“Fables”

By | July 30, 2012

The graphic novel series Fables written by Bill Willingham tells the story of how the European fables fled the Homelands for America and the subsequent trials and tribulations of these fables, their progeny, those left behind, and the fables of other lands.  Volume 18 is due to be published 2013 Jan 22.  This series runs in parallel to Willingham’s nine volume Jack of Fables series; the two series may be read in parallel (most notably Jack of Fables Vol. 6 intersects with Fables Vol. 10 & 11) or completely independently.  The Fables volumes are best read in order so as to not spoil the surprises and to follow the characters as they develop.

Coincidence?  Movie releases in 2013: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack the Giant Slayer; Dorothy of Oz; Oz the Great and Powerful; xx.  Movie releases in 2012: Once Upon a Time; Snow White and the Huntsman; Mirror Mirror.  And Once Upon a Time premiered on ABC (TV) on 2011 October 23.

(Please see the related post on Bill Willingham’s Jack of Fables graphic novel series.)

Wikipedia article on Fables and Jack of Fables characters

1001 Nights of Snowfall

A prequel to the rest of the series.

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile

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Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm

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Fables Vol. 3: Storybook Love

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Fables Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers

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Fables Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons

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Fables Vol. 6: Homelands

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Fables Vol. 7: Arabian Nights (and Days)

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Fables Vol. 8: Wolves

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Fables Vol. 9: Sons of Empire

Fables Vol. 9: Sons of Empire continues the story of the struggles of the European Fables, living in Fabletown in NYC and the Farm in Upstate NY, against the Adversary and his army of wooden soldiers and warlocks. The cantankerous Nome King (a variation of ‘gnome’) makes his first appearance in this graphic novel series. Presumably this Nome King is Ruggedo rather than his slightly nicer successor Kaliko (from Rinkitink in Oz – one of my favorites in the Oz series). (Read Ozma in Oz for the first Oz appearance of Ruggedo and Billina, the hen who terrifies the Nomes.)

The other new character of note is Hansel (from the Grimm Brothers’ recording of the fable “Hansel and Gretel”). Very logically Hansel, scarred by his abandonment by his wicked stepmother and weak father and fascinated by the immolation of the wicked witch, figures prominently in the persecution of ‘witches’ in the mundy world in the 1600’s in Europe and then in Salem in 1692. (For more, refer to the Wikipedia article on the ‘Witch trials in the Early Modern period‘.) Note that in the Grimm Brothers’ version, Hansel is locked up in a little shed outside while Gretel pushes the witch into the oven, and after Gretel releases him from the shed, the two return home with all the pearls and jewels that they could carry to be happily reunited with their father – the wicked stepmother having died while the children were held by the witch.

Peter Cottontail, Brer Wolf, and Isengrim the Wolf make a brief appearance in a short story with Bigby, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf. Isengrim is the foil for Reynard the Fox in King Noble’s court (King Noble is also Leo the Lion) in medieval European folklore. Br’er Wolf (“Brother Wolf”) is from the Uncle Remus folklore recorded by Joel Chandler Harris starting in 1876. Harris’ primary source was the oral stories told by plantation slaves. Peter Cottontail, aka Peter Rabbit, is from Thornton Burgress’ Old Mother West Wind series of books. (The series tells stories such as ‘How the skunk got his stripes’.)

Cameo appearances abound in the closing story snippet titled “Who caught the bouquet at Snow White’s wedding?”. I spotted Little Miss Muffet in the crowd jumping for the bouquet, and I assume that’s Cinderella with the little glass slipper locket, but I don’t recognize the other women – including a heavyset nurse whom I assume is not Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Fables Vol. 9: Sons of Empire written by Bill Willingham, published by Vertigo (DC Comics), copyright 2006, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4012-1316-9.

Fables Vol. 10: The Good Prince

My favorite of the series so far in which Flycatcher really comes into his own.

