Fables: Cubs in Toyland (2013)

“Only silly Dorothys arrive in a magical land and want to go home.”

The latest trade collection of the Vertigo series, Fables, takes us to volume 18 collecting issues 114 to 123 – marking 10 years of the series. The usual contributors are present again with writer Bill Willingham and artists Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. There are two stories in this collection the eight issue title story and a two issue story, The Destiny Game, featuring art from guest artist Gene Ha.

The main story, Cubs in Toyland, follows on from Therese receiving the odd Christmas present of a toy boat in the last volume. The present becomes even odder when it starts to talk to her and whisks her away to a land of toys looking for a queen. But this toyland is a dark place with broken down toys who all hide a dark secret of their own and will do anything and sacrifice anyone to be restored to their former glory.

The second story, The Destiny Game, features a grown up Ambrose, one of Snow and Bigby’s cubs, relating a tale of his father and how his fate was decided by an encounter with a woman who can pass the fate of others onto different people.

Another solid entry in the Fables canon. The only problem that I have with the recent collections is that, since the defeat of Mister Dark, the wider story of the general population of Fables has been marginalised to just a handful of pages – both in this book and the previous one. The focus has instead been on Snow, Bigby and their family and while the stories are interesting and entertaining, I miss the wider canvas available when a more diverse mix of Fables are brought into the story. But like I say a minor quibble in an otherwise great series as it heads into its second decade.

The Bufkin tale that had been running through the main story is missing from this volume. Looking at the Vertigo web site pages for the single issues, it looks like #114 was the start of a back up feature that starred Bufkin and his adventures in Oz. These are not reprinted in this volume but I hope that they will be collected together along with the standalone issue #124, which was the end of that storyline, in the next trade collection.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland (2012)

“… dead gods are another thing altogether. They can be infinitely more useful.”

This long delayed original graphic novel is a spin off from the long running Vertigo series, Fables. As with the main series, it was written by Bill Willingham. The book has a number of artists – Jim Fern who did layouts, pencils and inks, Craig Hamilton who did pencils and inks; Ray Snyder and Mark Farmer who did inks.

While on a quest looking for a suitable location for a new home for Fabletown, Bigby Wolf drops in on Story City, a town secretly funded by Bluebeard. King Cole has charged Bigby to find out what is there and what Bluebeard’s interest in the town could have been. Bigby finds the town populated solely by werewolves whose origin lies in some of Bigby’s activities in the Second World War. But the arrival of Bigby acts as a catalyst for change in elements of the citizens of Story City not happy with the way things are being run.

I usually love all things Fables but this book didn’t do much for me. Although it is a standalone story it has some ties back to events in the Mean Seasons collection. However, the events in The Mean Seasons are recounted here so it would be possible for someone not familiar with the 120 odd issues of Fables to pick it up and read it. But I would not recommend it as a starting place for new readers as the story is one of the weakest that I have read in the Fables universe. It has been left open for some consequences of Bigby’s actions perhaps coming back to haunt him in the main series but unless that happens and is spectacular then this book is a big disappointment.

The book is not even rescued by the art which is pretty sketchy. The large number of contributers seem to be used at random and the art style can change from one page to the next within the same scene leaving the reader confused. The colour palette is very muted with browns and pastel colours tending to dominate helping to make it feel all very mundane. All in all, I’m afraid, I found the book to be a major let down.

Camelot 3000 (1988)

“But no need to stand on ceremony. You may call me King Arthur!”

This book is a collection of the first comic book maxi-series, as claimed in the introduction by Don and Maggie Thompson. The series was written by Mike W. Barr who is probably best known for his writing on various Batman titles such as Batman and the Outsiders, the Year Two story in Detective Comics and the Son of the Demon graphic novel. The art was by British artist Brian Bolland who is more often associated, these days, with fabulous cover art but also worked on early Judge Dredd stories for 2000AD and DC’s The Killing Joke.

It is the year 3000 and Britain is under attack by relentless aliens from the solar system’s tenth planet. In it’s hour of need, King Arthur, it’s greatest defender, is reborn. His first act is to restore Merlin to his side followed by the reincarnations of his knights of the Round Table. They discover that Morgan le Fay is behind the alien attacks and so old conflicts are renewed.

