Writer: Bill Willingham. Pencils: Lan Medina. Inks: Craig Hamilton. Letters: Todd Klein. Colours: Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh. Cover: James Jean.
I always appreciate feedback and after last week’s Issue I got a good question from Victor, “Will there be analysis of the issues in terms of quality?” My answer was, and is, that I have decided to critique the first arc in its entirety, rather by chapter and the reason for that will be plain once you read the critique next week.
Issue four is noteworthy for being the first one I saw, at my local comic shop. Jean’s beautiful cover caught my eye. I picked it up, leafed through it… and put it down. More on that next week, too.
pp 01-04 The Arrivals
It is the night of the Remembrance Day gala and guests are pulling up to the Woodlands in limos and carriages. Beauty and her Beast arrive. She is now a blonde and blondes must have more fun because he looks great too. Great and human. Actually, the two of them seem a little testy, so maybe her attitude and his consequent appearance are tied to her excitement for the night. The night and the lottery. Snow has set up a lottery to help Charming sell his kingdom. Tickets are a hundred a pop, or five for four hundred and fifty. Beauty may have married a prince, but winning would make her a princess in her own right.
Testy would be a charitable way of describing the banter between Snow and Charming. Still, it looks like her lottery could net him as much at least six hundred thousand.
Beauty buys her tickets and everyone hurries up for the beginning of the festivities, the Sacred Reading.
pp 05-12 The Sacred Reading
The Sacred Reading is a set piece read by King Cole. It recounts the history of events that brought them here and ends with a toast to their lost homes (usually referred to as the Homelands).
Once they were ‘a thousand separate kingdoms, spread over a hundred magic worlds.’ We see cobblers fixing a giants shoe, Jack and the Beanstalk, Geppetto carving Pinocchio, and Little Red Riding Hood, who is being menaced by the Big Bad Wolf. The cobblers and the giant may be based on an English legend, where a cobbler saves the town of Shrewsbury from a giant, I don’t know, but giants will figure in stories to come. We’ve already met Jack and Bigby, and we will meet Pinocchio in this issue. Geppetto and Red Riding Hood will both play important roles in issues to come. All of them are presented playing out parts of their stories. None with any connection to the other.
Until the invasion. Pages six and seven offer the arc’s only double page spread: the armies of the Adversary, backed by three fierce giants, are herding Fables before them. We see fairies and dwarves and various animals fleeing towards us. Robin Hood is running, helping and a young woman in blue along. She may be Maid Marian, but more likely it’s Dorothy. A Tin Man, a Scarecrow, and Jack Pumpkinhead are all running too.
The two most interesting characters are Baba Yaga, in her house with chicken legs, and the woman on a throne pulled by six white swans. There are several stories in which brothers are turned into swans and have to be saved by their brave sister. The Snow Queen is also a story in which a boy is saved by a young girl. I wonder if these ideas are conflated here and if this woman is the Snow Queen?
None of them know who the Adversary is, though there are many rumours. The imagery here invokes both Pan and Satan. The latter idea is reinforced by the text, that he ‘was thrown down from the vast heavens,’ and by the name Adversary, a traditional Christian reference to the devil. When he first began his campaigns, those who weren’t directly affected did nothing. The kingdoms of Ireland and the ‘holier-than-thou’ Aslan fell and no one cared. This part of the narrative is structured after the famous poem by Martin Niemoller:
In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;By the time they realized the extent of the Adversary’s ambitions, it was too late. He was too powerful. Instead they were forced to flee, many finding their way to ‘this dreary mundane place: the one world the Adversary seemed to take no interest in.’ Together they put aside their differences, their grievances, and became one community, but a community that swears never to forget or to give up on their Homelands.
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.
With this Cole lifts up his glass to a toast to the Homelands. Behind him is an ornate bandstand, complete with orchestra, and behind it what appears to be a desert island, topped off by a fountain. I’d love to see Billingham’s directions to Medina for that panel. The crowd joins the toast. In it are a few who have put aside their glamours to look decidedly cat-like. Beast has not. This celebration is shared by Fables throughout the mundy world. Some look like ordinary families, others, ‘upstate’, don’t look human at all.
pp 13-15 Meet The Guests
The toast done, the party gets underway.
Sitting alone is a young boy, Pinocchio. A pretty blonde asks how he’s enjoying the party. It isn’t the newly died Beauty. Perhaps it’s Cinderella, the only other blonde Fable we’ve met. Pinocchio isn’t having a good time. The only reason he ever comes is the hope that someday the Blue Fairy will too, and then he can beat the glitter out of her. Her spell may have turned him into a boy, but now, three hundred years later, he is still a boy. He can’t grow up!
Downstairs Bigby is turning his prisoners loose. Bluebeard is ordered to clean up, go to the party, make his donation, show everyone what a good citizen he is. Jack is ordered to deliver a message, but what and to whom will have to wait.
In the kitchen we find that Colin has finally crashed the party. He is there to eat, however, not be eaten.
pp 16-18 First Dance
Bigby arrives, finally, and takes his date out on the dance floor. As attempts to blend in go, however, it’s a bust. He has never danced before and soon he and Snow are attracting a lot of attention. He gives up on the idea and wonders if there is anything good left to eat. Snow offers to help him find where the caterers have hidden the good stuff and he suddenly grasps a piece of the puzzle that had been eluding him. He tells her to spread the word: if anyone wants to know the solution to the mystery, they should come up to Cole’s after the lottery draw.
pp 19-22 The Murderer Revealed
While Snow spreads the word, Bigby goes for a swim. Odd choice, but there he is, in Cole’s pool. He’s far from the metrosexual type, but its a little beefcake for the fans. Bigby spends the rest of the scene in a bathrobe. It’s probably white, but the lighting gives it a pinkish hue. Can’t say it suits him. Jack arrives. He’s won the draw, but there’s no time for that now. The others are arriving. Bigby sends him off to bring the killer forward. Bigby describes what comes next as the parlour room scene, the classic denouement, wherein the detective explains all. Jack brings forward a young woman, whose dress is decorated by red roses. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Red Rose’s killer… Red Rose.’
There is shock, amazement. Blue Boy and Flycatcher bemoan all the work they had to do. But there is no actual denouement. Not yet. That too will have to wait until the next issue.