[Warning: This article contains spoilers for Fairest #15.]
OK, Fables fans, you can't say the writer didn't warn you.
A few weeks ago, Newsarama interviewed writer Sean E. Williams about his upcoming debut on Fairest, and he said it was a "can't miss" arc for Fables fans because a character called "the maharaja" would be introduced.
"A lot of Fables readers wait for the trade paperbacks, so with this arc in particular, and the way [Fables creator] Bill [Willingham] has plans for these characters, we're trying to dissuade people from waiting for the trade paperback, just because there's going to be spoilers popping up immediately," Williams told Newsarama. "So we're trying to get people to read this story [in Fairest] right out of the gate. It is going to have that immediate crossover into Fables once it's done."
Now that Fairest #15 has been released, it's obvious that the warnings were justified.
The story in Fairest, titled "Return of the Maharaja," was promoted as the debut of a character named, fittingly, the "Maharaja." The story arc focused on a woman named Nalyani who lived in the mythical land of the Indu, as she went searching for the Maharaja to ask for his help.
But at the end of Fairest #15...
[Spoilers. Seriously, if you are a Fables fan and you haven't read Fairest #15, go finish it before you continue reading this.]
... readers found that that the Maharaja is actually Prince Charming, who was assumed dead in an explosion during the war against the Empire. He's got a beard now, but he's obviously still the... uh... charming character he always was.
But has he changed? And how did he get out of that explosion?
Newsarama talked to Williams to find out more about how the writer kept this shocking ending a surprise, and what we can expect from Prince Charming in the coming issues of Fairest.
Newsarama: Sean, it's quite a feat to keep this such a secret, particularly when you were around so many Fables fans at the Fabletown con. Is it a relief that it's out there now?
Sean E. Williams: It really is. And the timing of Fabletown and Beyond made it particularly hard, because the solicitations to the comic shops were already coming out, so Adam Hughes's covers (including the teaser he mocked up for #15) were out there, as well as story teases, but luckily no one asked too many questions. The big hold-my-breath moment was when we revealed the cover to #16 at the Fairest panel. Some people (I won't name names) thought that readers were going to know it was Charming, but we've never seen him with a beard before, and everyone thought he was dead, so we were able to show him and get away with it.
Nrama: Looking back at our interview about the story, I can see why you said the "introduction" of the "maharaja" would be so important! Very sneaky, but smart. How tough was it to keep that secret?
Williams: It was really difficult. I hate spoilers, which are ubiquitous in comics and movies and pretty much the media in general today. We want to know everything now. And with solicitations coming out four months ahead of time (not to mention the pre-release press I was doing), I had to find a way to talk about Charming without giving it away. A big part of that was coming up with the title for the arc, which has more meaning than just the last page of #15.
Nrama: Now that I look back, there was one clue in the interview. You said the maharaja was the character Bill needed you to introduce, but then you said Bill would "REintegrate" the character into the Fables universe. I'm kicking myself for not picking up on that earlier.
Williams: Yeah, that was a slip of the tongue that, as soon as I said it, I knew I was in trouble. I was praying that in talking about the arc before this issue came out that no one asked who “the Maharaja” was, because I didn't have a good answer on tap, but luckily no one did.
Nrama: You fooled us all! OK, let's talk about Prince Charming. You surely know that this character is a fan favorite. Was he a favorite of yours?
Williams: He absolutely was. He was that great mix of genuine talent and too much ego, which of course got him into trouble more than once, but also made him such a fascinating character.
But his arc from “The Last Castle” to his sacrificing himself to close the last Gateway just epitomizes what makes Fables universe so great. All of the characters are characters, and they all have these amazing arcs, and they suck you in as a reader.
Nrama: They really do. I think I was dreading Prince Charming being the mayor, but he ended up being an ideal leader for the war. Now that we know you're writing him, what can you tell us about him as a character, and what it's like to write him?
Williams: Charming has definitely changed since we last saw him. He's been on his own, in a land full of women, for years. How has that affected him? Where are his priorities now? We'll try to explore all of that and more in this arc.
As for writing him, it's just an absolute blast. His was one of the strongest voices in Fables, so picking up on it was fairly easy...except that he's speaking a different language now, so he fumbles for words. But then he's Charming, so is he really fumbling? Or is he slipping in some innuendo under the guise of a language barrier? It's fun to play around with, to say the least.
