Monday, March 30, 2009

Issue By Issue: Bill Willingham's Fables

#27 - In Like A Lion - Out On The Lam

Writer: Bill Willingham; Pencils: Mark Buckingham; Inker: Steve Leiahola; Colour: Daniel Vozzo; Letterer: Todd Klein; Cover: James Jean.

pp 01-04 Bedknobs and Gingerbread Houses

Repeating a scene from the last issue, we find Frau Totenkinder leaving the rest of her group on the thirteenth floor to make the required rainstorm while she goes off to teach the impudent woman that lesson she’s long required. Outside Riding Hood is on her floating bed, watching her burning soldiers wreck havoc along Bullfinch Street. So we’ve taken a few steps back in the story and Bigby hasn’t quite saved the day yet.

Even though we are told that it is Wednesday, March 26 (2002?), Riding Hood is singing Let It Snow, 'Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fires are so delightful.' Okay, it isn't Christmas, but the weather is terrible, given the rain storm, and she is enjoying the damage her army of, now burning, wooden soldiers is inflecting on Fabletown. Suddenly a rhyme calls to her. She floats up, still bed-riding, to the roof of the Woodlands where she finds Totenkinder waiting for her. Yes, it is Riding Hood and not Snow that is going to be taught a lesson. Totenkinder says she knew who was pretending to be Red Riding Hood the moment her chicken house woke up. Yes, Riding Hood's is actually the Russian witch Baba Yaga in disguise. Totenkinder tells her that arousing the house was 'sloppy' work. Yaga replies that Totenkinder's rhymes are insipid. The Gingerbread witch admits that some error always recasts her spells in bad poetical form. Sloppy, retorts Yaga. It's catty, but you get the point. The two really don't like each other.

A sudden gust of wind strikes them. Bigby's power reaches even to the top of the building. Totenkinder explains that the 'whelp of the North Wind' - yes, Bigby's dad is the North Wind - has defeated her army. But not to worry. Her fight is up here. Yaga is unimpressed. Totenkinder isn't in her league. Totenkinder disagrees. Fabletown is her place of power.

pp 05-08 Hail The Victorious Hero

Everyone on the ground is celebrating. Or they would be if Bigby hadn't reminded them that the fight wasn't over. He wants everyone in three teams. One will fight the fires in places the rain couldn't reach. Charming will lead that one. The second will take the wounded inside. The third will gather the heads from all the wooden soldiers, no matter how dead they appear. We don't see who, if anyone, volunteers to lead the second team, but Grimble and Hobbes are keen to take the heads. Before the battle they made a bet. Whoever gathers the most heads wins. The loser buys dinner.

Up to this point Snow had been giving Bigby the cold shoulder, but the moment he arrived she jumped from her perch, ran down to the streets, and put her arms around him. 'I knew you'd come in time to save us! You always do! You always save me.' Many are surprised by the public display of affection, especially Red, who has never seen her sister like this, but Bigby orders her off the street. She's pregnant and it’s pouring.

pp 09-12 Witches' Duel

Those on the ground are oblivious to what's happening on the roof, but Fly and Cole, who are gathering up wooden soldiers, are concerned about the many lightening strikes hitting the top of the building. Midnight has passed and it is now 2am, March the 28th. The two men decide to investigate. Cole orders Fly to stay in the elevator, while he goes forward with a metal bar. The battle has brought the bravery out in everyone. We're not shown what he sees, though we get part of an image reflected in his glasses. It looks like two dragons. I am immediately reminded of the wizard's duel in the Sword in the Stone (the film, I haven't read the book). In it Merlin battles a witch named Madam Mim, and both them take on a variety of forms. Cole drops the bar and runs back to the elevator. He tells Fly that the roof is off limits for the rest of the night.

In the aftermath of the battle Baba Yaga is in ruins, her body, including her eyes, burnt and gored. Conscious, she still can't believe that Totenkinder won. Totenkinder reminds her that they are in her place of power. She goes on the say that she may well have been able to beat her anywhere, 'Personally, I never thought much of that 'popularity equals power' nonsense.' Grandma Yaga may have been in many more stories, but Totenkinder is happy with her anonymity. Other than the gingerbread story, few know of her, and even in that story, we don't get her name. She has been killed many times and always come back. Yaga won't be coming back.

pp 13-14 In Today’s News

On Friday the channel 5 news has three local stories, all of which involve some mundane incident causing property damage and a fire, but no injuries. Only one of their reporters, Kevin Thorn, seems to notice that it’s really the same story over and over again. He brings this to his boss' attention, but the man is less than enthusiastic, 'Are you going all X-Files on me again?' When Kevin mentions reports of a beautiful woman on a floating bed, he's told to get out.