“Jericho.  Potlatch.  Arrow.  Wheelbarrow.” – Pagan Christmas references?  Rose of Jericho, Midwinter means a Potlatch exchange in Chinook culture, Gauls put hellebore (aka Christmas rose or Lenten rose) juice on spears and arrows, and Saint Nicholas is sometimes depicted pushing a wheelbarrow of gifts (and according to one source, the Tibetan Father Christmas sits in a wheelbarrow pulled by a white horse).

Grimble, bridge troll; Troll Grinder

Mowgli

Hakim

Magic Mirror

Frankie (Frankenstein head)

Weyland

Flycatcher, Prince Ambrose, The Good Prince … sets up Haven – based on the Frog Prince.  Drives a pickup truck in Volume 10 that has a doll (possibly a Red Riding Hood or Rose Red doll) hanging from the rear view mirror.  The doll is wearing a sweatshirt that appears to read “IRMA”; unclear reference.

Bufkin – a flying monkey from the Oz stories

Rose Red

Little Boy Blue

Red Riding Hood

13th floor (where the heavy duty magic users live in the NYC Fabletown complex)

Forsworn Knight, Lancelot, Gwen, Gawain, King Arthur, Sir Grimauld, Excalibur, Sword in the Stone

Magic beans (from Jack in the Beanstalk)

Wolf Valley

Advesary

Baba Yaga

Hansel & Gretel

Witching Well, Witching Cloak, Vorpal Sword

Stinky the Badger (Wind in the Willows??)

Prince Charming

Old King Cole

Geppetto, Pinocchio

Snow Queen, Jack Frost

Lion King, King of the Beasts

Jack Ketch

Frau Totenkinder

Mr. Holber, Mr. Brown, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Bester, Mr. Cedarhorn

Mr. Gronk, Mr. Cutliver, Mr. Brump: goblins

John the Presbyter in his Lost Kingdom

Pigs, Baby Bear, Lilliputians and mice steeds, Bluebeard, Shere Khan, Rhino

“easy as pulling a tick from the pudding”???

Gull Harbor

NYC Fabletown storefronts: Yellowbrick Roadhouse (presumably a reference to Oz’ yellow brick road), Web + Muffet (Miss Muffet and the Spider)

Snow White, Bigby the Wolf (formerly Big B Wolf or the Big Bad Wolf)

Beauty and the Beast

Trusty John

Corwun Peiderpestle

Hit him in the apricot (vs. in the heart): ‘apricot’ is a nickname for the medulla oblongata, the lower half of the brainstem.

Broom, Elderthorn, Hope, Leander, Amberhouse, Willow, Loren

Charles

Mermaid Pond

Flying carpet, Sinbad, Aladdin

Dish & the spoon

Turgo Kaidan

Green bejeweled hand rising out of the lake to take Excalibur?

Golden Horde, Sacred Grove, Imperial City

Ynnes

Colonel Sparrowhawk

Captain (Lord) Zum, Grey Raiders

General Hildebrand, Urmal Kaparen, Yrconian Steps

Geoffrey _____

oats, barley, & rye

“The Baby has a pretty ball”

Noah’s dove allusion but with a different type of bird

wooden soldier body parts on the march to Haven

St. George slaying the dragon allusion

Fables Vol. 11: War and Pieces

Satisfying tales of Cindy the Super Spy then the bravery – and ultimate sadness – of battle at the Fables go on the offensive against Geppetto, the Emperor, and the Snow Queen.

Fables Vol. 12: The Dark Ages

Mostly dark tales of the immediate aftermath of the battle against Geppetto.  Not my favorite – but then again I’m not a fan of tragedy.

Fables Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover

Fables Vol 13: Fortunately literally and figuratively lacks the tragedy of the previous volume.  (Several members of the genre branch of the Literals family make an appearance – including Literature, Horror, Mystery, and Noir – but Tragedy is absent from the fight.)  Bigby rewritten as a cute little blonde girl is pretty amusing – especially since he/she still has the powers to kill and fight like a wolf.  “Did you imagine yourselves the noble heroes of this tale who’d save the day at the last second?”  Nice wrap-up of the Literals arc – and Hansel appears to have been dealt with as well.  I wonder if Kevin Thorn’s twin Writer’s Block joined the rest of the Literal family at the end?  The end of this volume of Fables connects into Volume 7 of Jack of Fables.