Nrama: The cover for issue #16 indicates that we'll see Nalyani and Charming on an adventure together, and the #17 solicitation talks about the "Village of the Dead." What can you reveal about their upcoming adventure?
Williams: You'll have to keep reading! In case you haven't noticed, I'm not big on spoilers. But I will say that more than one Fable dies in this arc. I'm totally comfortable being ruthless when it comes to killing characters, as readers might have noticed.
Nrama: Wait, you're not going to kill Prince Charming at the end of this arc, are you? Please tell me you're not.
Williams: I didn't say he'd survive...
Nrama: Now I'm sorry I asked. But while Charming is definitely alive, how does the juxtaposition of him and Nalyani work in the story?
Williams: We'll see it play out in this arc, but I will tease that when I read the different versions of Nalayani's story, knowing that I was writing an arc with Charming in it, she was the perfect foil for him in more ways than one. We'll be re-telling part of it, or at least seeing the Fables-universe version of her story, in this arc.
Nrama: She has made it clear that she's not interested in smooth-talking men. Does that play a part in how she interacts with Charming?
Williams: Definitely, but there's more to Nalayani than what we've seen in the first issue. In fact, we'll see some different sides to her right out of the gate in the second issue. The same goes for Charming as well: how much, or how little, he's changed, for better or worse.
Nrama: Will we learn, during your arc, how Charming got free of the cave and eventually became the maharaja? And can you reveal anything about that tale?
Williams: You'll have to keep reading.
Nrama: Fair enough. Then let's switch gears and talk about the art on these issues, which fans seem to be loving. What's it been like working with the art team?
Williams: Stephen Sadowski, Phil Jimenez, Andrew Dalhouse and Todd Klein are all bringing their A-game. As soon as I started seeing Steve's pencils, it changed how I was writing the arc. In addition to the amazing acting that he does with the characters, Steve does animals and backgrounds so well that I wanted to see more of this world, and started writing it accordingly. The scene with the horse in the second issue is one of my favorites for the whole arc, and it started out as a throwaway thing that he turned into...well, you'll see.
On top of Steve's work, Phil's inks compliment the pencils perfectly, and Andrew is a true artist with his colors. He gets the world, which makes my job so much easier. And Todd Klein created a whole new font for this arc. I...I just don't have words. These guys are amazing.
Nrama: Looking ahead to the end of the arc, how important is Prince Charming's return in Fairest to what's coming up in the main Fables title?
Williams: If he survives, and if he finds a way back to Fabletown...he's been in the Indu for years. If he wanted back badly enough, of all the Fables, Charming would have found a way. Bill wanted Charming back in the Fables universe, which he is now. Where it goes from there... I can say that what happens in the arc will influence the rest of the Fables universe. I only know some of the details, based on what Bill's hinted to me, but if you're current on Fables, you might be able to start to piece together that things aren't going to go well...as usual.
Nrama: Yeah, there's trouble brewing there. But seeing Prince Charming alive does give us hope for some of the other characters that fans have been missing. Do you think this bodes well for fans of Boy Blue, who are hoping for a similar return?
Williams: I think I'm one of the few people Bill's told definitively, but I'm not saying.
Nrama: Well, I'm keeping hope alive. Now that you're writing in the Fables universe and fans seem to enjoy what you're doing, is there a possibility we'll see more from you? The last time we talked, you had indicated there was another story you were hoping to do in the Fables universe, but you wouldn't even reveal what characters were involved. Any movement on that front that you can talk about?
Williams: Right now, all my guns are aimed at this arc, so I haven't even thought about approaching Bill about revisiting it. But I'd certainly love to, although looking back over the pitch it'd probably be a three-issue arc instead of a six-issue one.
Nrama: Maybe us fans can lobby for it to be published. So as long as we're chatting about other projects, is there anything else you're working on that you want to promote to your fans?
Williams: I have a series called Artful Daggers that I co-created along with Adam P. Knave and Andrew Losq. It's digital first through Monkeybrain Comics, and is available on comiXology currently for 99 cents an issue. The third issue just came out on May 8th. Fans of Fables and Fairest might like it, as it's set in the same universe as Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In addition to that, I have a couple of other projects in the works, but nothing that I can announce just yet.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about the arc in Fairest or the return of Prince Charming?
Williams: This arc is taking Charming and Nalayani places they haven't been before, both physically and emotionally, and it's going to be quite a ride. I just hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it!