These news stories are obviously the result of Fable magic. It's their way of covering up the battle. So how can Kevin see through it? Because he isn't a mundy! He is a brand new type of character. One we'll get to know better in Jack of Fables. We'll see more of Kevin there too.

pp 15-18 In Memoriam

The Mayor and his assistant are sitting on some rubble and talking about the future. Bullfinch is lined with windowless, burnt out store fronts. But the buildings, miraculously, are still sound. They were built to last. The community will rebuild, but it is going to bury its dead.

The ceremony takes place in the basement of the Woodlands, where the Witching Well is found. The Well, the exact nature of which is unclear, forms a conduit between our world and the world of the dead. No one put down there comes back. How this works, given the idea that dead Fables can be revived by mundy belief in them, is unclear. The dead are brought to the mouth of the well on a stretcher, covered completely by a sheet, and then one end is tipped and the corpse drops down. Much like a burial at sea. The first is Baby Boo, then a great many members of the Mouse Police. During the combat they climbed onto the wooden soldiers and loosened the joints holding them together. Many were crushed when the soldier they were sabotaging collapsed onto them. The next burial is the only controversial one. Because those dropped down the well don't return, they drop the faux Red Riding Hood in too. Interestingly, they don't reveal her real identity to the others. They don't even tell them that she isn't the real Riding Hood. Cole asks anything in the Well, that wants to cause her pain, to go right ahead.

pp 19-21 Prisoners Of War

The ceremony over, Bigby pays a couple of visits. First, he and Blue go to a locked storage area. In it is shelf after shelf of wooden heads, taken from the Adversary's soldiers. Blue is still recovering and is using Snow's old wheelchair. Bigby tells Blue he hopes to hear him play again soon. That surprises the trumpeter. Bigby has never expressed any interest in his music before. None of the heads are doing anything. They are still alive, but whatever they do, they do together, and now they are all sleeping.

Bigby goes further into the recesses of the General Office and enters Baba Yaga's cell. Yes, she's still alive. We're never told whose body was thrown down the well. She is trapped in a T shaped structure, with her hands and feet (really, her legs from the knees down) encased in oversized steel bonds. She is conscious. Totenkinder is with her. Everyday she drains off whatever power Yaga has managed to accumulate. I wonder what she does with it. Bigby tells the Russian that he and Totenkinder will be all the company she will ever see. That she will get no food or water, and, while she may like to tell herself otherwise, she will crack. She will tell them what they want to know about the Adversary, or anything else.

p 22 Epilogue

The last page of our tale is a series of scenes detailing life after the battle. In the lobby of the Woodlands there are now posters up for both Cole and Charming, both claiming to be the 'Hero of the Battle of Fabletown.' Cole seems resigned to having the election. Swineheart doesn't know if there is anything he can do about Pinocchio. The boy reverted to his wooden form once his head was cut off. But, strictly speaking, even if he isn't alive, he isn't technically dead either. So there's hope. Mama and Papa Bear still miss Boo, but they are expecting another child. Soon there will be Three Bears again. Red still misses Weyland terribly. I think she may be the only human Fable on the Farm now. Snow and Bigby are relaxing on a park bench. She is no longer giving him the cold shoulder. Her water breaks, but that's the next story.

So ends one of the popular arcs of the series. To this point stories have been dominated by internecine rivalries. I have pointed out before that these stories can be divided into three types. One involves stories, fairy tales, about the characters that take place in the past. They don't impact the current story line directly, but they do give us insights into various Fables and the community as a whole. The other three types can be sorted chronologically, before, during, and after the war reaches out to the exiles in our world. With this arc the first period, pre-war, is gone. It was good to see everyone put aside their rivalries and rise to the occasion. Willingham did an especially good job in that everyone stood up, yet no one was out of character. We've seen them be petty, but we now see they can be heroes too. The military strategy was sound - the dragon fiasco notwithstanding - and Willingham was wise enough to spell it out neatly for us before the battle, allowing us to follow it as it unfolded. In most comics it’s just a matter of the two sides hitting each other until the good guys win (though the good guys did win, of course).

While we see everyone do their part, the male lead saved the day. The female lead, Snow, directed to the battle, but in her most telling scene she was pregnant and cooing, as she wrapped her arms around her personal saviour. Still, the female characters were powerful. Neither Baba Yaga nor Frau Totenkinder may be characters you want to emulate, but readers can't really say the comic lacked for strong, decisive women.

A lot of people were able to correctly guess the Adversary's identity after reading this story. I wasn't one of them, but on re-reading it after he has been revealed, it is hard not to see it. Don't worry. I won't spoil it for you.

Prince Charming was shown in a much more positive light in this story, and the next one will see many of his insights confirmed. We are in for some major changes as the community moves to a war footing. Starting next week.

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