Fables: Homelands review

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Monday, February 20, 2006

It's a heavy thing to say "I wasn't thrilled with this volume of Fables." Blasphemous, certainly, in some circles. And I've heard tell here and there of those who believe volumes of Fables are like the Star Trek movies; the even ones are better than the odds. For me, Fables has only neared the majesty of volume two, Animal Farm, with volume four, March of the Wooden Tin Soldiers; The Mean Seasons showed great promise, had it just been longer, but Homelands (dare I even say it?) unfortunately left me underwhelmed.

(Disclaimer: This is a negative review of Fables: Homelands. A fair review, but a negative one nonetheless. But because I very much like the Fables series as a whole, allow me to direct you to this positive review of Fables: Homelands, because I very much want to support the series overall, even as I offer my unsolicited two cents. Carry on.)

The three stories of Homelands take a break from our principal characters, Snow White and Bigby Wolf, to focus instead on Jack of the Tales, Little Boy Blue (do I have that right?) and Prince Charming's new government. Blue is definitely the stand-out player here; as one character notes, no one realized how much of a hero--an action hero really--that Blue really was. Armed with the Witching Cloak and Vorpal Blade, Blue sneaks back into the Fables homeland, chopping off heads left and right until he makes his way to the Adversary--and then has to make his escape. Jack of Tales heads to another make-believe land--Hollywood--where his gambit to become a movie producer over five years meets with successes and failures. And back in Fabletown, Prince Charming and the Beast discover a traitor in their midst, and Charming enlists unexpected help to locate the missing Bigby Wolf.

So here's the headline: you find out the identity of the Adversary in this trade. And guess what? It's exactly who you thought it was. I'm the person who ran smack dab into the Jean Loring revelation without it ever once crossing my mind and you know what? I had the Adversary's identity from March of the Wooden Soldiers. Except, I kept trying to come up with alternatives because it just seemed too gosh darn easy (the Wizard of Oz, by the way, is my favorite other theory, and I think there's lots of reasons why it makes sense, too). But ultimately, the answer was the obvious one, and maybe in that way it worked for some people, but not for me. A whole lot of build-up ... and underwhelmed.

And build-up there is. For three issues, Blue battles his way through the world of Fables--and by battles, I mean he meets another Fable, there's a bit of witty repartee, and then Blue cuts the Fable's head off; rinse, lather, repeat. Admittedly, Bill Willingham shows great skill in the breadth of Fables he introduces--but I don't recognize quite a few of them, and so, for me, it becomes the equivalent of a made-up, one-off villian that appears for a page and gets killed; there's no emotional resonance. I was bored. I knew what was going to happen. And, surprisingly to me, the world of Fables that Blue traversed just wasn't all that interesting. I like Fabletown better; there's uniqueness, there's meta-interpretation. Fables, for me, isn't about storybook characters in storybook settings; it's about storybook characters hailing taxis. And goblins in a mystical forest using modern curse words is just trippy.

The Jack story, too, left a bit to be desired. As opposed to the Jack tale in Storybook Love, which offered us blood, sex, and a magic bag, "Jack Be Nimble" in Homelands is a story about Jack wheedling his way into a situation, living large for a bit, and then losing it all. You can very nearly draw the dramatic triangle with a pencil. It's ... ordinary. And while I did both enjoy--and find somewhat disconcerting--the five year jump that the story takes (in which, apparently, the Beast is still the sheriff of Fabletown, taking some of the dramatic tension out of whether Bigby Wolf will return to his old post of now), ultimately "Jack Be Nimble" was an ill portent at the beginning of the book.

I will say that the quality of Fables still rises high above nine-tenths of everything else you could read out there. And it features lovely art by series regulars Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Lan Medina and others, plus gorgeous covers by James Jean. And I feel that Fables is good for all of us--as the back-cover blurbs suggest, Fables is in many ways the grandchild of Sandman--a literate, adult fantasy comic with consistent quality overall. But at the same time, my trade-buying budget is getting a little full, and as I look at what to buy and what to put on my holiday list ... well, I'll read Fables: Arabian Nights and Days, but maybe I just don't know how soon.

[Contains full covers, "cast of characters" page.]

Back on track now--Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon, Superman: In the Name of Gog, and Superman: That Healing Touch. Next review will be more upbeat--promise!
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