Review: Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days) trade paperback (Vertigo/DC Comics)

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Thankfully, the seventh Fables trade, Arabian Nights (and Days), returns to the modern-day Fabletown with a big helping of political intrigue. I wasn't too thrilled with the sixth volume of Bill Willingham's Fables series, Homelands from DC Comics' Vertigo line, mainly because it seemed to abandon the premise of storybook characters living in New York, in favor of following one of these mystical characters on a somewhat one-note romp through the Fables' fairytale kingdom. With the seventh trade, Fables is back on track.

Following Blue Boy's spying mission into the Homelands, Fabletown mayor Prince Charming has the Jungle Book's Mowgli invite the fables of Arabian myth to come to Fabletown for summit on how to overthrow the Adversary that's invaded their kingdom. Language and cultural barriers separate the Fabletown and Arabian fables, however, as well as suspicion over the powerful D'jinn that the Arabian fables have brought with them. When a rogue Fable releases the D'jinn, Charming and his associates must use a double-cross to bring it under control and create peace with their Arabian counterparts.

When the Arabian fables arrive in New York from their home in Baghdad, and they're carrying with them a WMD (weapon of magical destruction), there's no question that Willingham is saying something, though ultimately it seems that Willingham offers more political parallels than political commentary. The author focuses mainly on issues of cultural relativism: the Arabian fables are initially insulted when they feel the American Fables don't pay them the proper respect, whereas the American Fables are aghast at the Arabian Fables owning slaves.

Because of this distrust, the American Fables put all the Arabian Fables in jail when the weapon, a D'jinn or genie, is released, until they learn that the only villain is one Arabian servant acting alone. The moral again speaks to cultural issues: in the Arabian homelands the servant wouldn't have acted without his master's permission, but in the American Fabletown that custom fell away.

Interestingly, the character that Willingham positions as most understanding of the Arabians is Old King Cole, the former ousted mayor of Fabletown. Willingham perhaps suggests that older, calmer heads may prevail in sticky international situations over younger, rasher action, but the author writes such that none of this comes through heavy-handed.

I also enjoyed the great amount of subplots that Willingham introduces in this volume, many of which he leaves open for further stories. Beauty and the Beast enter a romantic triangle with Prince Charming; Blue Boy must take false blame for his secret, authorized mission; and Red Riding Hood adjusts to her new life in Fabletown, turning her attention from Blue to his best friend Flycatcher, the former frog prince.

In a final, two-chapter separate story, Willingham offers a chilling tale told from the perspective of the enchanted wooden forces of the emperor of the Fables' former home. This last story is one of sweet romance with an ominous ending, and it's just the welcome digression that truly displays Willingham's mastery with this series. Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days) is a success, and makes me eager once again for the next volume.

[Contains full covers, biography and summary pages]

On now to a couple of Absolute trades, Watchmen and DC: New Frontier, on our way to Y: The Last Man, before we join the DCU "One Year Later." See you!
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