Fables (9): Sons of Empire – Bill Willingham

Fables 09From the thickness and the crowded “who’s who” at the front you know this is going to be a long read. It is also a good read with a wide variety of narratives.

There are two long stories concerning the conflict with the Homelands and Bigby’s relationship with his father. There are also little interludes too providing a palette cleansing break and some Christmas related merriment. Some reader questions have been expanded into some mini stories as well. Some of these will have you laughing out loud. Willingham is at the top of his game working in multiple genres to evoke fear, joy, sorrow and mirth from his reader with a light and practiced touch.

The art gets a real jolt in this volume. Buckingham draws the main story and throws in some unconventional framing to spice things up. There are some fantastic colour choices too. Michael Allred does a pair of stories, one of two issues and one of two pages. Both are astonishingly different in style than we are used to and look superb. Very creative, really eye-catching and in an entirely different medium than we are used to, but wholly appropriate.

There are more than a dozen guest artists tackling the reader questions and interlude pieces. Joshua Middleton makes an astonishing three page spectacle that looks like a vintage Disney watercolour with some technical focus effects that work very well. The covers also need a mention as they have some very distinct styles and dark imagery.

This is a superb volume with excellent imagination, writing and wonderfully bold art direction. The memorable art and hilarious reader questions just tip this into the Double Thumbs Up!

346/19

Tomorrow: Fables (10): The Good Prince – Bill Willingham

Fables (8): Wolves – Bill Willingham

Fables 08A good solid volume with plenty of heart and happy ever after. This includes the 50th issue of Fables and is very special in story terms. The main tale is split into nine short chapters which is an interesting choice but doesn’t seem to have much of an impact.

The art is great with some lovely colours and low light scenes, plus a terrific double page spread at the key moment. The covers are excellent too.

There are a few maps of Fabletown locations and the complete script to issue #50 too.

Thumbs Up and a big Ahhhhhhhh!

345/20

Tomorrow: Fables (9): Sons of Empire – Bill Willingham

Fables (7): Arabian Nights (and Days) – Bill Willingham

Fables 07Having spent six volumes exploring Western folklore we now see an encounter with the legends and stories of the East. Unfortunately the only character we meet is Sinbad so an opportunity to learn from many of the planet’s most ancient cultures is lost.

It is well written, dramatic and enjoyable. It feels authentic and respectful. It also moves Fables from covertly political to overtly political. The commentary on today’s Western involvement in the Middle East is a distinctly unsubtle affair. No matter how delicate and sophisticated the intention was the end result is the brown people were bad and the white people won in the end. A definite missed opportunity. Hopefully more storylines will follow.

There is also a single part story concerning the wooden soldiers. This is an unusual and charming affair. You know there will be a twist or rug-pull at the end but it won’t be what you are expecting and it integrates nicely into the bigger picture.

The art is mostly more of the same. Enjoyable, regulated and familiar but with ubiquitous fancy borders and the odd creative montage. The single issue piece has a different artist and a very different look. There is a flat, two-dimensional feel to it, with artificial looking colours. This is a perfect metaphor for the constructed beings it deals with.

Enjoyable enough for a Thumbs Up!

344/21

Tomorrow: Fables (8): Wolves – Bill Willingham

Fables (6): Homelands – Bill Willingham

Fables 06This is a big volume with a lot of bang for your buck crammed in. We get to follow Boy Blue in the Homelands and learn about The Adversary. We see what has been happening in Fabletown as one of the tourists returns. We also discover what scrapes Jack has been getting into whilst he has been away.

Just as the art has been getting a polish of late so too does the narrative. Jack’s tale is recounted by different characters he meets on his travels in a manner similar to Wimbledon Green or Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 16.

Not to be outdone the first few parts of the Boy Blue story have art without any frames, borders or panels on the page at all. The characters and speech appear multiple times and it is up to you – with some help from the colourist – to put everything in order.

A great volume with some bold and imaginative techniques and some riveting story points. Another Double Thumbs Up!

343/22

Tomorrow: Fables (7): Arabian Nights (and Days) – Bill Willingham

Fables (5): The Mean Seasons – Bill Willingham

Fables 05We begin with a one-shot concerning Cinderella. Then a two part story with Bigby in WWII. Finally a four part tale in Fabletown as Snow gives birth.

This scattershot approach allows Willingham to show his range and stretch his literary muscles without warping a single story into directions it isn’t suited to go. Each is a great example of its genre and teaches us more about the characters involved. The period story is told through narration and presented as a diary entry complete with hand written text. Even though these are modern tales there are still classic lessons to be learned from them such as be careful what you wish for and the grass isn’t always greener. We also see, or rather feel, Willingham’s talent for evoking emotion in us readers.

