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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fables: Cubs in Toyland

Fables: Cubs in Toyland



Vertigo, 2013

Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Gene Ha,
Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green

Bill Willingham

Fables #114-123


those not familiar with Fables, the basic premise is that characters from fairy
tales, fiction, nursery rhymes and the like really exist, originally in their
own world, called the Homelands. 
Eventually, due to the machinations of the Adversary, they were driven
out of their native lands and settled in our world.

are not completely as we know them to be, as Willingham has manipulated things
(fairly excellently) to incorporate separate tales into one big, intertwined,
twisted, beautiful, creepy, funny story. 
If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am.  Here’s a “for example”.  Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf (who can
transform to human form and goes by Bigby) are married.  Bigby is the same wolf that appeared in both
The Three Little Pigs and alongside Little Red Riding Hood.  So, yes, he can blow a mean gale-force
wind.  Well, that’s because he’s the son
of the North Wind, duh!  And, don’t worry
that you’re going crazy, Snow White and Prince Charming were married, just like
Disney told you.  But don’t forget that
Charming also was with both Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella — that all holds
true — he’s a philanderer and has been married (and subsequently divorced) to
them all.

doesn’t just stop there, though; the layers upon layers are just fantastic to
watch be built.  If you’ve got a favorite
character, chances are he/she/it has been in here.   And not just as a cameo — Willingham has an
uncanny ability to give these characters are voice, even when they’re around
for just a bit, you want to know more. 
It’s not even just the characters. 
Concepts — Arthurian legend, Super-heroics, The Fisher King — are
sneakily attached to characters and story arcs. 
In the Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables (centered around Jack, who is the
same guy in all “Jack” stories, — Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack
Frost), we get the Literals, who are the embodiments of actual writing
techniques — the Pathetic Fallacy, Deux ex Machina, the Genres — and somehow it
all makes sense.  Fables is one of the
consistent great books out there and if auteur theory is true, then Willingham
fits the bill.

you’ve been reading this and think, “Well, that sounds somewhat like that show
Once Upon a Time!”, you’re not too far off. 
Fables did at one point have a television pilot ordered, for which a
script was written, at ABC.  Yup, that
same studio that does Once Upon a Time. 
Although Willingham has denied that there was any maliciousness, it’s
hard to not see the inspiration.

trade, collecting issues #114-123, encompasses two story arcs.  The titular story takes up the majority of
the trade (#114-121) and is a bit of a character focused story, as compared
with the big world evolving tales that happen every second to third arc.  These stories are probably more accessible
and don’t require as much knowledge of the previous 100+ issues, but despite
past successes, I always expect less excitement in these type of stories.  Add to that, this character arc deals with
Snow and Bigby’s children who, despite some recent developments, have been more
annoying than interesting.

The first part of the prophecy came true in the previous trade, as the
eldest child, Winter, became the new North Wind.  This arc results in two more of the
aforementioned prophecies occurring — I won’t spoil which ones (though there
may be some debate as to which came true) — and they happen in a really
touching way.  Therese, the shyest and
most introverted of the cubs, starts out our journey after being given a boat
as a gift at Christmas.  When she
discovers that the boat can talk to her, they go off together on a trip to the
far-away Toyland.

she encounters a broken-down world populated with broken-down toys, all
proclaiming her as their new queen.  It’s
slow moving, but for a purpose — Willingham is setting the mood for what starts
off as a creepy, are-they-bad, type of story and changes into a redemption
story.  It’s really well paced and,
though the story takes place mostly in a place never seen before these issues,
Willingham spends ample time developing the location and these new characters.

now a moment about Mark Buckingham’s art. 
Just look at the one single page above. 
He captures disgust and boredom in Therese’s face, details in the
landscape, and horrific realism in these beat up, broken, discarded toys.  His work is also spectacular and complements
the tone of this book.  Yes, it’s a story
ultimately about fictional characters, people, animals, and otherwise, but his
art is just the perfect amount of realism mixed with fantasy that this is all
believable.  Buckingham also has been
illustrating the side gutters since the start of the title, a little bonus in
terms of the visuals, but it works to contain the setting and mood of the

second arc of the trade, printed in issues #122 and 123, is titled The Destiny
Game.  Right off the bat, the most
striking difference is that the art is not by series regular Buckingham, but
rather by Gene Ha of Top Ten fame.  It
gives this story a completely different look, a bit darker (which is strange,
given that The Destiny Game is not nearly as morbid as the Toyland story).  It’s a story told in the future, narrated by
another one of the cubs, telling a bit more history about Bigby.  Not as interesting as the first part of the
trade, but it works to add depth to the Fables framework.

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