As referred to on Cap's blog, here are some of the posts that I put up as I read my way through Bill Willingham's Fables epic.  

 

I saved them before all the Vertigo Discussion group was closed down.

 

Having read 70+ issues, I couldn't take any more, so don't worry if any of your replies contain spoilers for future storylines. 

 

Perhaps I'd modify these views if I was rewriting these posts, but here they are more or less as I first posted them.

 

Book 1 - Legends in Exile (Issues 1-5)

 

I was very pleasantly surprised with the first volume. The idea of a universal pardon for everyone and starting again with a clean slate is a very progressive one. Its a position not normally taken by those on the right, except perhaps Christian preachers who have been caught spending the hard-earned money of the gullible on motel rooms filled with drugs and prostitutes.

And as close to the knuckle as Jack and Rose Red's scheme for self-enrichment was, no-one was violently killed during the course of it. Which was nice...

The text story about the Big Bad Wolf's early encounters with Snow White was excellent too, and showed just how large a canvas Willingham was painting on. There was a little glitch in it though, as at the very end Wolf thinks that he knew he'd never forget the scent of Snow White after their first meeting, but still, when he meets her in Europe for the first time, he doesn't know who she is.

Bit of a bullshitter the Wolf maybe?

 

Book 2 Animal Farm (Issues 6-10)

Anyway, I went into the second volume - Animal Farm - with enthusiasm. Here Willingham gets a bit silly.

Basically, I thought Goldilocks got a hard time in this book! The other characters are beautifully portrayed and it’s possible to see how they'd progress from the characters we know to where they are in the situation Willingham depicts in the 21st century. Goldilocks just seems horribly forced though.

Is Willingham un-American or something? Someone should tell him that the US exists because of idealistic insurgents. It was called the Revolutionary War after all. I can see that in Goldilocks he is knocking the common tendency for revolutions to get out of hand and degenerate into inhumanity, but doing this with the Goldilocks character, who is licking her chops thinking of kangaroo courts, show trials and gulags before even a shot has been fired, is a bit much.
Those do often follow after people have risked so much and lost loved ones and families for the cause, so that the stakes of what people are prepared to do for the revolution are raised and the revolution itself, rather than what it was fighting for becomes the end, not the means. But Willingham seems to be putting the cart before the horse here and not allowing for any gradations of thought.

It’s like you're reading a story a story about the aforementioned Revolutionary War and a member of the Continental Army gathers his mates around the campfire.

“Never mind Cornwallis’ battalions of British troops,” he says to his shivering and half-starved comrades in arms. “Mere details. Let’s talk about when the fun begins.”

He then pulls out an atlas.

“Let’s talk about what countries we are going to invade and pour vast quantities of our national wealth into holding against their wishes!

"What democratically elected governments should we overthrow and replace with puppets?

"Where can we get our shadowy security services mixed up in huge illegal narcotics operations?”

It doesn’t seem fair way to approach what the founding fathers were about, does it?

Goldilocks depiction similarly seems like a low blow.

But I’ll admit to a slight bias. I’ve always found it hard to dislike bookish girls in glasses. Throw in a healthy suspicion of authority and the ability to look good in leather and I get very uncritical.

But apart from all that, any schoolchild will tell you Goldilocks, far from being a hardhearted extremist, is a moderate. Not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft. The happy medium in all things.

 

(300 - 20/12/12)

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By the way, Figs -- on this whole Fables issue, for the time being, I just wanted to say I've decided not to engage. So take this as a tacit admission on my part that if I thought about it more, I'd probably decide you were right. And as I'm not interested in liking one of my favorite comics less, I'm happy to not look too closely and enjoy it simply as a ripping yarn, and save the analysis for a reread sometime down the line.

Fer sure, and Marc Andreyko had a number male gay characters in his Manhunter series. Just by and large is still tilts quite a bit to the female side.

Doc Beechler (mod-MD) said:

Kevin Keller and various X-Men and Young Avengers characters have raised the number of male gay characters in mainstream comics a lot over the past few years.

I was wondering where you stood on this topic, Rob. Willingham is a talented storyteller, even if he does take the odd shortcut. I've loved the art on practically every page I read. I wish my obstreporousness regarding the political stuff didn't keep getting in the way.

I think the lack of gay characters stands out in this series more than a typical comics series because Willingham is writing in a subgenre which is towered over by Gaiman's Sandman, which included so many LBGT characters, just as a matter of course. Part of the hook of Fables is that these characters we know from kids' stories have a biography and personality and BW generally shows them 'in the round', including their sex lives.

