Re-telling and re-imagining classic fairy tales have long been a way for movies, television, books, and even video games to explore a familiar narrative while injecting modern commentary and subtext into the mix. When handled well, it can create a new tale out of an old one by tweaking tropes and even offering entirely different interpretations. When it doesn’t, it can still rely on nostalgia.
Little Mermaid #1 falls somewhere in the middle of this.
It’s a new take on the classic Grimm’s fairy tale and draws some parallels to Disney’s animated film of the same name. But the parallels serve more as a basic framework than the core, as a sci-fi twist is added.
There’s no beautifully-singing Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder, or handsome Prince Eric to be found. Rather, this story is about a young woman who appears to take on mermaid-like properties and even adopts a sea monster-like transformation at one point.
But she’s not living in the wide-open ocean. Rather, she appears to live inside a testing facility, constantly undergoing studies for researchers to learn more about her abilities. It’s a haunting, creepy situation mostly portrayed well.
Jumping between subplots haphazardly does harm it, however. The comic begins twenty years in the past, then jumps to present day, then jumps to another woman searching for her missing daughter. There’s a hint of flow between everything, but the connective tissue between all of them feels as though it could have been a bit stronger. Expository monologues spoon-feed the reader with information rather than organically weaving it in, and the plot itself feels a little withdrawn, like it’s holding key points back in service of keeping the reader invested in the arc. Perhaps it will be reconciled in issues later on, but I often felt like I didn’t have a solid grip on what was happening.
It does have its highlights, however. Seeing a majority of relatively well-realized female leads in the story was an interesting choice, and the departure away from a love struck mermaid in favour of a grander sci-fi plot does take things in a strange, albeit interesting direction.
The Little Mermaid’s artwork does a good job of visually telling the story, with panels transitioning smoothly to each other and each scene capturing the most important essence of the moment. Thick, dramatic lines and a unique blend of colors give the characters a bold look, and action is portrayed in a powerful, sweeping manner. Some of the panels feel a bit empty without much by way of background, but the character work is brilliant enough to somewhat distract for any missing detail.
This predominantly female cast is an interesting direction, but it also leads to some amount of breasts in virtually every panel they’re featured in. Such depictions of women often toe the line between empowering and offensive, but as we’ve seen with the recent arcs in comics like Red Sonja, so long as a woman is self-assertive and not objectified or created merely for the reader’s eye pleasure, an emphasis on the female form isn’t necessarily a negative.
Thankfully, even the most gratuitous of frames rarely depict any of the women in particularly sexualized or exploitative ways. There’s plenty of boobage, but it’s hard to see it as gross sexual pandering when the lady in question is smashing robot octopus heads.
The Little Mermaid’s first issue might leave a little too many questions for me to be in complete love with it, but solid visuals, a creative re-imagining, and an intriguing story are enough to keep me interested in what unfolds within the next few issues.