I bought this book because it is one of the few examples of a comic series illustrated by Bolland whose work I love. Unfortunately the story did not match my expectations. For a comic that was DC’s first for mature readers, it felt very immature – let’s mix Arthurian legend with the future and an alien invasion and it’ll be cool. It seemed very thin and being stretched over twelve issues did not help. This book has not aged as well as some of it’s contemporaries from the mid eighties. It doesn’t help that a number of later comics, such as Fables, deal with the updating of mythological or fantasy characters much better.

But I came for the art and the art was good but it didn’t blow me away in the same way that his covers can do. Partly this is because it does not have the same detail as his work in black and white does – Bryan Talbot is another good example of someone whose work I prefer in black and white because so much more goes into it. I was also expecting more due to the problems that I know plagued this book as regards to deadlines however I don’t feel that it necessarily shows in the finished page. So all in all a bit of a disappointment – maybe you had to be there to appreciate it.

Fairest #1-6 (2012)


“I smell a rat! No, I smell whatever sort of vermin a rat smells when he smells a rat!”


The recent publication of issue 6 of Fairest marks the end of the first story. Fairest is the latest spinoff from Fables and will focus on the female characters in the original series. This first story was written by the main man himself, Fables creator Bill Willingham. The truly fabulous interior art was pencilled by Phil Jimenez and inked mainly by Andy Lanning with some help along the way from Mark Farmer and Andrew Pepoy. The fantastic covers were by Adam Hughes. The wraparound cover to issue 1 shown above features mainly easily recognisable characters to regular readers of Fables but there were a few I did not recognise.

The story follows on from the abduction of the Snow Queen and Briar Rose by a goblin army from the Empire’s capital city in Fables #107. Ali Baba is looting the city when he comes across a minor bottle imp in a bottle. Although not able to grant him three wishes, the bottle imp promises to use his skills to guide him to vast wealth. He is led to the goblin camp where he frees Briar Rose with a kiss and both find that true love is hard to find and hold on to – even with seven fairy godmothers on your side.

This is an excellent start to the new series. Willingham has produced yet another fabulous tale from his winning formula of retelling classic fairy tales and updating the characters involved. This story focuses on true love and loss but is also a tale of revenge and redemption and is bound to be an instant hit with fans of the main series. It is also the perfect introduction for those who have missed out on Fables and don’t want to play catch-up or commit to the longer story arcs.

With the conclusion of the first arc, the series is being opened out to other creators for their take on these characters. The proposed format reminds me of the Legends of the Dark Knight comic that also featured standalone tales from different creative teams. Issue 7 is to be a single issue story by Matthew Sturges and Shawn McManus which is to be followed by another six issue story featuring Rapunzel by Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda. While I am excited about some of the new writers and artists involved – I am looking forward to seeing more of Inaki Miranda’s work after Fables #99 – I am slightly worried that the quality may vary with the introduction of writers new to the characters.

Having said that, this first arc has left me excited for the future of the series and it is worth picking up when it is collected – sometime after the publication of issue 7 which will also be included in the TPB.

Fables: Covers (2008)


“If you’ll look again at any given Fables cover … in addition to being a compelling illustration that makes you want to read the story inside, it’s a story in itself.”


Something a little different this time. This is a beautiful oversized, hardback book collecting James Jean’s work as a cover artist on Fables. The book collects covers from the main series (#1-10 and 12-75), standalone books (The Last Castle and 1001 Nights of Snowfall) and the wraparound covers for the first 10 trade paperback collections.

The format of the book is pretty rigid. There is a double page spread for each single issue. The left hand page consists of preliminary sketches and paintings along with a relevant quote from the script for that issue and a thumbnail of the final cover as published. The right hand page is a full page reprint of the cover normally without logos, issue numbers, barcodes and other text or graphic elements unless these form an integral part of the design of the image.

The wraparound covers are treated slightly differently. These get 4 pages devoted to them. The first two have have the preliminary sketches, drawings and paintings with a thumbnail of the final cover and a short commentary from Jean himself on the cover. The next two pages is a reproduction of the cover alone without logos etc.

It goes without saying that if you love Jean’s work then you will love this book. It shows which covers went through a number of iterations before settling on a final image and which seem to have been fully formed from the start. Amazing as the final covers are, some of my favourite illustrations are clean line drawings – the details are amazing and sometimes get lost in the colouring process. Visit his web site which has lots of examples of his other work.