That's not like a story where Captain America tries to stop Batroc from robbing the US Treasury reserves. The fact that Batroc is obviously as gay as Christmas rightfully doesn't have much to do with it.

All your points tend to be reasonable, Travis. Each individual storytelling choice can be justified, but it's how they all contribute to a consistent pattern that gets to me. The paucity of LBGT characters is another example of BW taking the side of the 'comfortable' in society - us 'straights', in this case - against the 'afflicted' - LBGT folk don't merit a place in his story, as normal people that are part of the spectrum of personalities?

One more post in reply to some comments of Ana's before pushing forward to the later books.

 

Ana Canino-Fluit (Anacoqui) said I just caught up on my fables reading and finally went around searching for a thread where it was being discussed and I stumbled on to yours. I won't post about my issues (87-88) since they are pretty far ahead from where you are at.

I just realised that my thread had a very exclusive title and then asks people not to spoil the later issues. Accordingly I've renamed my thread after a laggardly character from one of Aesop's fables, to reflect how far behind I am. But like the Tortoise, I'll get there in the end, if my library continues to supply the goods!

That all these books are available from the library, and other series are patchy would seem to indicate that Fables has a dedicated following of people who perhaps don't read other comics much. At least here on the east coast of Australia.

I will concur with other that the Goldilocks as insane revolutionary leader is less political statement than shock value.

I guess we'll move on from Goldilocks as she was tragically taken away from us in a traffic accident. I'll get over it.

But if Snow White can return form the dead because of her fame, Goldilocks can't stay dead for long. Neither can Bluebeard, come to that... My daughter got a book of stories and nursery rhymes as a present and half the cast of Fables is in there. The very first fairytale is Goldilocks breaking and entering episode. Arguably Goldilocks is even more 'eternal' than Snow White, as kids learn her story earlier...

She definitely had shock value.

I loved that Buckingham had a definite model for her as he drew her. She had a unique shape of face and all for a comicbook heroine. The rest of the women so far are just standard good-looking comicbook babes.

I wasn't being entirely serious about her anyway, but Willingham has absolute godlike control over every facet of this story we're reading, so everything he puts in there is up for debate.

But honestly she is one of my least favorite characters in the Fables stable because of her over the top insanity.

She's not meant to be anyone's favourite character. Willingham is associating her politics with her personality. She gets smeared with bestiality charges, but so far Snow White conducts her romance with a Wolf without getting the same treatment. Double standards.

The pigs and bears and other animal creatures introduced in that volume however were far more interesting to me.

Lovable but a bit stupid, which seems to be Willingham's position on the masses so far. As I say, up to the middle of The Mean Seasons where I am now, the aristocrats of Fabletown, rule both by entitlement and coincidently (due to wirter's fiat?) because they are the most fit to govern. The only character who has identified with the masses so far, even living amongst them, was a pathologically insane cartoon.

It's his world and I'm just passing through, but Willingham is stacking the deck in favour of his own politics and reverence for authority.

Note that of the three ex-wives of Prince Charming, it is only the working class Cinders that has to resort to a kind of prostitution to keep afloat, and in the story with Obadiah Crane this set-up is shown without criticism of this turn of affairs. It’s all a clever scheme by Bigby. That whole story left a bad taste in my mouth too. Entrapment, prostitution, exploitation of someone's poverty, personal vendettas and murder in the name of ' state security'...Nasty.

Maybe the karma will come back to bite those involved, but Willingham's position seems to be that authority is there to be used and abused by those who can.

I am however looking forward to hearing what your reactions are to the later volumes where we learn more about the Adversary, the political structure of the Homelands vs. Fabletown and other places.

Willingham definitely wants to discuss politics, so its a very valid angle to criticise his work from. He foregrounds the politics again and again, by naming chapters after political debates eg "the right to bear arms issue", and so on. He deliberately highlights things about his little proto-state that provoke questions. Just why should Old King Cole rule Fabletown? etc.

A few more points -

In the publicity for the recent novel, Willingham posits that he wants to go on writing about the Fables forever. That's a bit off-putting to me. I'd much rather know that the creator has a definite direction and end-point in mind rather than just telling a long shaggy-dog story. I'm willing to be convinced and I'm impressed that he feels he has so many stories waiting to be told. Also impressed that he has even brought out a synchronous spin-off in which to tell some of them.

