Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comic Book Wednesdays: Once Upon A Time...

I discovered over the weekend that my parents read my blog. I have spent the days since trying to pretend that I didn't discover that. More on this exciting news as it develops. But for now what you've all (well, some) have been waiting for.

Fables 77. Well, that's more like it. My major complaint with the Fables series over the last year or so was the pacing: the Frog Prince story dragged too long, and the Big War felt rushed. Now we're back on even-footing, examining what happens after the war. There's major uprisings in the Homelands, Little Boy Blue seems even further from his happily ever after than before the war, and Mowgli and Bagheera start an expedition back to the Jungle Book world. All that, and a mild cliffhanger ending promising a new big character next issue. At this point, Willingham and Buckingham are at the top of their game. Willingham is deftly juggling dozens of plot points, while still maintaining the distinct voice of his huge cast, and Buckingham's framing continues to make it feel like you're immersed not just in a comic book world, but a lengendary Fable one. A great starting point for new readers and a great issue for old ones.

Fables. Given the minor review, the choice for the major review seemed obvious. The original impetus of Fables is simple: Characters from various fables and fairy tales fled their homelands to avoid submitting to the rule of the Adversary, and settled in New York. Half the fun of the series is seeing the juxtaposition of the fairy tale creatures; how the Fly Prince gets along with Pinnochio, how Old King Cole deals with his rival Prince Charming, and, the key relationship for much of the series, how Bigby Wolf won the heart of Snow White. The other half is in Willingham's writing. These characters aren't just static retreads of the originals, but 3 dimensional figures that grow and change. While Bigby and Snow were the central characters for the early passages, Fly Prince, Prince Charming, and Little Boy Blue have all had their starring roles, and all grown from them.
The best place to start the series is from the beginning. The first story arc recalls the origin of the Fables, and introduces Bigby as the lead detective in a murder mystery. Next, the animal fables that can't pass for humans revolt, in a story arc called (what else?) Animal Farm. By the the fourth arc, when things really get interesting, Fabletown is attacked by the Adversary's private army of Wooden Soldiers--they don't need food, they don't get hurt, and they're armed with machine guns. It's honestly one of the best comic book battles I've ever seen.
For me, the appeal of Fables, and its spinoff title, Jack of Fables (wherein Jack stars as literature's greatest trickster), comes from the fresh perspective of all the characters I read about growing up. I mean, look at this cover:

This is the Adversary's war council. Among others, we see Hansel the Witch Hunter in the background, the Snow Queen holding the severed head, and, on the right, we see the little creature that was a super villain before super villainry was cool, the Nome King.
That's right. When you're going for awesome yet ridiculously obscure literary villains, you can't do much better than the Nome King. Hell, even he forgets who he is half the time.
Anyway, the early Fables issues are chocked full of literary goodness, and after a disappointing war to end all war, the new issues seem to be back on track. So if you want to see Frau Totenkinder (the gingerbread house witch) battle Baba Yaga, read Fables. If you want to know what Babe the Blue Ox does on his off time, read Fables. If you want to get to know the real Goldilocks, the gun-toting anarchist, read Fables. If you want amazing art on the inside (via Mark Buckingham) and the outside (cover artist James Jean wins awards for the Fables covers just about every year), read Fables.

If you want good story and good characters, read Fables.

Later Days.


Peter_Applebaulm said...

Weird! Turns out, *my* parents read your blog, too. Mom wanted me to tell you she's worried your taste in comics skews too far to the eclectic, although she enjoys reading about these bizarre graphic creations, the very existence of which she'd never have suspected but for your concise Wednesday reviews.

Person of Consequence said...

Well, sure, there's *traditional* comics. But really, everyone knows about the existence of Superman, and Spider-Man and so forth. What people really need to know about are the comic books in which the main characters stop whatever they're doing to discuss a recipe for vegan shepherd's pie. (Scott Pilgrim, of course.)