Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fables, Vol. 14: Witches by Willingham, Buckingham, and others

Fables has seriously overrun its obvious ending at this point, proving  that Bill Willingham wasn't planning to write the story of a glorious victory, but instead to continue the story of how a bunch of rarely-unified people muddled through all of the troubles that the world could throw at them. (Well, a few of them haven't managed to muddle all the way through -- there has been a mild body count along the way -- but the central characters of Fables have mostly been safe, and look to remain so.) And this volume sees Fables returning to its own story after the forced "Great Fables Crossover," which served primarily to drag in the main-series characters in to clean up the tangled plots of the daughter series Jack of Fables.

So Witches begins with what amounts to a gigantic "anyway..." and dives backward into the history of our new Big Bad, the Dark Man, explaining how he was captured by the empire of the previous Big Bad, in a single-issue story, "Boxing Days," with art by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton. It's a decent story in its own right, but serves primarily to litter crumbs in the path of the main story, explaining where things will be going for the next ten or twenty or fifty issues.

The title story then follows, which originally filled up five issues and has art by the main Fables artist, Mark Buckingham. It moves the ball down the field a healthy amount, and begins to incorporate those bread crumbs from "Boxing Days" as it sets a number of major Fables characters off on new paths (such as "Frau Totenkinder," current head of the Fabletown witches) and brings others in (such as Ozma, future head of those witches). It's all good stuff, but it's all middle at this point, and it will take a while to decide whether this particular hunk of middle is working as well as it should -- probably until we get within hailing distance of an ending, I expect.

And then this collection ends with what was a two-issue story -- "Out to the Ball Game" -- with art by David Lapham, in which King Flycatcher deals with a threat to the peace of his still-new land, far out in the former worlds of the Empire. This is a complete story, but it's one part two-finger-exercise -- aping "Casey at the Bat" -- and six parts boilerplate "it's tough to be the king," so it's pleasant rather than particularly impressive.

All in all, Fables is still chugging along professionally, telling new stories out of the cloth its been weaving for ninety issues now. It's not as exciting and new as it once was, and there is a certain undertone of and-here's-another-damn-thing to it, but it's solidly entertaining and occasionally inventive.

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