Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fables: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

I promise I’m going to take a break on the Fables reviews after this one and head back into some really great YA lit. But, until then, one more!

While Legends in Exile and Animal Farm focused on more self-contained stories, that had a concrete beginning, middle, and end, Fables: Storybook Love complicates this structure by taking a few of the loose threads from the previous volumes and begins to weave them through several narratives. By this point the exposition and introduction is nicely sitting up at the front. Any new characters that are introduced now fit into an already established world with particular rules, and characters who have been around since the beginning grow more and more layered with every issue. Instead of an event mediating the stories in the book, “love” becomes the organizing concept in Storybook Love, the permutations and combinations of which appear here.

But, the really great thing about the established universe of Fables, is that Willingham can step away from the present action of the story in order to move backwards in time, where his characters have quite impressive histories of their own. Because of that, Storybook Love starts out by rocketing back to the Civil War, where Jack’s penchant for schemes that put him on the losing end of things continues when he shows up with a put-on Southern drawl. Jack is this character who is so widespread, that the stories that follow him around cover a lot of ground. I’ve been trying to remember where I have this sort of pre-conceived idea of the Jack stories, since Jack Ketch showed up a couple of issues ago, and then I remembered that when you are trying to remember where you know a piece of mythology or folklore or literary trope from, just go back to Neil Gaiman. In Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (a throwback to The Jungle Book, except, here, the protagonist Bod is raised by the ghosts of a graveyard), there are a slew of Jacks who make an appearance under the name of the Jacks of All Trade, including Jack Frost, who is nothing like his Christmas self. But this Jack is just the ex-boyfriend of Rose Red, who, during the Civil War, managed to capture death in the Devil’s magical bag, one that resembles the one that Hermione uses in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (its ever expanding and can contain a whole lot of stuff – Jack has some sundry items, a pig, and also the scythe-carrying Death trapped inside it at one point).

The ending story of this volume likewise takes its characters back to a time before present day Fabletown, framed by Bigby telling Flycatcher (who is the Frog Prince in human form) a story about the Lilliputians who now live in Smalltown. The frame story is an excellent way to bring up this past history, and it talks a bit more about the Adversary (who we still don’t know too much about yet). It’s used as an origin story to explain why a group of Lilliputains from Smalltown makes the trek into Fabletown every year to attempt to steal a few barleycorns from an old jar.

BUT: between Jack and the Lilliputians takes us back to Fabletown and Bigby and Snow, who still unknowingly are going to have to deal with the repercussions from disabling the revolutionary movement at Animal Farm.

For example, Bigby takes on a journalist who has dug up a whole lot of facts about the Fables over the years. He claims that he has a story that could bring them down, but, in a slightly different way than Bigby is expecting. Journalist Tommy Sharpe figures that the Fables are actually vampires, and he’s out to expose them. Diffusing the situation is Prince Charming, Bigby, Little Boy Blue, and Bluebeard – Rose Red is still up at the Farm taking over from Weyland Smith, and Rose is still recovering in the hospital from being shot by Goldilocks.* It’s a discursive group set to the task, and the relationships between them are heightened by all of the past that is behind them. It’s sort of a heist narrative in miniature, and it has one of those endings where a character makes a choice that is definitely coming back to haunt them later (MAYBE?). Briar Rose is also along for the ride, pricking her own finger as a diversion (and this is a great chance to look at Prince Charming, who used to be married to Briar Rose [as well as Snow]; it’s their familiarity that allows Briar Rose to invite him to live with her again – the love between them is gone, but there’s a recognition of the way things used to be that remains).

Next, Goldilocks is discovered hiding with Bluebeard, and she’s still pretty upset over how things ended in Animal Farm. They’re definitely sleeping together, and their love is a sort of mutual respect for revenge – they’re using each other to get just exactly what they both want. She’s teamed up with Bluebeard, agreeing to kill Bigby to cover some of Bluebeard’s untreated revenge. Using some really old and expensive magic, they maneuver Bigby and the still recovering Snow on a camping trip to Washington where they will be out of the way and easy to kill. Snow’s still using crutches to get around, and while she’s close to being back to normal, she’s not there yet. When they come to in Washington, realizing that they’ve been there for a while sleeping in the same tent (OH AND HERE IS ANOTHER HUGE CHOICE THAT WILL AFFECT THEM LATER), they piece together the fact that Goldilocks is there with them, hunting them down. And Bigby gets to retreat to his animal form with some pretty great lines like, “It’s time for a bit of the old huff and puff.” By the end of this issue Goldilocks is well and truly dead** and Bluebeard appears to be as well (at the hands of Prince Charming, who says he’s doing it for Snow, showing the way that all of this old love and the coming apart that came after still remains for all of them).

Also, Snow and Bigby are killing me with their story. It’s so good.

* One of my favorite directions that the story is taking is the idea that Fables have a rough time dying. But, this is based on how much ordinary people believe in them and their stories. That means that some Fables can die easily, but others, whose stories are well known, have a lot more trouble slipping away.
** Although Snow says, “She’s a popular fable with the mundys. They won’t let her die easily.”

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