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:
He told people what to do and no one ever told him what to do – except for sometimes his wife did, but Max already understood how marriages involved a private exception to many rules.
Now for something slightly different. Bill Willingham, writer and creator of the fabulous Fables comic series from Vertigo, has written a prose novel set in the same world. The story stands outside of the continuity of the comic but the modern era parts are set before the assault on the Homelands and the toppling of the Adversary. Willingham states in a note before the start of the novel that:
No one needs to be familiar with the comics to fully enjoy and understand this book.
Which is true so I wonder why he then felt the need to spend seven pages in the first chapter giving a potted history of the Fables mythology. It’s a minor quibble – as a fan of the comic I just wanted to get into the new story – but I don’t know if new readers will equally find that it slows the start of the book down or whether it is a useful primer to the background of the existing rich world.
The story concerns the intertwined fate of two brothers, Peter and Max Piper, and the paths they are forced down after the invasion of the Emperor’s forces into the tranquil world of Hesse turns their lives upside down. Max, harbouring some resentment towards his father and brother after the family heirloom is passed to Peter, finds himself on an increasingly dark path. Lost in the Black Forest he comes across a young Frau Totenkinder who, in a bid to use Max as a means of revenge on some knights in Hamelin, hands him the instrument that allows him to become one of the most powerful and dangerous Fables in existence. And now he has returned to seek retribution against his brother and reclaim what he sees as his birthright.
This excellent book could easily have been a secondary storyline in the main comic series or a mini-series but it works well as a novel – a small number of regular characters from the series are used to frame the story and get the action going with only Frau Totenkinder having an active role in the main storyline. As the regular characters are used sparingly, the book is a fine way to introduce non-comic reading friends and family to the world of Fables – and hopefully inspire them to read more. The book contains a number of black and white illustrations from regular inker on the series, Steve Leialoha. In additon he also draws an epilogue to the epilogue that consists of an eight page comic detailing Peter and Bo Peep’s role in the attack on the Adversary’s forces in the battle for the Homelands.