In the first few pages of the story, I was also intrigued by the indifference and lack of empathy from the people of Fairyland. Gert literally has bones sticking out of her skin and they don’t care as they hand her a map and a send her on her way. Instead of a story about a relatable human dealing with a shitty fairyland, Gert grows up to outdo them. She is the worst.
It is amazing that Gert has survived this long in Fairyland. Based on her behavior, she should be dead or in the dung mines by now. Her only companion is Larry, who seems to be amoral at best. He has no recriminations for her shooting the narrator out of the sky, and subtly encourages her to get rid of the star witnesses.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?