Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, et al, 2002-2011
I recently came into a couple of hundredweight of comics.
Oh Christ. Not like that.
Get your mind out of the gutter. This is exactly why you can’t have nice things.
For the sake of humouring the more prurient amongst us I’ll rephrase: I recently acquired what I can only describe as an absolute fuckton of comics. (And here we pause to raise a glass to absent friends, specifically Mr Salaryman: Not Dead, Just Lurking.) A lot of this was traditional Marvel/DC stuff; Avengers, X-men and the like, with all the forbidding backstory and labyrinthine plotlines that involves. Frankly I chickened out there, and instead found myself lying in bed with ‘flu and gorging my fever-addled brain on some more immediately accessible stuff. For obvious reasons I’m going to suspend my usual habit of posting these things individually or in pairs, if only because the circumstances in which I read them mean my memories of sweat and mucus are more prominent than they perhaps should be.
Fables then. Of an ilk with stuff like American Gods and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in that it depicts notionally fictional characters made flesh and walking among us unsuspecting mortals. I won’t attempt to talk about any individual volume or storyline (except the ‘Crossover’ one (Vol. 13), which was just a confusing mess of random characters and the kind of breaking-the-fourth-wall, address the reader directly metawank that usually constitutes the literary equivalent of jumping the shark), but will say that after a couple of fairly by-the-numbers opening arcs it develops very nicely indeed, and all the more so after Jack pisses off for his own spin-off series. Why they chose him I’ll never know, but I’m glad they did; I’ve always found ‘lovable rogue’ type characters be generally deficient in the ‘lovability’ department, which unfortunately renders them more along the lines of ‘tedious little gobshites’. In other news: all this used to be fields you know, and get off my lawn.
There a couple of other points arising that I’d like to address, the first of which is the Fabletown General Amnesty. The basic premise is that, once these characters get ejected from their fantasy worlds they can choose to sign a compact binding them to a new code-of-conduct, in return for which all of their past sins are forgiven. I must confess I find the idea of an Amnesty for fairytale characters to be a pleasingly elegant way of flagging up just how horrific many of the original stories were. As a kid you just take this stuff for granted, and even if your only exposure is to the relatively sanitized Disney versions then you still run into to a lot of attitudes and outcomes that are problematic at best. Prince Charming as a misogynistic, womanizing cad being a case in point, and that’s before we get to the blood and death and murder and the necessary implications behind all those widows, step-mothers, and orphans.
The second point is the ever present need to raise the stakes in an ongoing series, and how well that is arranged. Or not, as the case may be. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and one of the more obvious reasons why soap operas confine themselves to small-scale personal dramas: the downfall of a single individual is, however harrowing, ultimately something that happens all the time; the downfall of an entire world is another matter entirely. How do you escalate the tension after that? Once you’ve defeated the Big Bad, what comes next?
Apparently, another, bigger, bagger guy. I dunno. It’s nice to see other primary characters developing (which, incidentally, in this case helps to flag up how non-existent the characterization is in many fairytales. That’s not the point of them, I know, but it’s still an eye-opener to see these standards as fully-formed individuals), but the continuing existential threat feels a little tacked on. It’s not wholly inorganic, I suppose, and as the rather duff finales to series like Lost and Harry Potter demonstrate, it’s very hard to get everything in place right at the start without a little bit of retconning. If, however, the first thing you picture when you read a page is the writers’ conference when they were trying to come up with how to extend the story, then that’s not a good thing.
Still, overarching structural issues aside, the characters are what really sell this, like all good soap operas, and there’s a definite conclusion not too far into the future to boot. Another one to add to the ‘ongoing series’ list, I think.
And for the sake of completeness, a couple of others from the trove:
Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly, 2004
Surprisingly affecting Frankenstein reboot/reinterpretation/tribute.
Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, 2010