Fables, Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland, Bill Willingham & various artists

Fables 18 Cubs in ToylandFables: Cubs in Toyland

Form: Comic Book (Trade Paperback)
Series: Fables, Volume 18 (issues 114-123)

Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists:
 Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Gene Ha, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green
Colourists: Lee Loughridge, Art Lyon
Letterer: Todd Klien
Cover Art: Joao Raus

Rating4/54/54/54/54/5

Warning: This is volume 18 of an ongoing series  – it’s going to be impossible for me to avoid spoilers completely for previous volumes.

Her [sibling] was crowned the new North Wind, but all Therese Wolf got was a lousy toy boat.

She doesn’t much like the thing – and that’s before it starts whispering to her in the middle of the night, encouraging her to run away from home. But with her father preparing [sibling] for [their] new responsibilities and her mother busy with the rest of the brood, a magical journey might not be such a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Therese’s voyage takes her to the desolate shoreline of Toyland, where dwell the broken-down playthings of the Discardia. Wooden, metal, plastic or stuffed, they’re all looking for a queen to fix their bodies and their realm.

But these toys are broken in more ways than one.

As her family – led by her wild brother Dare – frantically searches for her, what will become of Therese when she discovers the terrible truth about Toyland? And what price must be paid to save her life – and her soul?

Without a doubt the darkest volume of Fables yet, this volume is also the best addition to the series for a long time. It’s not up to early Fables standards, and I’m still not quite sure that the series was best served by continuing after the main plotline of the Adversary was concluded, rather than ending it on a satisfying, epic conclusion – Fables has been starting to show the wear and tear of a story stretched out beyond it’s initial plotline for a while now – but this has restored some of my faith.

I can’t really say I enjoyed this volume, it’s a pretty horrible story, but it was also a very powerful one. The cubs have been a constant presence in Fables since their introduction but, apart perhaps from Ambrose, I’ve always found them rather one-note and rather underdeveloped until these last two volumes – almost indistinguishable save by their gender and hair colours. Yet Cubs in Toyland, despite a few pacing issues, got me invested in their fates and managed to land some pretty emotional punches too.

And the artwork, I’m sure, played a big part in that. I’ve loved Mark Buckingham’s art since the beginning of course (though his Pinocchio took some getting used to) but it worked particularly well in this story. If you want bleak, hopeless, and more than a little terrifying, he’s obviously your guy.

As for the story. I’m not quite sure how and where it fits into the wider Fables plots going on at the moment, but obviously it’s going to have a huge impact on the Bigby/Snow family in future books. Therese (the blonde girl cub) is magically kidnapped by a creepyass toy boat and taken to a creepyass magical Toyland peopled by broken dolls and dismembered teddybears who declare her their queen. Only living in a decaying castle full of decaying toys isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (who knew?) and in a land of inanimate objects there is nothing for a human girl to eat. It’s up to her family, and particularly her brother, ‘pack leader’, Darien, to find and rescue her.

As well as the Toyland plotline we also got a look in on the training of the new North Wind (my joint-favourite of the cubs), an intriguing vision of their future  (my least favourite bit of artwork in the volume – magic hair colour change and stupid posing), a short story from Bigby Wolf’s past that promises an interesting future for another of the cubs, and the set up for nasty bit of backstabbing and treachery down the line in the main Fabletown plot too.

As I said, this book has a few pacing issues, the conclusion isn’t entirely satisfactory, and could probably do with a bit more exposition about certain plot elements, but it is the most raw and powerful instalment Fables has had in while. So while not ‘enjoyable’ per se, and while still far from my favourite volume, it still gets a high star rating from me. But I will be happy to get back to the grown-up cast in the next volume.

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