Friday, June 4, 2010

2010 Hugo nominee, graphic fiction: Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages Written by Bill Willingham; Pencilled by Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

Fables has been the hot comic out of DC’s Vertigo press for the past ten years. It is to the 00s what Sandman was to the 90s in many ways. Still, I got kind of sick of it and dropped it around issue #40. It’s still going though; it’s nearing issue #100, and this volume collects #76-82.

The basic concept of Fables is that all of the characters from various literary/folklore traditions are real: Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Sinbad, Pinocchio, Mr. Toad, Boy Blue, etc. They once lived in different fairy tale worlds, but they were pushed out by a massive invasion by a force they call The Adversary. For most of the twentieth century they’ve lived incognito as refugees in Manhattan. Writer Bill Willingham comes up with some fun twists here: Prince Charming is a bit of a philanderer (having had relationships with Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty). Non-human characters have to be kept on a special farm. The Big Bad Wolf is trying to reform. etc. The set-up really is great, and I was quite taken with it at first. However, I dropped the series as it became more and more involved in the over-arching story of war with the Adversary (I also found the reveal of the Adversary’s identity, which I won’t spoil here, rather disappointing). This volume takes place in the aftermath of said war, but things haven’t changed all that much from when I dropped off.

The central focus in this volume is on the instability caused by the removal of the Adversary from power, and there are several parallel plotlines that deal with the war’s aftermath. There are threats of new warlords arising and a new powerful enemy appears from the Adversary’s former dominion, the amnesty of a former enemy is becoming a hot issue in Fabletown, and the fables must bury their war heroes while the war wounded are still struggling to survive (there are some major character deaths here and in the previous story). I saw some clear parallels to the aftermath of the Iraq War, though Willingham (a vocal conservative) avoids anything too pointed. There’s also a reference to our old friend Fritz Leiber in the form of Freddy and Mouse, analogues of his fantasy anti-heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

The art is fantastic here. Regular series artist Mark Buckingham is excellent. He works in the fairly straightforward Vertigo house style, but there’s just a touch of cartoonish whimsy in his characters, maybe even a bit of Disney. Indie legend Mike Allred also does a fine issue at the beginning of this collection. There’s a lot to like here, and I’d highly recommend this series to fantasy fans looking to dip their toes into a mature, but fun, urban fantasy comic. I don’t think I’ll be jumping back on; for me, the idea wore out its freshness for me long ago. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see this as a perennial nominee in this category.

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