Form: Comic Book (Trade Paperback)
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Eric Shanower, Terry Moore
Series: Fables, Volume 16 (issues 101-107)
Lets start off with a quick note for those who aren’t comic book fans: this is a comic. Also an apology for everyone because starting a review of the series with volume 16 is kind of a dick move, but I promised myself I would review every book I read this year, so here I am, reviewing it.
Fables, as some of you may know, is a wonderful, wonderful, comic book series published by DCs ‘adult line’, Vertigo Comics. As such it’s possibly not one to give kids – it’s got a little more sex, violence, and rude words in than DCs mainline stuff (at least theoretically, I’d say in reality it’s got a lot less violence than Batman etc.). I maintain it’s actually not that kiddie-unfriendly, but that’s probably my own views being far more lax than that of an American company’s ratings guidelines.
The basic premise of the series is pretty simple: fairy tale characters have fled the violent conquest of their own worlds and now live, undercover, in New York. At the start of the series this has already been their home for at least a hundred years or so there’s no slightly tedious ‘fish out of water’, ‘adjusting to modern life’ plots. After the first few introductory plots the main storyline revolves mostly around trying to reclaim their homelands and drive out the mysterious ‘Adversary’. It’s very good and I can’t recommend it enough with most volumes scoring a 5/5 for me.
Now, onto volume 16. Obviously 101 issues on the story has moved on somewhat (this is not a comic where ‘status quo is god’), and I’m very wary of spoilers so this will probably be my shortest review yet. This volume contains 3 stories: ‘The Ascent’, a one issue comic featuring Bufkin the flying monkey, ‘Waking Beauty’, a one issue focussed on Sleeping Beauty that I really can’t say too much about for fear of spoilers, and sandwiched in between them, the main multi-issue story ‘Super Team’.
‘The Ascent’ was a nice, solid start to what I can only assume will be an ongoing plotline independent from the main story. Bufkin the monkey has worked his way into my heart as one of my favourite characters with his mixture of book-smarts, bravery, sheer stupidity, and pure monkey-like adorableness ‘I hardly ever throw poop anymore’ (volume 3). So far I’ve enjoyed his last few solo issues immensely, and I enjoyed this one too. However this was mainly a transitory story, not much going for it on its own, and the introduction of an Oz plotline is a little worrying. But that’s probably just because I never liked Oz very much. However, I have faith that Willingham will make it work – I never liked Snow White or Cinderella very much either and I have a total girl-crush on both here – so I will reserve judgement until the story gets far enough to fairly judge it.
‘Waking Beauty’, as I said, would include some major spoilers if I was to give a full review so I’ll limit myself to saying that the art is pretty, the backgrounds detailed, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next when the first volume of the female-centric spinoff, Fairest, hits the shelves. Here’s hoping it’ll be a better spinoff than the mediocre, cancelled, Jack of Fables.
And onto the main story! Not the strongest storyline but it was fun, a decent bit of light and fluffy to contrast with how dark the last few volumes have been. The basic premise is that, after all other attempts have failed, Pinocchio wants to put together a comic book super team to battle the sinister villain, Mr. Dark. It’s about as silly as it sounds and is basically an excuse for Willingham and the artists to have fun affectionately pastiching the X-Men and other superheroes. As always I am in love with Bigby (Big Bad Wolf) who fills the ‘Wolverine’ role on the team, it’s also nice to see Ozma getting fleshed out a bit more.
The resolution to the main plot I found a bit disappointing and anticlimactic, I would have preferred something less…cheaty, but I can’t deny that it made sense and was foreshadowed in advance. It also throws up some interesting directions as to where the story will go from here, so I won’t complain too hard. For me the highlights here were the development of Beauty and Beast’s subplot, a wonderful scene between Snow White and Bigby Wolf, and a hint that there’s yet more new trouble brewing on the horizon. Plenty to keep the comic going on for the moment.
Definitely one of the weaker volumes for me – though nowhere near the low-point of the series (the completely skippable volume 13 The Great Fables Crossover). It’s not one for new readers to start with but new readers shouldn’t be starting anywhere apart from volume 1 anyway. A solid four stars and a book I’ll definitely reread (Fables, along with Harry Potter, is my comfort read whenever my depression gives me a particularly rough time). Hopefully volume 17 will be back up to 5 star quality but am not too disappointed with this. Of course it all depends where it goes from here.