Books of 2015, #39: Fables, Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham & others

My first actual memory of Bill Willingham dates back his work with TSR—1982 or so for me, I think; Wikipedia has the evidence, as usual. I liked his style, and his signature was distinctive enough that I kept noticing it in the intervening time.

I remember reading at some point the Green Lantern Corps story he did with Alan Moore; perhaps in 1987 when it first came out.

And then as far as I was concerned, he disappeared. It doesn’t hurt that for the period between 1996, when Sandman ended, and 2003, when The Sandman: Endless Nights was published, I didn’t set foot in a comic shop.

But when I did, Willingham had just recently started Fables, and it was recommended to me, along with Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man. Y finished up long ago, and BKV drifted away from comics for a while, before coming back strong with Saga, which is definitely superior fare.

Fables, though, finished up last month, with a thoroughly deluxe-sized issue #150. Being who I am, I started from the beginning, and read it through in its entirety, along with the various additional books associated with the main series, the Cinderella minis, and Fairest. I did not re-read Jack of Fables because it annoyed the piss out of me the first time around.

I think it’s only because my first issue was Fables: The Last Castle that I kept with it. If I had been there at the very beginning; well, let’s just say that the first trade’s worth of issues are not as strong as you might like, or even as you might remember them. It’s definitely a rocky start.

Animal Farm is much stronger, in part because of the arrival of Mark Buckingham. Intending no slight to Lan Medina who was there at the start, or the other artists who drew this universe at various points, I think Buckingham’s slightly more cartoon-y take on things work better than artists who play it straighter.

It can be easy to forget how for the first few years, Fables moved fast. Boy Blue starts his journey to the homelands at the 3 year mark. The war with The Adversary starts 3 years after that…and then things start to stumble, in my view.

Oh, how “The Great Fables Crossover” destroyed the momentum of Fables with a mediocre story in the service of the infinitely inferior Jack of Fables. Re-reading it all in one gulp, I was amazed at the magnitude of what a misstep it was.

Once it’s over, things do eventually get back on track, but it’s never quite the same. The momentum seems to have dissippated, and storylines seem more apt to spin their wheels. Not in a huge way, but there’s a few arcs that seem like they could have been cut a little bit shorter (Witches, Rose Red, Super Team) to keep things moving. I mean, the book takes two and a half years, all told, to deal with Mr. Dark and the resolution there ends up feeling awfully Deus Ex Machina.

As soon as Mr. Dark is disposed of, the Cubs’ storylines—while bleak in many ways–are nonetheless compelling, and Bufkin and Lily as the backup story helps balance out the gloom of the main story; sweet without being saccharine.

And then…I dunno. It still feels like the last three years wandered pretty far afield. I remember reading it as it came out in single issues, and feeling like I didn’t understand where it was going. In hindsight, you can see how a lot of it was setup leading to the end, but as the production schedule seemed to get more erratic, it got harder to hold the thread. Perhaps in a couple of years I’ll re-read it all and it will seem to hold together better.

Which brings us to the end.

Actually, it brings us to the penultimate issue—whose content I flat-out didn’t remember because of the enormous gap between it and the last issue, and the aforementioned wandering quality to what came before—which ended up feeling gut-wrenching: the sudden deaths of Ozma and Beast startled me in a way they hadn’t the first time around.

Did the end succeed, though? Mostly.

I agree that the resolution to the Snow White & Rose Red situation “worked” within the framework that had been set for it—but it’s predicated on you buying Rose Red’s storyline leading up to the conflict, and I didn’t, entirely. Perhaps in time, and with re-reading, I’ll be able to perceive the build-up better, and it’ll seem more natural. But as I finished the book, I wasn’t fully invested in the end.

I did love some of the “Last story of X” vignettes. Prince Charming, Beauty and her daughter, the Cubs.

I was disappointed with the revelation of the Fables to the Mundy. There’s just no way you can spin that outcome that I am likely to enjoy. Oh, well.

Anyway, it took a while, and I am not entirely without complaint, but Fables was worthy of my time, from beginning to end. Perhaps it will be worthy of yours as well.

Upon re-reading “Fables”

So, over Memorial Day Weekend, instead of getting together with people (well, there was some of that) or cooking a bunch of food (though there was some of that, too), I organized my comics.

I am embarassed how many I have–I have, somewhat unfortunately, gotten back into the habit of reading them, and damn if they don’t pile up. But for the last couple of years, I have not been in the habit of keeping them organized. Things got shoved in boxes or stacked up on boxes or generally just hidden and neglected. Finding things was a non-starter unless I was feeling absurdly energetic.

So I got them all organized this weekend (which is also the first step in trying to divest myself of a lot of them).

Having, for the first time in a long time, the ability to go back and re-read things in a continuous stream that I had previously only read in short temporally discontinuous bursts, I’ve been re-reading some stuff. Since I go to the trouble to pay $20/month for the virtual server to host this blog, it seems like I should use it, so I may review some things here.

Fables, by Bill Willingham1, was the first thing I read through. It’s taken me a couple of days to get through the 80+ issues.

The good news is that I liked it–sometimes it’s easy to lose that basic perspective when you’re taking something in a couple dozen pages at a time separated by weeks.

In terms of storytelling, it doesn’t really hit its stride until the second story arc, where it becomes obvious that it’s not going to just be a lighthearted romp. And it doesn’t find its emotional core until Storybook Love. But Willingham, with consistent artist Mark Buckingham, have come to work as a great team.

And I have to give props to Willingham–there are elements that he planted within the first dozen issues that are just now coming to fruition; characters I was utterly unaware of have suddenly become monumentally important–though, I have to admit, I feel like the current storyline (“The Great Fables Crossover”–and yes I think they are being ironic with that title) is a bit of a diversion from what seemed to be developing. I’m confident that in the end, it will all at least appear intentional.

Anyway, I would recommend this to pretty much anyone. There are people in tights, but they’re medieval, not superhero, tights.

1 I should mention that I remember Bill Willingham from back when he used to do illustrations for TSR–in fact, I think I have a couple of comics from the early 80s that have ads he illustrated on the back covers.