Right after the invasion of the homelands Fables takes on a more epic spin, which is an alien experience for me, because I have read mostly superhero-ish long running series. Politics, war and espionage on a global level are not the main focus in these series. I felt both intrigued and worried that it might sour the satisfaction from reading Fables [I am not a great admirer of the political intrigue], but Bill Willingham handled himself appropriately and continued to supply surprise after surprise.
Plot-wise Fabletown community undergoes several shocks to the system, when the regiment is changed. Prince Charming becomes Fabletown’s mayor, winning convincingly thanks to that magic charm of his. Snow White takes a maternity leave to raise her six non-human kids on the Farm, while Bigby resigns himself and leaves Fabletown. Their substitutes are Beauty and Beast, who have trouble learning the ropes. The new government in general is shaky with few highs and lots of lows. This is best demonstrated with the angry protesters in front of the apartment building, acting as Fabletown’s headquarters. There’s a general state of distress in the community. Allegiance is questioned, peculiar murders occur, shocking revelations come to light and unexpected relatives pop into town.
We got a saga in the making with all the works. Willingham is quite good at tying secondary arcs with the main bulk of the story, dispelling the illusion that coincidences exist, when there is war on the horizon. The best about these secondary arcs is that they act as character studies, giving a more thorough look into characters, which aren’t the leads and at the same time tease readers with bits about the world, the situation in the homelands. The best example here is Boy Blue’s rogue trip into the Homelands with the Witching Cloak and the Vorporal Sword that can kill in one swing.
Boy Blue is a nursery rhyme character and rather obscure, which is why I didn’t expect him to be so fleshed out. Even with his innocent expression, the boy is a virtuoso with the sword. His strategic command over the Witching Cloak is impressive and he bargains with the enemy with a cunning wit. The metamorphosis from good-natured secretary to war hero / undercover spy is spectacular. Apart from Boy Blue, there are other interesting discoveries as far as characters go. For instance I’m a fan of Frau Totenkinder, who was a kick-ass witch back when dealing with Hansel and Gretel, but her wicked ways make a solid base for a torturer with no qualms about the methods she uses to guard her territory.
After the Boy Blue arc the nature of the Adversary becomes clear. The reader is introduced to who the dark Emperor is [awesomeness’ sake I remain quiet about his identity], but with that valuable piece of information provided, the overall POV of the story can shift. Along with the good guys, we get to see what happens behind the empire’s curtain, its origin and at the same time this small peek-through-the-key-key-hole poses the question, whether the empire can be so evil… The devil is in the details, as people and say. And even if I have my moral compass straight, the grey shades in both the Empire’s and Fabletown’s depictions add an extra punch to the whole rollercoaster ride.
I can only assume what can happen next [I wish I had the following issues], but my guess is it will be one notch higher in terms of action, drama, danger, strategic genius and espionage. Up the ante, as they say. The seeds are there. The Arabian fables are in the process of evacuation from their homelands, while Mowgli is sent to track Bigby and return him to Prince Charming in exchange for Snow White to return from the Farm with her children. In the mean time, the empire has planted spies in New York City… The ingredients for war are on the table and I’m positive that Willingham has something incredibly jalapeño flavored in the making.
Verdict: In one word, Fables embodies the Latin word excelsior [meaning superior and ever upward]. I admit that I would have preferred a different set of lines altogether that would’ve increased my reader-y satisfaction, but I don’t fully dismiss that Medina and Buckingham as artists, for their work adds something retro/vintage. The arrangement of the panels, shaping them like cathedral windows and the tiniest tiny ornamentations on the pages create a special mood that recreates the magic from the well illustrated and children’s fairy tale books.