Somewhere around the corner, just beyond the edge of perception, lies a world you never dreamed existed: A world where creatures of ancient myth and gods long thought dead walk unnoticed along the crowded streets of Manhattan. Where ladies of Faerie dance the nights away. Where every shadow holds a secret, and every secret has a price.
Welcome to the World of Aria.

ARIA "The Uses of Enchantment" [Holguin (w), Medina (a), Anacleto (covers)]
It all begins when a message literally falls into Killdare's lap, an invitation addressed simply to ‘The Fairest in the Land.’ This leads Kildare - a 900-year-old Faerie princess living in modern New York, and the ‘star’ of the Aria series - to strange little ‘enchanted kingdom’ tucked away in the Catskills Mountains. As the story unfolds, Kildare will learn not only who created the kingdom, but for what reasons this fairytale refuge exists in the first place. Originally, ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ was a roadside theme park that flourished in the 1950s. However, changing times and tastes in entertainment have resulted in the park being abandoned (well, by human tourists) for decades. And like all fairytale kingdoms, The Uses of Enchantment has a very dark secret at its heart.

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The name Lan Medina is the name that drew me to this project, thanks to his work on Fables. As it turns out, Aria has a premise not unlike that of Fables, although it has a very different sensibility and take on the premise. Still, it's ironic that I've come to Aria, which has been around longer, thanks to my enjoyment of Fables, and I'm glad that I did. The story here is interesting enough, with some intriguing mystery and a cast of unusual characters, but the artwork is phenomenal. Lan Medina and Steve Oliff give the boa lush, painted lothat reminds me of the first time I saw Alex Ross's work, mixing photo-realism and fantasy in perfect measure.

There are a lot of interesting things to be said with the mixture of modern day and fantasy, but The Uses of Enchantment seems to be focused largely on the fantasy elements. The story of Queen Joyous and Kildare ties back to the modern world, but the story rests in the fantasy realm that Oberon has created. There are several mysteries here, some obvious with a little thought (the nature of the monster and the queen) and some not so obvious (the nature of Oberon). I'm curious as to what's going to happen now that Holguin has brought these characters together, especially since no one involved, not Kildare, Oberon, Joyous, Ember or even the beast seems to be unintelligent or lacking in guile.

Though the story is one of mystery and potential danger, though, the tone is one of fantasy and magic. Holguin doesn't fail in presenting Kildare's newest adventure as potentially dangerous, but he also doesn't miss out on the adventure part of it. Plenty of pageantry, royal tradition and charming new friends are to be found in Oberon's kingdom, and so the story is fun as well as having a bit of an edge to it.

Much of this sense of magic comes from the artwork, which is really the selling point of the boas far as I'm concerned. Lan Medina did beautiful, detailed work on Fables, but The Uses of Enchantment just blows that away. Better paper and a different coloring technique make the work almost indistinguishable from painting. There are terrific designs for the hedgehog, Hunter and Ember, not to mention the fashions of the characters and the locales of both New York and Oberon's kingdom, and the storytelling is perfect. The work really shines, though, on the occasional splash pages and double-page splashes. The revelation of Hunter and his wolves in issue one and the double-page splash that opens issue two are particularly breathtaking.

I'll be honest, given the gorgeous quality of the artwork, The Uses of Enchantment could have been an incomprehensible mess and I'd probably still be impressed by what I'd seen. Fortunately, the evocative artwork is accompanied by a story that is just as enchanting. Fans of Fables should not miss this installment of Aria... and vice versa, actually.

Review by Randy Lander from the Fourth Rail

Aria: The Uses of Enchantment #4

By: Olivia Woodward
Writer: Brian Holguin
Artist: Lan Medina
Publisher: Image
Enchanting. Charming. Enthralling. These are words that we use to describe those things that bring us delight so intense that, for a moment, we cease to think. We lose our sense of self-awareness in the aesthetic rapture of our focus. And so it is in the Kingdom of Enchantment, but not for long. The melancholy of Queen Joyous has grown to such a level of discontent that she's journeyed into the deepest dungeons of the Castle. Here she will free the Beast, a secret and terrible monster that will bring the magic realm to ruin. The spell must end.

And when the elegant spires come crashing down, will the dark secrets of this land of illusion be revealed to the light of truth? After all these years trapped in magical beguilement, what will remain? What is real?

"All those stories seemed so real to me. More real than my life ever was. I lived in those stories. Is that wrong?"

This is a powerful tale of escapism and denial. A beautiful world of fey splendor has been built out of the dreams and wishes of Queen Joyous. But these fanciful whimsies are ephemeral, without substance. Can one survive on meals made only of sugar and spice? No, and neither can a life of empty enchantment lead to anything but sorrow. Her memories and sense of self have been locked away in a hidden library. The consequences of her mortal life have been caged in the dark dungeons. She is left only with fluff and fancy.

The storytelling is strong, with a smooth flow of action and narrative. The prose is rich, poetic in its beauty. The revelation of the secrets underlying the Kingdom of Enchantment and Joyous' true reality is expertly paced with apocalyptic drama. The dialogue and characterization is tight, focusing on the thematic strength of this story. A wistful mood prevails throughout the narrative. There is sorrow that the Enchantment is an illusion, but there is also a cathartic exhilaration with the enthrallment is shattered.

My only complaint about the story structure was that Kildare, our protagonist, is little more than a spectator throughout the story. Her only purpose in the resolution of this tale is as a witness and commentator. She serves an important narrative function, but her integration into the heart of the situation is peripheral at best. However, this doesn't weaken the impact of the story, so it's only a minor quibble.

The art is glorious. The composition of the figures is expressive and elegant, from the melancholy lips of Queen Joyous to the playful antics of the children at the amusement park. The detail of the setting is also praiseworthy, catching the mood and pacing with style and grace. From the deluge that washes the enchantment away to the falling autumn leaves, the drama is found in the details. Likewise, the colors complement the composition beautifully. In short, this is a gorgeous book.

"But those stories. . . They're meant to teach children how to grow-up. Not how to remain children."

A charming story with enchanting art, this is one spellbinding series. The thematic exploration of escapism and self-awareness is pretty weighty stuff, but it is managed with deftness, never drifting into tired clichés or pedantic moralizing. There is magic in the world of Aria, which sets the imagination afire. If you're looking for quality storytelling and modern fable-crafting, this is definitely a bofor you.

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