Monday, November 10, 2008

Issue By Issue: Bill Willingham's Fables

#6 Road Trip

Writer: Bill Willingham. Pencils: Mark Buckingham. Inks: Steve Leialoha. Letters: Todd Klein. Colours: Daniel Vozzo. Cover: James Jean.

pp 01-05 Road Trip

The second arc picks up with Red and Jack and the consequences of their little scheme. Jack is doing his community service at the Woodlands, helping Flycatcher strip and wax floors. He's not too happy about it, or about being put in Flycatcher's charge. Jack refers to him as 'inbred,' which leads to a revelation about Flycatcher's past: he is a prince! How did this prince become a janitor? We're several story arcs away from finding out.

As for Rose Red, she has to accompany her sister on a semi-annual check up on the Farm. It’s Snow's hope that the two sisters can get to know each other again and become the close friends they once were. Red isn't optimistic. They are taking the escapee Colin with them.

pp 06-09 The Farm

The Farm is somewhere in upstate New York. The two women keep driving until their pickup breaks down. Overheats. Red's bored and wishes they were already at the Farm. Now its Snow's turn to be surprised. They've been on Farm property for the past 20 miles! For all the centuries they've been over, Red has never made the trip. The Farm is remote and their most powerful distraction spells are used to keep curious mundys away. Which is why Snow is shocked when she looks down and sees a shell casing. Who has been firing off guns here? Looking further she finds more and more. Their site is close enough to the main area that the shots would have been heard, but no one has alerted Fabletown about the intrusion. 'Maybe,' suggests Red, 'the piggies and horsies have declared war on the duckies and moo-cows?'

The engine cooled, they proceed to the central buildings. In the center stands a large building with Tudor style gables. Like the rest of the buildings, however, it is such a hodge-podge of style, I wouldn't call it Tudor. Behind it is a tower that looks as though it belongs on a castle. From our perspective I can't tell whether or not it is attached to the main building. To the left, beside a cave entrance, stands the crumbling tower of a castle, sans castle. There is a large red barn in the foreground, but most of the buildings are what would pass as medieval housing. There are a couple that come directly from nursery rhymes. There is a large boot, for the old lady who lived in a shoe, and there is a pumpkin home, for the wife of Peter the Pumpkin Eater. In the distance is a green, lush valley.

pp 10-12 Suspicious Behaviour

Red is warming up to the place, but Snow is getting suspicious. Where is everyone? She thinks she hears something from the barn and goes over to check it out. She finds a meeting in progress. And what a meeting! There are animals, dressed and undressed, galore. The meeting is being chaired by the other members of the Three Little Pigs, Posey and Dun, with Dun speaking. He's saying something about taking up arms, but shuts up as soon as he sees Snow.

Also in attendance are The Three Blind Mice, the Mouse Who Ran Up The Clock, several cards with arms and legs, the White Rabbit, the Walrus, and the Chesire Cat, all from Alice in Wonderland, flying monkeys, Thumbelina, the Owl and the Pussy Cat. There are bears and crocodiles, Tom Thumb, Puss n' Boots, the Tortoise and the Hare, and many others. As soon as she sees Snow, Chicken Little panics and offers to turn State's evidence. They are all surprised to see Snow so much earlier than they expected. Surprised, but not happy. Snow demands to know why they are having a town meeting and why Weyland Smith isn't presiding, but she doesn't get any answers. Instead Dun adjourns the meeting.

Weyland Smith is a blacksmith of Nordic and Germanic legend, and is supposed to be in charge on the Farm.

pp 13-14 Meanwhile

There is a line up outside Snow's office in New York. Everyone wants to see her, but all of her meetings have been postponed because of the trip. There is no one to cover for her at the office and the citizens aren't too happy. Inside Boy Blue, who has come to do some filing, discovers that Bufkin and the Forsworn Knight have been into the liquor cabinet. Not a good thing.

Just who the Forsworn Knight is won't be revealed for some time. There is no character in legend called the Forsworn Knight, but there were knights in Arthurian tales who hung their defeated challengers on trees.

pp 15-19 Return Activists

Snow and Red settle in for some tea at the home of the Three Little Pigs. The brick one. Outside is a No Wolves sign. Snow asks Dun what the meeting had been about and we get some direct answers. After a fashion. Dun and Posey, and most of the Fables on the Farm, they claim, are Return Activists. They believe that the Fables should return and confront the Adversary and win back their lands. Unlike the human looking Fables they are trapped on the Farm. They have exchanged one prison for another. And given how long some of them live, we’re looking at substantial life sentences. Snow finds the whole thing ‘ridiculous’ and argues that the Farm is far from a prison. ‘Ninety cents out of every dollar we take in is spent right here – to keep the Farm going.’ But the Return Activists don’t care how comfortable their prison is, its still a prison. However, because of some unspecified laws they are forbidden from setting the Return in motion. Snow is happy to hear that, at least, and decides to call it a night, but Colin tries to persuade them to stay. He isn’t successful.

On leaving Snow has one question: just where is Weyland? Dun and Posey insist they don’t know. He quit. Suddenly.

Colin is now alone with his cousins. It turns out he wasn’t just in the city for the adventure’s sake alone. He had been assigned a mission: identify and contact Return sympathizers within the Fabletown community. He was completely unsuccessful. He says it was because Bigby kept him on too short a leash, but looking back over the first arc you’d never know he had a mission.

pp 20-22 Bedding Down

The sisters bed down together. Circumstances being what they are, they have to share a bed. Both their names and their natures are reflected in their underwear choices. Red is in a red thong and Snow is wearing a conservative white ensemble. Or it would be conservative if it wasn’t for what is obviously a colouring error. I wonder whose decision this was.

They continue their argument. Snow wants to discuss their relationship, Red doesn’t. Snow gets up to close the curtains and makes a disturbing discovery: the head of a pig has been left on a pike outside their window. And not just any pig. ‘Its poor Colin,’ says Red, ‘It also appears to be a literary reference. My guess is that someone wanted to make sure we got a very specific message.’

The literary reference, of course, is to The Lord Of The Flies. Has anyone managed to get through school without that book somewhere on your reading list? Anyway, this concludes the first issue of the second arc and you can already see reasons why I like it better than the first. 'Road Trip' introduces characters who are neither human nor passing as human. And the underlying conflict is one that wouldn’t work without the fantasy elements. It’s a battle between the have and the have nots, and that could work in other circumstances, I know, but these have nots, the Return Activists, have a grievance and an agenda that is tied directly to what they are: nonhuman Fables trapped in a human world. I did have a couple of questions on reading it. Why is Bufkin at the Woodlands and not with the other flying monkeys? And Snow claims that ninety percent of their revenue goes to supporting the Farm? Isn’t that a bit much? Why isn’t the Farm more self-sufficient? Perhaps she meant ninety percent of the Farm’s revenue stays at the Farm. Interesting questions, I think, but perhaps not that important. This issue also marks the entrance of Mark Buckingham, who will go on to be the series’ primary penciller. He sticks closely to Medina’s models for the most part, though Bigby looks a bit more… houndish? I don’t know the circumstances that brought him on for the second arc, but I think his looser style really works with the animal Fables. He gives them a lot character. Next week we learn a lot more about our revolutionaries and their violent turn.

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