I loved Sandman, Hitman, Preacher, Morrison's Doom Patrol, Ostranders Spectre, Robinson's Starman: all because they had a story to tell and the overall narrative had a shape with a conclusion that was prefigured in that narrative.

I am prepared to be persuaded that Willingham has stories to tell rather than just one, and something different is always good.

 

He has said he wants to write Fables indefinitely, but that's not the same thing as not having an ending in mind. When I heard a Q&A with him at HeroesCon a couple years ago he said that he had originally intended the battle with the Adversary to be the big climax for the series, should it ever end. But he realized that he couldn't keep holding that back, so he told it. So now he has another idea in mind to end the series. If it lasts long enough he might have to use that one and come up with another one, I suppose.

Figserello said:

In the publicity for the recent novel, Willingham posits that he wants to go on writing about the Fables forever. That's a bit off-putting to me. I'd much rather know that the creator has a definite direction and end-point in mind rather than just telling a long shaggy-dog story. I'm willing to be convinced and I'm impressed that he feels he has so many stories waiting to be told. Also impressed that he has even brought out a synchronous spin-off in which to tell some of them.
 

I hung on long enough to see the new villain being set up just after the Adversary and his Empire was defeated.  Is he still the main baddie?

 

70-odd issues would seem to be a time-honoured length for a single long-form story (Hitman, Preacher, Invisibles, Sandman, Spectre all come in around that.)  So it's probably as well that he wrapped up the first major storyline around issue 75, was it?

 

Didn't Willingham have the basement with all Fabletown's magical treasures whisked beyond their reach at the start of that story too?  Perhaps BW realised himself that they were producing too many handy deus ex machinas out of the basement.

 

"Fabletown is DOOOMED!!!!"

"Uh, I found this Horn of Enemy Liquidisation on a dusty shelf downstairs"

"YAY!"

 

I was intrigued when I saw that the Empire had a plan to destroy Fabletown on a 5 year timetable (or somesuch).  I thought BW was going to stick to that, and give us the build up in realtime, but I guess it was just overerturning our expectations that BW ended things quicker.

 

There's a lot that I liked about Fables.  I am interested in how things turn out for the characters, but BW's politics just kept sticking in my craw.  For a certain definition of 'politics'. 

WHAT?!!!  Did you just "out" Batroc???!!!

Figserello said:

That's not like a story where Captain America tries to stop Batroc from robbing the US Treasury reserves. The fact that Batroc is obviously as gay as Christmas rightfully doesn't have much to do with it.

 

Along with Santa!!

FWIW I originally began posting these in the old Vertigo group in October 2009.  Here is the next post from then:

 

*****************************************

 

Just to bring us up to where I am now, a couple of points.

Between the popularity= "hard to kill' principle, (The story doesn't really have other 'meta' elements like this one, as far as I can tell, but you could argue that the whole thing is a metafiction.) and the mysterious well that they throw their dead into, I'm expecting a few of those that have died to come back, somehow.

Given that Boo Boo Bear was instantly replaced by another cub, it's theoretically possible that characters can come back, but not nessecarily with the personalities they had when they died, so long as the starting point of the fairy story personality is the same. We'll see.

I'm up to the point in the story where Bigby and his GI buddies have encountered Frankenstein.

The monster was completely absent from comics for decades, and then he appears in the Iron Fist 'Green Mist' special issue, Morrison's Seven Soldiers, and also here, all around the same time.

Curious.

And just a little point. Bigby says that he had to join the war in WWII because he felt he owed the USA a lot. It was interesting that he didn't say it was because the Nazi's were an enemy that had to be fought and destroyed at all costs.

Then again, perhaps that would be hypocritical as he was for a long time the worst, most self-evidently evil and implacable enemy of decency in creation.

I much prefer the Wolf as the giant amoral monster of legend than as the little policeman Bigby. His character seems to have become smaller and pettier himself by taking on human form. But philosophically, that makes sense. You can't 'act' a certain way for long before that becomes who you are.

Also, well done Willingham for presenting the whole tale of the Lilliputians looking for little women without using the phrase 'sowing your wild oats' once...

Something just occurred to me: How come this and the first Shrek movie have the exact same basic premise? Has it been commented on?

From June 2010:

 

Fables Vol 6 - Homelands

This collects Fables #34-41 (bringing us up to only about 2006 in real time). The first story involves Jack trying to make it as a Hollywood producer. All he needs is cash, and lots of it, to get the best people working on his Lord of the Rings-like Trilogy. We see a bit more of how the meta-fiction works, in that Jack is trying to become stronger and immortal by making his adventures known and loved by a whole new generation. He gets at least 1 of the films made and it is hugely popular, which will hopefully be referenced later in the series.