Fables: Inherit the Wind (2012)


“That’s the trouble with prophecy. It seldom helps and often harms.”


Volume 17 of Fables collects issues 108 – 113. The book was again written by creator Bill Willingham and the four issue main story, and the standalone story following it, was again pencilled by the ever fabulous Mark Buckingham with inking mainly by Steve Leialoha with Andrew Pepoy lending a hand. The final chapter in the book is a collection of short tales from the world of Fables with various guest artists such as P. Craig Russell and Adam Hughes.

Spoiler Alert
The next paragraph contains a possible spoiler if you are a long time reader of Fables and haven’t read up to volume 16. If this is you look away now or skip to the end.

The main story is a continuation of volume 16 that deals with the aftermath of the defeat of Mister Dark and the consequences of the death of the North Wind. His death leaves a void that must be filled and, as Bigby has relinquished any claim to the title, it falls to one of his children to succeed to the title. The story follows the trials and machinations as the children are tested looking for the ideal successor and the other cardinal winds turn up hoping to increase their own power while diminishing that of the North Wind. There is a continuing subplot that follows Bufkin and his attempts to lead a revolt against the new rulers of the Pan Ozian Empire. There is also a Christmas issue that details the gradual return of the Fables from Haven to the Farm before moving on to investigate the state of their New York residence. It heavily features Rose Red in a twisted version of A Christmas Carol where she meets other paladins of hope.

Another great volume in the series though the main story was a bit short for me at four chapters and left a lot open for the future. However not a suitable standalone story or entry point for new readers as it is heavily dependent on what has gone before. If you are new to the world of Fables then it really is worth your while to go way back to the beginning and experience the richness and breadth of the story from the start.

Cinderella: Fables are Forever (2012)


What did you expect me to call myself, Dorothy Gale, killer-for-hire? Or maybe the wicked bitch of the East?


This book collects the second six issue Fables mini-series featuring super-spy Cinderella. It was again written by Chris Roberson with art by Shawn McManus. There is also a tale set in the preparation for the war with the Adversary, from Fables 51, that was drawn by McManus but written by Fables creator Bill Willingham.

Cinderellla returns in a story set during the evacuation of the Farm because of the onslaught by Mister Dark. One of the leading witches from floor 13 has been murdered and the only clue is a silver slipper charm. Cinderella finds herself tracking down an old foe who she thought was dead and being involved with Fables from the shadow Fabletown that she has spied on in the past. But who can she trust and who is laying traps for who?

Another good standalone tale from the world of Fables. The only problem with it is that it attempts to place itself within the continuity of the main book and uses the murder of a character to achieve this. The story itself, from the time that Cinderella gets down to investigating the case till the resolution, has little impact or relevance to the main book and so the set up seems contrived and unnecessary. But other than that small niggle the story is great with lots of twists and turns and unexpected revelations both from Cinderella’s past and present.

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (2010)


Your taste in men hasn’t improved, that’s certain. And you never did know when it was time to leave a party.


This book collects the six issue mini-series, from Vertigo, that is a spin-off from Fables. It was written by Chris Roberson who is currently also writing iZombie for the same company. The art was by the great Shawn McManus whose work I don’t seem to see nearly enough these days.

Cinderella, the apparent fashion show hopping socialite, is actually an experienced spy for Fabletown. In this story she is sent off to try and discover and eliminate the source of the flow of magical artefacts into the Mundy world from the Homelands. On the way she hooks up with Aladdin who is on the same mission. Together they uncover a plot to sell artefacts for Mundy weapons so that various individuals can make concerted assaults on Homeland territories now that the Emperor has been defeated. Cindy finds the mission turns personal when confronted with a figure from her past.

This is a fun tale from the world of Fables. The dialogue between Cindy and Aladdin is good and there is enough twists on the expectations of the character of Cinderella to keep the book entertaining throughout. It reminded me a lot of the early days of the Fables series itself when it was much more dependant on its fairy tale origins than it is currently. I love the art by McManus but then I have loved his work from the time of the Dr Fate series from the mid to late 80s.