Fables Vol. 14: Witches

Being a big Oz fan (having read most of the books in the series as a kid), I was cheered by the thread focused on Bufkin in this volume.  Bufkin, a winged Ozian monkey, does battle in the Business Office – which is effectively lost to those on the outside, and has no exits for those trapped inside.  Baba Yaga takes care of the lesser demons to feed her power restoration and resurrects her “three dearest children”, Bright Day, Radiant Sun (or Red Sun in some versions of the Russian fairy tales), and Dark Knight (not to be confused with Batman, the Dark Knight); but decides against challenging the D’Jinn, who’s been freed from the bottle in which he was re-trapped during the Arabian Fables’ visit to Fabletown.  Bufkin is bolstered by the Magic Mirror (who decides that he prefers the safety of living in the mirror), Frankie (the head of Frankenstein), heads of the Empire’s wooden soldiers made from the wood enchanted by the Blue Fairy, and Barleycorn Brides (birthed from tulips grown from magic seeds).  Bufkin attempting to wield the Vorpal Sword (of Jabberwocky fame) with less than stellar control is pretty amusing.  (Speaking of the Jabberwocky, a little later in the volume, Mayor Cole is echoing the poem when he says “Oh, Joyful, Frabjous Day!”.)  Bufkin eventually devises a way to use the Vorpal Sword and he becomes “The Great Monkey of Doom“.  Is the Great Monkey of Doom connected to the video game Wilko’s Monkeys of Doom?

The (displaced) witches of the 13th Floor prod Mother Cherish (“Birdie”) to remember where she located the Business Office during the construction of Fabletown.  Ozma discusses a graceful succession with Frau Totenkinder (whose takeover from Mother Cherish is implied to have had an impact on Mother Cherish’s lucidity).  In a prior volume, Mother Cherish (aka Mother Birdie) is identified as the witch in Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina (and as the creator of the Barleycorn Brides).

Ozma sends Maddy, a black cat with Satan’s tail, to spy on Mr. Dark after Mrs. Finch’s foray (sadly) fails.  (Per the Wikipedia ‘List of Fables characters’ article, Mrs. Finch might be a reference to Mrs. Kate Finch in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.)  Maddy lists her other names as Medea (in Greek mythology the granddaughter of Helios, wife of the hero Jason, and a powerful enchantress), Sycorax (the mother of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Sycorax was a powerful witch banished from Algiers to the island on which Prospero later settles), the Scythian Raven (Scythia was the BCE Greek name for Central Eurasia), and the Invisible Walker.  (Prospero is one of the 13th Floor witches along with Mr. Grandours and Mr. Kadabra.)  As the emerging second in command to Ozma, both Maddy’s black cat and raven forms are appropriate as both are known as witches familiars.  The Scythian Raven name could be a reference to a Ukrainian legend in which “the raven is believed to have had beautifully colored feathers and a lovely voice before the Fall of Angels from heaven after which their plumage turned black and they lost their voices. It is also believed that their former beauty will be returned to them after the Paradise is restored on Earth.”.  The Wikipedia article on Sycorax notes that a likely source used by Shakespeare for this character connects Corax (the common raven is the species Corvus corax) with Medea.  Invisible Walker could be a sly reference to the photos on the cheezburger site of cats walking on their hind legs.  Could Maddy be a reference to Edgar Allen Poe?  Poe’s stories include “The Black Cat” and the character Madeline in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Prospero in “The Masque of the Red Death”.  (The black cat’s name in the “The Black Cat” was Pluto.)  Or Maddy could just be a version of Medea.

