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: Inherit the Wind (2012)

 

Quote:
“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.

Fables: Super Team (2011)

 

Quote:
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)

 

Quote:
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:

Fables: Witches (2010)

 

Quote:
Cry havoc and let slip the woody heads of war!

 

This is volume 14 of the Fables paperbacks and it collects issues 86-93. The volume contains three stories that were again all written by Bill Willingham. The art on the first story was by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton and on the final story was by David Lapham. But for the main Witches story the pencils were by the ever wonderful Mark Buckingham with inks by various combinations of Steve Leialoha. Andrew Pepoy and Daniel Green.

After the diversion of The Great Fables Crossover it was great to be plunged back into the plotline of the main book. The first single issue story gives some background on Mister Dark (the destroyer of the Fables’ home in New York) and how he was imprisoned. The main (5 issue) story in the book gives some background into the main sources of magical defence for the Fables – the witches – and their response to the new enemy in their old home. Also in the magically protected business office of the Fables, the flying monkey Bufkin assembles a motley crew of allies to battle against the threat of forces let loose by the events of the fall of Bullfinch Street such as the release of the evil witch Baba Yaga. While the witches are left in disarray by the secret departure of the leader Frau Totenkinder, Gepetto makes a bid for power over Fablekind. The last two issue story in the book concerns how the aftermath of a baseball game turns into a crisis that could tear the fledgling kingdom of Haven apart.

Two of the great strengths of this series is the overarching storylines that require a commitment from the reader and the vast cast in scattered locations that keep the series interesting. However, this can sometimes also be a weakness for readers, like me, who are not picking up the comic on a monthly basis but are reading the collections every six months or so, since not all the collections necessarily tell complete tales. This is the problem for me with this book. The plotlines in the witches story are left unresolved and it feels very much like a middle book of a trilogy – with the story starting in The Dark Ages and presumably due to end in the next volume, Rose Red – that will take us up to issue 100 of the series.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this series and I love this book but I think that this is maybe the first one that could not be read a complete story on its own – although all the others, of course, do benefit from also knowing what has gone before. However the old showbiz maxim leave them wanting more applies here – I am definitely looking forward to picking up the next book which is due out this week.