Fables: Super Team (2011)


So basically, you’ve been wasting my time with nine different costume fittings. Was all this a dodge to watch me undress so often?


This is volume 16 of the popular Vertigo series and collects issues 101 – 107. As usual it was written by Bill Willingham and the main story was pencilled by Mark Buckingham. The inking on the main story was done mainly by Steve Leialoha with Andrew Pepoy lending a hand on a few pages. The main story is preceded by a fill-in tale with art by Eric Shanower and Richard Friend and followed by another filler story with art by the great Terry Moore.

The main five part story concerns the Fables latest attempt to rid themselves of Mister Dark. With Bellflower’s scheme to contain Mister Dark failing, the Fables are forced to leave the farm and retreat to Flycatcher’s kingdom of Haven. But Mister Dark is on their tails and there is nowhere else to run. While Flycatcher maintains the wards that are holding Mister Dark at bay, Pinocchio convinces the current leader of the witches, Ozma, to create a super powered group to battle the all-powerful enemy in a scenario inspired by his love of comic books. Ozma agrees and with Pinocchio sets about pulling together the members for an archetypal super group that can hope to gain power from the modern myths of the superhero. But as the group is drawn together another champion steps forth from an unlikely quarter.

The first filler story concerns Bufkin and the aftermath of his battle with Baba Yaga in the business office.Now that the business office is safe he is convinced to go on more heroic quests so that he can become king of the business office. This story sees him escape the office and enlist in a new cause. The second story concerns sleeping beauty and a general who is trying to wake her so that he can access the Emperor’s former administration and sorcerers to forge a new empire. But little does he know that there are rival forces around who will go to any lengths to stop his scheme.

This story sees the resolution of the Mister Dark story line and the death of major character. Despite the cover of the book bringing to mind Superman, the main story is a homage to Marvel comics and Jack Kirby with the design of the characters recalling some classic Marvel characters and the art very reminiscent of Kirby’s work – it seems that it is not just DC characters who wish they were Marvel superheroes. The future is going to be interesting for Bigby and Snow in the aftermath of this story line. Also the return to Fabletown may not go quite as smoothly as everyone thinks with the poisonous nurse Sprat still looking for revenge. The Terry Moore story looks like a set up for Fairest with some of the images resembling some of that new spin-off series. It will be interesting to see if nurse Sprat ends up remaining in the main book or the new one given her new-found status courtesy of Mister Dark.

Fables: Rose Red (2011)


He’s never fought a duel. I’m an expert at it. He’s agreed to a game he barely knows, where I own the game board, the pieces, the dice – everything.


This is volume 15 of the ongoing Vertigo series and collects issues 94 – 100. As usual it was superbly written by Bill Willingham and beautifully pencilled (for the most of the book) by Mark Buckingham. The inking was done by a combination of Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy and Dan Green. There was also a chapter with art by Spanish artist Inaki Miranda which was in a very nice manga-lite style.

This volume finally sees Rose Red emerge from the depressive torpor that she had been suffering from since the death of Boy Blue. This is achieved by a mysterious entity who changes form from the pig’s head, who had been trying to talk her round, to her mother and talks to Rose about her childhood and what really happened when Snow White had to leave the family. The book also sees the culmination of the story started in the previous volume with Frau Totenkinder completing her research and returning to do battle with Mister Dark, the mysterious figure who has ousted the Fables from their New York home.

Though it is unfair to judge individual volumes due to the length of some of the story arcs, this volume was far superior to the previous one as it gave us a complete mini-story with the back story of Snow White and Rose Red and the end of the story of Frau Totenkinder’s plan to deal with Mister Dark. I was glad to see Rose revived in this book. Willingham writes a lot of strong female characters in this series and Rose was one of my favourites. So it was sad to see her virtually written out of the book and mistreated by Jack Horner only, I suspect, because it was easier on the writers to have her out of the way for the crossover story. This volume contains the hundredth issue of Fables which had the climax of the Mister Dark/Frau Totenkinder story but as it was a bumper 100 page celebratory issue it also contained some special material such as a prose story from Mark Buckingham that was illustrated by Bill Willingham and a beautifully illustrated story of the the Three Mice from current cover artist Joao Ruas. And I have to say that as much as I love James Jean’s work on the covers, Ruas has created my favourite with this heart achingly beautiful image of Rose: