REVIEW: Fables #122

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Despite common, non-comic reader misconception, comics are more than just underwear perverts boxing with villains. Exhibit A is this title: Fables, which is near the top of my list of comics to recommend to comic book newbs. But after 122 issues (has it really been ten years?) is there a bottom to the public domain well from which Bill Willingham is drawing? Or can he re-contextualize the classic tales ad infinitum? Broaden your mind, after the jump.

FABLES #122
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Gene Ha/Shawn McManus
Colorist: Art Lyon
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Shelly Bond
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously in Fables:. The characters of Fables used to live in parallel worlds from which they inspired our stories (or was it the other way around?) until the Adversary’s armies drove them to hide in our “mundane” world. Two of the most powerful fables, Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf, have married and settled down to raise cubs. Meanwhile, in the land of Ev (which borders on Oz even though it didn’t make it into the movie), Bufkin the formerly-winged monkey, leads a revolution against the evil Nome King.

LONG TIME AGO WHEN WE WAS FABLES

The Wolf family has been surrounded by prophecy and destiny which has, so far, been used in the classic formula of 1) establish vague prophecy, 2) prophecy comes to pass in unexpected way, 3) profit. From the first page, we an extension of this with a framing sequence of Snow White and Bigby Wolf’s son, Ambrose, seen years in the future, writing a history of the Fables. This glimpse into the future is a prophecy itself, letting us know at least that Ambrose grows to a comfortable middle-age. Then, as we go into his story of the distant past, we read knowing how Bigby Wolf turns out in the “present”.

The rest of the story turns things upside-down and challenges the notion of fate. Set in the distant past when the elder Wolf was a force of nature terrorizing an archetypical “Black Forest”, this story takes the title back to the folktale origins of its characters. As much as I like the usual “fictional characters in New York” vibe of the comic, it’s nice to get a glimpse into pure fantasy to remind the readers of how crazy it is when we see Cinderella jumping out of an airplane. The wolf learns his fate and despairs, only to learn that destiny may not always be set in stone.

The story doesn’t quite flow organically, but that’s because it has a folktale skeleton—a lot of things happen abruptly because they have to happen to move the story along. Usually that’s a terrible criticism, but it’s perfectly normal in a fairy tale. Similarly, the language is flowery and stilted in just the right way to provide an old-timey feel. The story breaks with the classic fable tropes, however, in working with the established continuity of the Big Bad Wolf’s character and giving us a glimpse into his past. This version of the wolf differs from his reformed, future self, yet his underlying drive and nobility suggest his eventual character.

The backup story touching on the ongoing Oz revolution strikes me as three pages of “Why tell this story?” It doesn’t advance the ongoing plot. It doesn’t answer any questions that anyone had about the story. It doesn’t even tell a good joke. There are a couple nice lines of dialog but in the end, I’m just glad this only wasted three pages.

RIGHT, AND MONKEY’S MIGHT FLY OUT OF MY BUTT

I love Gene Ha’s art. The pages overflow with craftsmanship. The drawings are detailed and intricate and  I get the feeling that each line was drawn with deliberate purpose. It is dark without being indistinct. The art grounds the fantasy of the story with a thoroughly realistic visual depiction. Every page is worth hanging on a wall.

Shawn McManus takes up the art duties for the backup story and, as dismissive as I was about the writing, the art is beautiful. In drastic contrast to the main story, this is bright and colorful. The style reminds me of something that might be in an “Oz” book from a hundred years ago, back when children’s fantasy was fantastic.

THE BOTTOM LINE: WOLF IT DOWN, COME BACK FOR MORE!
I give Fables #122 four stars—I’m taking away a third of a star for the backup story but in all, it’s a good issue for long time readers as well as a good intro for new readers who might want to get a feel for the book. Buy it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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