Geppetto re-emerges and for a short time is allied with Grandfather Oak (echoes of the Enchanted Forest).  ‘Grandfather Oak’ is referenced in one of the Dungeons & Dragons worlds, but that may just be coincidence.  To combat Geppetto’s grab for power, Ozma marshals the 13th Floor’s power and gives Reynard the Fox not just a human glamour but the ability to transform at will.  Reynard comes from Renart in 13th century France and Belgium which in turn was based on the fox in Aesop’s Fables.  Ozma also calls in the Blue Fairy, known in the original The Adventures of Pinocchio as the ‘Fairy with the Turquoise Hair’.

Frau Totenkinder completes her knitting and her last gift is a tailed and six-armed baby onesie for Beauty and the Beast – even before Beauty determines that she’s pregnant (let alone having given birth).  (Note Beast’s oblique reference to Max, influenza, and Fables’ infertility.  The reference is to Max Piper, the Pied Piper, who in the 1920s released a virus to sterilize the Fables.  Totenkinder drove him off and reversed the effects of the virus – somewhat ironic given that she was the source of the magic flute originally used by the Pied Piper to lure away the children of Hamelin.)  Given the source of Frau’s power it’s not surprising that she has a particular affinity for the newly born and not-yet-born.  Totenkinder’s original name is revealed to be Bellflower, and she foretells the Unraveling – apropos given her knitting.  (Rumpelstiltskin is the most prominent fable connecting textiles and gold – which has an important role in this volume.)  As noted in the Wikipedia ‘List of Fables characters’ article, Mother Cherish knits with needles and wool given to her by Totenkinder, and after Totenkinder transforms the needles back to their original forms, Mother Cherish continues to knit – but without needles or yarn.  Probably pure coincidence, but in the book “The Unraveling of Violeta Bell” Maddy Sprowls solves the mystery of the murder of the retired owner of Bellflower Antiques.

In a flashback we learn about Dunster Happ and the Boxers.  They were a religious order who, like other historical all-male groups of religious zealots (a la Knights Templar), sought to kill or at least contain those deemed by the Emperor to be evil.  In some cases those captured (notably Baba Yaga) were released when they agreed to join their power with the Emperor’s.

The Volume is rounded out with a two-part baseball catalyzed morality play in Haven.  In this story, Flycatcher finally matures in his relationship with Red (Riding Hood) and in his human rather amphibious skin.

Fables Vol. 15: Rose Red

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Fables Vol. 16: Super Team

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Fables Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind

Two words: “Yoop poop”.  (In Frank L. Baum’s The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Mr. Yoop was a giant who was been imprisoned for eating people.)  Of the various story lines in this volume, though the trials to determine the new King of the North Winds takes the most page space, my favorite was the one based in Oz (the Land of Ev to be precise) – ‘Nome Kings gone bad’ has always been a favorite theme of mine and revisiting characters such as the Glass Cat was very enjoyable.

Fables Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland

Most of this volume is given over to a rather odd segue into a variation of Toyland – Discardia, specifically… with some characters that may owe some of their makeup to Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (from the movie Toy Story 3) and the serial killer Chucky doll – though at least these toys (and Therese) are open to redemption.  Dare – with input from the literary Ambrose – reworks the Fisher King myth (of Celtic origin)… with a sad but heroic outcome.  The extra story fills in another piece of Bigby’s history – with important cameos by the Lady of the Lake and the teacup-wearing turtle (whose origin story was an extra in Volume 17).  Though this volume is pretty self-contained, I wouldn’t recommend it as a standalone read.

Fables Vol. 19: Snow White

This volume starts with the continuation (and conclusion) of Buffkin and Lily’s adventures in Oz.  This storyline is best understood by those who’ve read the books in the Oz canon – especially The Patchwork Girl of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz.  Magical artifacts such as the Powder of Life and characters such as the Glass Cat first make their appearance in those books.  The reviewers who didn’t care for this storyline are mostly unfamiliar with the written Oz stories.  I do agree that the artwork for this segment is a little off-putting; Buffkin’s features in particular are exaggeratedly cartoonish – especially in comparison to prior renditions.  The next-to-the-last page includes a nice, one-frame Ambrose cameo and a brief drop-in on the lost Business Office.  References: Hrothgar, a Danish King whose people were being terrorized by Grendel until Beowulf defeated the monster;

The Fables reclaim Fabletown – now Mister Dark’s creepy castle – and find the former Mrs. Spratt and Werian Holt, her erstwhile fencing instructor… who is also revealed to have a past history with Snow.  Ambrose’s narration should be noted for it’s connections to what will occur – in a past volume one notable case.  A nice small touch was Snow showing up for battle dressed in a mid-thigh skirt, tailored jacket, and (sturdy) four inch heels… which she toes out of before engaging.

