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)
The following post was a - Reply by Figserello on June 22, 2010 at 3:27am
Book 7 Arabian Nights (and Days)
It’s funny. I started this thread to read Fables, but instead it is reading me!
I've just read the first part of the Arabian Nights (and Days) collection. The whole of the story about the genie in the bottle.
In it we find that those Muslims are untrustworthy duplicitous schemers who have no respect for human rights, have a meaninglessly baroque religion and who connive in hiding weapons of mass destruction when they should be negotiating in good faith and even the best of them are just unthinking dupes.
Whatever sins or failings the peoples of Muslim nations like Iraq and Afghanistan had been guilty of, by the time this story was published they had been hammered halfway back to the stone-age. So I don't really see the point of Willingham's aligning his little tale against them like this. Reading Willingham's story made me think of someone happening on a hit-and-run victim on the road and spitting on them before walking on his merry way.
By the time Willingham wrote this, Blackwater and Haliburton were well on their way to appropriating their billions from the US coffers for the wars in the Middle East, and Rumsfield and Cheney didn't really need Willingham cheering them on from the sidelines and justifying the west's wars in Muslim countries. But he still decided to echo the standard Fox lines in his little entertainment.
Willingham's wrap up of this story was clever. Frau Totenkinder strikes at the weakest link in the Genie situation by making the Vizier think that he was making a particular 3 wishes when in fact he was vocalising 3 completely different commands.
It makes it all the sadder that he would use his talent to reinforce the messages from those in power that justified a still-continuing war where the death-toll is still mounting up.
But it is all part of a pattern in this series, where the writing is tending to show us that power belongs in the hands of the elite, who know better than the masses. I'll be very surprised if Wolf, Snow and King Cole don't come back to take over the running of Fabletown when it’s little experiment in popular democracy is found to be wanting.
Note: everything below was originally posted on December 3, 2010
Obviously, Book 7 left something of a bitter aftertaste, so I took my time getting subsequent volumes.
When I went to collect Book 8 from the library, 9 and 10 were there too, so getting them all saved me another $1.60 ordering fees.
Book 8 Wolves
I do have problems with Willingham's obviously admiring portrayal of the thuggish, might=right culture of the wolves. We too are supposed to admire the clean simplicity of a society where the strongest get to lord it over everyone else. The implication is that the levelling trappings of 'civilisation' are what makes us weak, whereas I strongly believe that it's what makes us all strong, and lifts us above the level of snarling cannibalistic animals.
Coincidently, Godwin's friend Adolph had a similar love of the ethics of wolves. I've read that Hitler generally didn't decide on the directions of his governments policies, but merely believed that whoever of his lieutenants and ministers was able to fight most ruthlessly for their corner should get their way. (Also coincidently, Hitler called his bunker 'The Wolf's Lair' and his predatory sub-marine fleet were called the 'Grey Wolves'.)
I'm not saying that just because Willingham is like Hitler in this respect that he's wrong, but rather that aligning yourself with the wolves, as Willingham obviously wants us to, builds on and also leads onto a whole slew of other unpalateable attitudes and beliefs. The connections between what Willingham admires and Nazi thought are obvious, but too involved to go into here. Willinghams love of what the Nazis loved reminds me of that episode of Star Trek where Kirk and Co meet the guy who has tried to build a society based only on 'the good bits' of Nazi Germany. It only took them half an hour to show him the error of his thinking!
The most sophisticated fictional busting of how Willingham romanticises the cut-throat society of wolves is in one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. I'm fairly sure it's Men At Arms, decades before these comics were published yet. In it the domesticated city dogs start to fall for the seductive demagoguery of a flatulant little lapdog who tells them that a purer life awaits them if they can return to their earlier wolf-like state. In the end we realise that wolves in the wild don't think about anything beyond the next meal, and it’s only by being civilised that we can frame an argument that we should be like them, or romanticise their hungry, desperate lives. You can't go back is Pratchett's lesson, but also it's a satire on the arguments that fascist 'Strong Men' make to justify their self-serving reigns of terror.
Willingham has none of Pratchett's sophistication of thought. His argument merely hovers around the same romanticisation of violence evinced by Pratchett's farty little pooch.
