Monday, April 6, 2009

Issue By Issue: Bill Willingham's Fables

#28 - Dog Company: War Stories, Part 1

Writer: Bill Willingham; Pencils: Tony Akins; Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti; Colour: Daniel Vozzo; Letterer: Todd Klein; Cover: James Jean.

pp 01-03 Veterans

Bigby visits an aging veteran named Shawn Duffy. Duffy greets him as ‘you big hound dog’ and it quickly becomes clear that the old man knows Bigby’s secret. The two served together during World War II, but now Duffy is the only human member of the squad still living and he won’t be living for long. He has cancer. Before he dies he wants Bigby to have a written account he’s made of their adventure together. He had promised Bigby he’d never publish anything, but he figures as long as Bigby is the only one he gives this account to, he can still ‘check out’ with honour.

pp 04-09 Meet Dog Company

We begin with a night drop. It is July 26, 1944 and the appropriately named Dog Company of the 605th is engaged in Operation Chambermaid, dropping deep behind enemy lines. Into Germany itself.

Our adventure starts with the usual introductions. Every American war story starts by introducing the various members of the squad, summing each up in a brief description. Willingham includes the good guy lieutenant and the tough guy sergeant everyone hates, but respects, but passes on the obligatory Texas, the streetwise kid and a number of other stereotypes. With them is a mysterious soldier named Sergeant Harp. While he doesn’t have the highest rank, he is in charge. An impressive soldier, there is something about him that scares Duffy. The Company’s own sergeant refers to him as the ‘man from area F’, but refuses to explain himself. Is Harp a Fable? And how would the sergeant know? I’ll tell you right now that we are never told one way or the other. His phenomenal soldiering abilities suggest he might be, and some readers think he may be the Celtic warrior Dagda, who played the harp, but Willingham is playing coy on the subject. He has said that Harp is based on a real person, but that’s all he’s said.

He leads them to a grove of trees, where they sit quietly for three days waiting for the arrival of an additional man. Someone who isn’t on any official rosters.

pp 10-13 The Man In White

On the fourth day the new man shows up. He is wearing a white suit and looking quite dapper, in spite of his constant need of a shave. He greets Harp warmly, not bothering to keep his voice down. When the lieutenant reminds him of the need to keep quiet, he is told there is no one in ear shot. Harp reassures the lieutenant that if Bigby says there is no one around, there is no one around.

Bigby and Harp then lead the group forward. The two men talk to one another in unaccented German. Harp has been working for Dulles and was responsible for the, seemingly accidental, death of Von Reichenau. Allen Dulles headed OSS operations in London during the war and would later head the CIA for most of the 50s. Von Reichenau was a high ranking German general and a committed Nazi. He didn’t actually die in an accident. He died of a heart attack in 1942; barely a month after the US entered the war. Willingham might have done better if he’d just made up his facts.

Bigby routinely sneaks away and commandeers food from the locals. He does this by telling them it’s for the local Gestapo, knowing that no one is brave enough to check out his claim. The troops appreciate the treats and things are generally upbeat until they come across a German patrol. It has been savagely killed. Torn apart. Bigby and Harp help themselves to a couple of uniforms. The others decline. If they are caught in uniform they will be shot as spies.

pp 14-22 The Castle

They soon reach their target: a castle outside the village of Eberstadt. Bigby and Harp intend to check out the castle and then blow it up. That’s the mission. The soldiers are there to provide cover while they escape. They’ll need it. It is heavily fortified with elite German troops. A secret passage links the castle and a nearby inn, which was ‘accidentally’ destroyed in a recent fire. The squad makes its way through to the castle. The soldiers take their position. Harp rigs the explosives, utilizing the armoury. Bigby is going to look about. They know the Germans are working on a top secret weapons program, but they don’t know what it is. Harp cautions him that his heightened senses won’t be as reliable inside the castle as they were in the brush, but Bigby quickly discovers the secret weapon: they are building Frankenstein’s monster. Makes sense. They are in Frankenstein Castle!

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