The art is great with two artists on the job this volume. The WWII story has great colours that make it seem like newsreel footage from the time. The tiny panels also mark it out as separate from the ongoing storyline. It also has a great use of a map too.

Another top quality book with a broad range of stories to tell. Thumbs Up!

342/23

Tomorrow: Fables (6): Homelands – Bill Willingham

Fables (4): March of the Wooden Soldiers – Bill Willingham

Fables 04There is a single issue prologue and a long main story as The Adversary comes knocking.

This is an excellent tale packed with drama, action and life or death moments. Willingham knows his characters and readers well and can manipulate both with ease. Previous and future threads are woven into an exciting storyline that really makes you fear for Fabletown and its residents.

The art is good and the borders are given a great deal of attention making them stand out. Even the page numbers have added flourish, most fitting for Olde-Worlde characters and their stories. The prologue has a different artist, and that fits perfectly, as it is a reminiscence of events in the Homelands.

Excellent work and a hearty Thumbs Up!

341/24

Tomorrow: Fables (5): The Mean Seasons – Bill Willingham

Fables (3): Storybook Love – Bill Willingham

Fables 03There are two one part tales, a single two part tale and a longer work so you are definitely getting a lot of bang for your buck as they are all good.

The stories all have different artists but each suits the themes they are illustrating very well. The colouring of each is also excellent with a lot of carefully chosen palettes. Having a lot of artists on the job means they can take their time with the pages producing a richer result. The rigid square panels also disappear in the main story too. Characters and speech cross into other frames, there are curved and even circular panels, the art goes full bleed, there are parallel scenes on a page, and exotic floral borders. It really goes all out.

The writing is also excellent. The last story is filler but is so charming you don’t mind. The first evokes a wonderful period atmosphere and has a real morality play quality to it. The other two are very well plotted and very dramatic. There is sex and death aplenty in this book and it has a dark tinge to it just as proper folk tales do.

As it is hard to think how this could improved I give it the Double Thumbs Up!

340/25

Tomorrow: Fables (4): March of the Wooden Soldiers – Bill Willingham

Fables (2): Animal Farm – Bill Willingham

Fables 02All is not well at the Fable community of The Farm. Like the Orwellian namesake there is revolution in the air – and you won’t guess who is leading it.

This is another excellent volume, just as good as the first. There is enough you are familiar with to feel comfortable yet things are skewed in a fresh and imaginative way. Willingham is the master of pacing and drama and this is a compelling read right up to the last page. There is life or death action here and some pretty dark and gruesome moments which contrast well with folktale characters.

The art is great and there are some terrific double page spreads. The textbook straight borders are still present but the colouring between them changes appropriately and gilded frame flashback makes another appearance.

There is a bit of a false ending with almost an epilogue feel to it. Each issue has a ‘story so far’ prose recap at the beginning which is a little redundant too. But overall an exciting read worthy of a high Thumbs Up!

339/26

Tomorrow: Fables (3): Storybook Love – Bill Willingham

Fables (1): Legends in Exile – Bill Willingham

Fables 01The creatures from stories, fairy tales in particular, have fled an invader of their homelands and arrived in New York City. The more human looking ones integrate into society and establish their own secret community.

This is a really neat idea and you get to see what characters such as Snow White, Jack the Giant Killer and Cinderella do after their tales end and the kind of people they become. All of the characters are well realised with depth, complex human values, emotions and not just paper stereotypes. It is fascinating to see them out of their usual settings yet remaining true to their nature.

The plot is a murder mystery which is a great way to hook your interest and introduce you to a diverse cast. It is very well executed and the parlour scene at the end will have you nodding along sagely. The dialogue is good and although there are chuckles along the way you are laughing with these people not at them.

There are a couple of recaps as the story goes on, which is necessary for a new comic book that is still attracting readers, but redundant in a graphic novel. Cleverly these recaps are presented in different styles and contain additional information for the continuing reader so you don’t mind. The book is full of neat little touches such as each chapter having a little summary as was typical in literature of the period when these characters were originally created.

The art is good solid stuff, very traditional in layout and format. Plenty of detail and good colouring that makes the most of the matt paper typical of Vertigo books. A great idea is that flashbacks are contained in elaborate oil-painting style frames as if a past moment has been captured.

This is a very encouraging start. A great premise, well drawn and written, that won’t let you down. Thumbs Up!

338/27

Tomorrow: Fables (2): Animal Farm – Bill Willingham