In a way this spoils things a little because it means the Fables aren't truly operating in our world, as I don't remember any unfinished Trilogies about Jack from a few years ago. Perhaps I am just being nerdy, but up to this point, the Fables have been living by a strict code of keeping their doings out of sight of us Mundies, and it was possible to perhaps believe that Willingham had set their adventures in 'our' Earth.

I was pleased to see Prince Charming and Beast are still holding the fort even though they had been (shudder) popularly elected by the people. I think it’s a good thing that Beast hasn't had to cut off anyone's head yet, but we'll see how that pans out. Oh, they had to kill Trusty John just after Beast said that, but needs must. Nice illustration that treason is sometimes actually just loyalty to something else.

The Gepetto reveal was great. It was all in front of our faces all this time wasn't it? With the importance the invading army gave to Pinnochio and all that. Then we saw that the perfect coup is where no-one even knows who's really in charge. (The villain-of-villains being a genial old man reminded me very much of The Greek in season two of The Wire.)

It was interesting seeing how his empire began with good intentions, just getting rid of mad despots, but he became one himself. All empires start with just protecting yourself and then tidying up the backyard, but there's always a border beyond that which, by definition, you have to deal with.

The alternative to Gepetto's well-meaning asassinations leading to despotic empire is of course a properly functioning democracy. Gepetto's conspirators made the mistake of trusting in one individual to always do the right thing. However, the Fabletown strand of Willingham's story seems to emphasise that the people can't be trusted with governing themselves. Willingham obviously stacked the deck, in sympathy terms, against Goldilock's revolution, but even the democratic changing of administration to Prince Charming seems to be set up as something foolish that the Fables will pay for later. Willingham seems to be positing the unelected 'aristocracy' of Wolf, Snow White and King Cole as the better leadership.

Perhaps he is going to be more subtle than that. We've already seen Wolf using his power to settle old scores and murder people under the pretence of 'Fabletown security'. That's not dissimilar to the path Gepetto took.

Having Boy Blue just carve a Bee-line straight to the Adversary in a few issues was a fun narrative shortcut by Willingham.

Buckingham was firing on all cylinders here wasn't he? Loved the little bird in the cage at the top of Blue's pages.

I've ordered Vol 7 - Arabian Nights, so I'm keen to try to catch up with the library sometime soon. I believe Jack of Fables can be read concurrently from here on in, which doubles my reading load!

The whole business about Jack becoming a movie mogul is sort of the launch point of the Jack of Fables spinoff. Since you have more stories ahead of you, for now I'll just say the Fabletown establishment is not pleased with what Jack has done.

Thanks for the info, Clark.  I don't know why I expected Fables to maintain the illusion that they were set in our world.  Many fantasy stories set in the real world do attempt this.  Perhaps I just expected the world of Fables to be different to the DCU.  We all know going in that the DCU is an 'alternative' Earth to our own.  Anyway it's a small point.

 

Note that these are reposts from a thread in the now-vanished Vertigo discussion group (from 2009-10).   I read up to the end of the Fabletown V Empire storyline (Book 9 or so) before giving up.  I also read up to book 5 or so of Jack of Fables.  I personally found Jack of Fables on the whole to be much less objectionable than Fables.  The central character is presented as a rogue, and something of a fool, so we are not being asked to implicitly admire his stance on things they way we are expected to cheer on the choices and opinions of Bigby, Snow, King Cole and the rest of the ruling clique of Fabletown.

 

I don't think I will read much more of Fables or Jack of Fables, so feel free to spoil anything about the rest of the series.  As I said above, I suspect the extremely longform nature of Willingham's project will mean that alternatives to the outlook that he presents in the early storylines will get a look in.  As it's such a popular comicbook, I am extremely interested in discussing it, but I've found that it gives me the spleen to actually read any more of it.  :-)  Life's too short for spleen, and there are lots of good comicbooks out there for me to read.

 

This discussion is just an attempt to get some return on the time and effort I've spent reading Fables and associated books up to now.

 

An amusing psychological point is that after I'd given up on Fables, my opinion of it became quite low, whereas while I was reading it, as these posts attest, I found much to admire in it.  Taking a side on something always affects one's judgement doesn't it, and hardens the stance one takes?

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