Monday, December 15, 2008

Issue By Issue: Bill Willingham's Fables

#10 Twilight Of The Dogs

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

pp 01-04 Six Weeks Later

Our story starts with Snow and Colin in what the pig describes as a kind of limbo. There is a string of clods of earth strung out into a white nothingness and they are on the foremost one. She is sitting with her head bandaged and he is still a head on a pike. It’s been six weeks since she was shot and she is only now regaining consciousness. Colin tells her to wake up and she finds herself in a hospital bed, with Bigby at her side. The first half of the issue takes us through her recovery and release, as Bigby fills her in on events at the Farm. People have been taking turns sitting with her, but for some reason she only gets these updates when it’s his turn.

The moment she was shot, the situation immediately blew up out of control. Luckily the four rescuers were there to save the day. Bigby points out, however, that since he wasn’t there, he getting all this information ‘secondhand.’ I can’t help but read that as something of a qualifier. In this account the four of them, even the flying monkey, are all manly and brave, but up to this point they actually hadn’t done anything at all. And, other than re-establishing order, something the giants and dragon were still there to do, and failing to capture Goldilocks, it doesn’t seem like they really did much of anything. Anyway, Snow needs her rest so we wait…

pp 05-07 Two More Weeks Pass

another two weeks for an update. It’s autumn. There is a Jack O’ Lantern beside Snow’s bed. Nearing the end of October? Every third day Bigby drops by. Today he tells her that the war trials have begun and we cut to the Farm.

Everyone is lined up, friend and foe alike, before a tribunal that consists of Prince Charming, Bluebeard, and Little Boy Blue. Bluebeard reads the charges, Charming gives the sentence, and Blue is writing it all down. First up is King Louie, of the ‘Kipling group of Fables’. This is interesting for two reasons. First, these Fables are grouped together under the name of the, presumably mundy, author who wrote their stories. Second, King Louis is not in the Jungle Book! He comes from the Disney movie! You’d think the Mouse would have pounced on this, sending lawyers galore, but perhaps it is in their interest to maintain the fiction that their adaptation is more true to its source material than it really is. Louie is sentenced to twenty years hard labour for his role in the hunt for Snow, but he can get off in five with good behaviour. Next up is Reynard. I don’t know why the good guys are in the same line, but the fox is commended for his heroism. Next is Posey, a ringleader. The pig faces the chop.

pp 08-12 Homecoming

It’s almost Christmas and Snow gets the word that she is going to be released. They can’t have Champaign, but Bigby offers her some schadenfreude instead. Schadenfreude is German for ‘harm-joy’, the pleasure you feel at someone else’s misfortune. A little reminder that these characters aren’t the product of twenty first century sensibilities. And what do they have to take comfort in? It’s Execution Day up at the Farm. Jack Ketch is busy beheading rebellious piglets as they speak. Ketch is an actual historical figure. Charles II’s executioner from the 1660s to the 1680s. Towards the end of his career he gained a reputation for getting a little sloppy with the axe and it looks like that sloppiness has carried over to the Farm. It has taken quite a few chops to sever Posey’s head from her shoulders.

Snow raises a question that everyone, incredulously, has been avoiding: what about her sister? When does she get the chop? Bigby is surprised by this. Red is a hero! She realized that the Returnists were going to kill them, so she pretended to join on the condition that they not kill Snow without a trial. Her goals were to save their lives and give one of them time to contact the outside for help. Snow is dumbfounded.

pp 13-22 Spring

Months pass, the seasons change, and Weyland has been summoned to the Deputy Mayor’s office. He expects the worst and he’s right. Given that he was overthrown and enslaved only months before, Snow no longer feels he can command the necessary respect. He agrees and then asks to return to the city. He has been up on the Farm for a century. Snow grants this, but she wants him to continue with the task of converting mundy weapons for Fable use. As much as she detests the Returnists, she agrees that that was a good idea. Given all the troops and magics the Adversary has, a few machine guns will certainly come in handy when they do decide to go home.

Snow’s next meeting is with her sister. Red has been up on the Farm the whole time and this is the two’s first meeting. It takes place in the Woodland’s chapel. I don’t know what’s worshipped there. The altar, for lack of a better word, is a fountain, where the water pours from the mouth of what looks to be a big cat and over some stones. There are four stained glass windows, each depicting a mythological beast. From left to right, there is a phoenix, a dragon, a unicorn, and a hydra. As she has been since leaving her hospital bed, Snow is in a wheelchair. She has a red scar on her forehead from where the bullet entered her head.

The two sisters meet. Snow tells her that she wants to reconcile, still; and that she forgives her all. But Red isn’t ready to forgive Snow. Once they were Snow White and Red Rose, then Snow’s Prince Charming came along and Snow turned her back on her sister. Snow’s star climbed higher and higher, while Red became a nobody. Snow is so popular that she had her head blown off and got better. If that had happened to Red, she’d be dead. Finished. Red wants to be Snow’s equal again. She wants to replace Weyland. One sister will run the town Fables and one will run country Fables. Sounds like it could be a story in itself. Snow agrees. Red’s first job is to take care of four very conspicuous Fables. The three giants are transformed and become the new Three Little Pigs and the dragon is transformed into a raven, who will act as Red’s enforcer. It is now a fire-breathing bird. And thus the second arc, and the second trade, ends happily ever after. Except that the maniacal shooter is still at large. The second trade doesn’t have a short story. Instead we get a selection of art, from Jean, Buckingham, and some original character sketches by Willingham himself.

The weakest aspect of this issue is the rehabilitation of Red. It isn’t at all surprising, but ‘Oh, haven’t you heard?!’ doesn’t exactly constitute great story development. The story does touch on a couple of interesting points regarding the Fables’ connection to the mundy world, though it doesn’t develop either. First, you’ll recall, the Jungle Book characters are referred to as Kipling Fables. Why? If the mundy is just another world, why is it we know of these people, if only as storybook characters? And how is it Snow’s fame amongst us empowers her to the extent that she can recover from having her dead destroyed by a high powered rifle? Somehow they lives seem to stem from our beliefs. Just how has not been spelled out. Yet.

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