Fables Vol. 20: ?

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Fairest In All the Land

Fairest In All the Land is a collection of thirty-two short stories, all written by Bill Willingham but with twenty-four illustrators from Akins to Zullo.  This volume picks up many of the threads of Volumes 17 – 19.  I’d say that some loose ends were tied off and slubs were smoothed out but with Fables you can never be sure that dead is dead.  Probably most of the deaths in this volume will ‘take’ in order to free up more storyline possibilities.  While I didn’t care for the visual depictions in a few of the stories – most notably some of the versions of Ozma looked too much like a young American girl as opposed to a Art Deco teenaged ruler – their brevity and the continuity of the text both literally (lettering) and figuratively (writing) carried me through what in total is a great addition to the Fables series.

Real References

’60s bands playing on the bill with Briar Rose’s band: ‘The Cream‘ (the original name of the band ‘Cream’), ‘The Fugs‘, ‘Lothar and the Hand People‘, and ‘The Zakary Thaks‘.

As referenced in the Fables wiki, John Barleycorn, the Fables character after which the (Fables) Barleycorn Girls are named, was based on the old English folk song John Barleycorn.

Fake References

‘Tuda Khidr Khan’ is a sort of real reference combining the names of some of the rulers of the Golden Horde but his magical bowl of sand showing the topography of places not-yet visited (or overrun) and the magical painting of Lady Destrine Karstain Sark seem to be fake references.

Meridians extended to girdle Earth are referred to in one article as the “15 hoops of the divine feminine Receptacle”… so probably the play Hoops of the Divine is a fake.

‘The Dirty Birds’ was not a ’60s girl group with one almost-hit ‘The Broken String‘ – though there was the ’60s male group ‘The Yardbirds‘ (which, like Cream, featured Eric Clapton) and there is a contemporary (mostly male) group ‘Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds‘ as well as an album ‘The Broken String‘.  Also fake from that chapter: show promoter ‘DJ Dan Fulder’ and ’60s band ‘Yellow Bird Moss Controversy’.

Hautboy / Cendrée’s creations: The Hindering String from the songs of thirteen unborn Tenné Finches; Seven Swords;

Turgo of Nor

Fables Werewolves of the Heartland

Fables – Werewolves of the Heartland is a portion of the side story of Bigby’s search for a new site for Fabletown after Mister Dark rousted its inhabitants – in parallel to Volume 15?  Headed across the Heartland, Bigby makes a detour to check into Story City, Iowa, to determine the reason behind Bluebeard’s financial backing of the city.  The story that unfolds is a mashup of Nazi ideology and wolf-pack dynamics with a coating of conservative Christian zealotry.  I found the artwork and story line to be much less appealing than that of the main series: unrelieved darkness, perfectly bland humans and homes, and history not fables.  The retelling of Nazi’s and the occult in Hellboy and B.P.R.D. is much more satisfying – perhaps because those stories focus on the myths that the Nazi were (supposedly) chasing rather than on a new myth that they were creating.  Also, the violence in Hellboy is directed at paranormal villains (or at the Nazi’s and other battlefield enemies) while in Werewolves the fighting is much more incestuous and ignoble.

A little helpful German to English translation: ungetüm = monster; fälligkeit = maturity date (for a payment), pilger = pilgrim, reise = journey – fälligkeitpilgerreise = coming of age pilgrimage or quest?; spezialeinheit = special unit or task force; lebensraum = habitat;

 


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