As for Operation Israel, I'll just point out the rather one-eyed view of Israel's battle tactics and leave it at that. The use of the Giant Kingdoms in the clouds is clever. I would question how the mighty Empire hasn't got a foothold up there yet. Willingham does seem to keep tipping the balance of power in favour of his little Fabletown, when the charm of the series is supposed to be in how the little nation faces up to the vast Empire of big nations that threatens it. Fabletown has a world-building Superpower on its side in the goal-post moving Willingham!
Book 8 ends with the fairytale wedding of Bigby and Snow White. Congrats to them both!
(Originally posted on December 3, 2010.)
Book 9 Sons of Empire
One of the best aspects of this series is the element of 'real-time' in the stories. In this book, we learn that the Emperor has set a time-frame for his invasion of our Earth of 3 years. Then plagues of disease, cold, starvation and death will be inflicted on us. For some reason the representative emperial warlock we see who will unleash the first plague looks an awful lot like Neil Gaiman. Always thought he looked like he was hiding something myself. Willingham shows us that the good ol' US Army will bring it all home to the Empire with occupations and H-bombs and what have you. We can sleep easy knowing all that ordinance is on hand should an invasion from another world beckon.
The Emperor realises he will have to negate this threat, but declares the clock is still ticking on the 3 year countdown. Which gives this series a real-time urgency that is missing from others. I'm guessing that the War will break out about 36 issues from the beginning of volume 9
Fables does keep rubbing me up the wrong way, and often it's quite hard to put my finger on why, but it certainly has beautiful art. This volume ends with a Mike Allred drawn tale of the Wolf family's holiday at the castle home of the North Wind. There's tosh here too, about Darian's automatic leadership of the little pack (becasue he's the strongest) and how they can only grow by learning to kill. Allred's art is great, although it's strange to see his usual colouring partner using more muted and 'brownish' colours than I've seen on Madman and Atomic Comics. I can see what she's trying to do, but I'm not sure Allred's poptastic art suits that approach.
We also get a bit of interaction with the fanbase, as Willingham devotes an issue to answering their questions. It's a fun thing to do, with different artists illustrating the different 'answers', and it feels like something that a truly independent comic would get up to.
In the same vein, for all my qualms it is great that Willingham seems to be telling just the story he wants, without any interference from editorial. More of this sort of thing!
The issue ends with a puzzling peek at Flycatcher being turned into a frog again. When I pick up book 10, he's still not himself, but I've obviously missed some story somewhere. I'm guessing that the missing bit is in 1001 nights of Snowfall. I can see why it was sold as a standalone at the time, but I'd have liked some indication that really it falls between books 9 and 10. When writers of ongoing comics produce 'standalone' chapters removed from the main narrative (even ones that depict events from 'before' the current issues), they always slot in somewhere concurrent with recent issues, if only in terms of the timing of their 'revelations'. It's awaiting me at the library as I type this.
[The following was originally posted on Dec 4 2010. Book 10 is the last volume that I reviewed in my original thread.]
Regarding Flycatcher, he gets turned into a frog because of a kiss from Red Riding Hood at the end of Book 9, and he knows its because he somehow betrayed his original family. At the start of Book 10, he's abed* with grief, but a human again, and the readers are obviously expected to know more about his situation than the previous regular books would allow. It's obvious that what we were told in 1001 Nights filled in the gap.
Regarding Willingham's politics: Any one of Willingham's narrative choices could be defended on its own, but taken together they add up to a consistent pattern, supporting the ways of those with power in our world. The re-imagining of the cowardly, bullying Big Bad Wolf as someone we should respect is fundamental to this. The original storytellers had the Wolf's character down pat, as a portrayal of those that prey on the weak and whom we need to be constantly on guard against, whereas Willingham has recast it as something magnificent, strong and admirable. That's revealing, in my view.
Other parts of the pattern are the romaticisation of the morality of wolves, Bigby's use of his powers to protect 'state security' to entrap and murder people he doesn't like (Obadiah Crane), Cinderella, the working class 'princess', being the only one who has to prostitute herself to get by, the Animal Farm and democratic movement's 'revolutions' being shown as misguided, and Willingham's unquestioning echoing of the Fox News line regarding the Muslims in the story.
It's a kind of ideological 'Stockholm Syndrome' if you ask me. The powers that be have such control over us and what happens to our society, that it's comforting to convince yourself that they are doing what's right and proper anyway, and that you support what they do. Eases the sense of powerlessness.
Book 10 - The Good Prince
I loved that Boy Blue cut his swathe so easily through to the Emperor earlier. It was a refreshing approach. But still he didn't kill the Emperor. Then Bigby managed much the same in only an issue, and still had time to go home and get married. Now Flycatcher sets up a Kingdom right at the heart of the Empire, in another fairly simple A to B plot. As Philip says, it turns out the Empire wasn't so tough after all - seemingly no match for our little Fables, who keep pulling handy all-powerful magical artifacts out of their collective ass!
That's my only nit with this storyline. It may be my favourite yet. Fly's journey of self-sacrifice and non-violence seems more laudable than the usual 'might is right' line that Willingham is fond of.
The appearances of Lancelot and Aslan show how much potential there is in the Willingham's concept, although I have to wonder about characters from recently written books appearing amongst these ageless archetypes.
What really sells it is Buckingham's art. He excels himself here. Did anyone else get a Kirby-esque 'Tales of Asgard' vibe from his art here? The depiction of the monsters and the angular blocks of shadow used. It was a great way to pull in a feeling and a tone which added even more to what was already in the story. It also made this story feel very different to previous ones. Another style that I felt Buckingham was pastiching was Mike Mignola's Hellboy in the scenes with the big wooden 'Emperor'. The blocks of shadow here were much more flowing and fluid, like Mignola's.
This was just a great story. At the beginning, at least, it felt like a desperate and doomed attack on the Empire. By the end, however, Willingham was again making it easy on our heroes. The Empire didn't work out that Fly was the weak, living link in the equation which could be solved with a non-magical crossbow bolt or an arrow from a longbow?
Or that another weak link was Fly's welcoming of enemy soldiers (spies) into his fold?
There are indications that the Empire has at last reached overstretch, and is just not able to react to events as quickly and efficiently as little Fabletown. Further, elements which allowed it to grow so implacably are now the very elements that are working against it: the extreme centralisation, the secrecy from the top and lack of input from below.
Lessons here for current Empires!
Much as I've been seeing in Micronauts, Fables does show a simplified metaphorical version of how Empires rise and fall, and the mechanics of opposing them, but I'm not sure it stands up to a lot of close scrutiny as a 'realistic' portrayal of how they fall, even though it seems to want to be taken more seriously than Mantlo's great comicbook yarn.
At least Fly's story balances out some of the ideology in the overall tale. He is the pacifist Ghandi/Daniel O'Donnell to Bigby's hardline Lawrence of Arabia/Michael Collins!
I'm not sure Lancelot does move on to the next life at the end of this book. I can see that he might forswear himself again with 'Ride'** if he's still around. I was right that we hadn't seen the last of Bluebeard, too.
I'm in two minds about starting on Jack of Fables. Perhaps it would only be a chore as I'm sure Willingham doesn't get any more sensible in them with his 'running dog' political views. I'm interested enough in following Fables, but maybe I should leave it at that?
*I think I just made that word up...
**I wonder has Willingham ever read/seen 'The Commitments'?
Been listening to this recent Dirty Sexy Geeks podcast, and the academic being interviewed declares Fables to be '...criminal, in sort of writing out people of colour...'.
Describing the set up of the series he says those involved should be thinking...
"In the world we've established, we'd be foolish to pretend that there aren't Fables all over the world .. and certainly that there aren't American Fables that aren't white."
So it's not just me who's seeing a very slanted text in Fables, although I didn't quite get around to Wilingham's 'criminal' approach to ethnic diversity...
The very savvy comics guy (Alan Kistler) interviewing him has clearly never thought of the series from this angle either.
So it's not just you... ;-)
The Fables bit is in the last 5-10 minutes or so, but the whole thing is worth listening to, regarding the treatment of minorities in comics and superhero movies.