Jack of Fables, Volume Three: The Bad Prince explores more of Jack's questionable past. On the run again, Jack and Gary find themselves kidnapped by P...moreJack of Fables, Volume Three: The Bad Prince explores more of Jack's questionable past. On the run again, Jack and Gary find themselves kidnapped by Priscilla Page and thrown into the Grand Canyon. After being stabbed with Excalibur, Jack and the gang settle in for a round of campfire stories, this time Jack's connection with his doppelgänger, Wicked John.
What elevates Jack of Fables above the series from which it originated is the level of self-awareness and playfulness that it shows in regards to its characters and the nature of stories. Even though Jack and Wicked John's story is told in Willingham's characteristic pages and pages of expositional dialogue, there is an awareness of the weakness of this structure, expressed through the characters themselves. The revelation of the Literals - characters who embody particular literary tropes - also adds to this meta-understanding of storytelling, and I can't wait to see where it goes and how it is explored in relation to the wider Fable world.
Highlights of this volume include, as always, Gary the Wicked Fallacy sidekick, Jack's continual arrogance and the artwork. There are some one page scenes here that are just beautifully executed. Oh, and Babe the now shrunken cow's surreal nonsense stories throughout are hilariously weird.(less)
Jack of Fables is a hell of a lot more fun that the original series, Fables, that he started in. In Volume 2: Jack of Hearts, after escaping from the...moreJack of Fables is a hell of a lot more fun that the original series, Fables, that he started in. In Volume 2: Jack of Hearts, after escaping from the Golden Boughs, Jack regales his fellow survivors with the story of how his affair with Lumi the Snow Queen led to him becoming the pesky Jack Frost. Jack later hightails it to Las Vegas where he gets married, comes into a fortune and, again, despite a meeting with Lady Luck herself, loses it all. But it's all told with such irreverence and spunky attitude that each volume of this series is a rollicking good way to spend the better part of an hour.
Maybe it is because Jack is so inherently unlikable that the writers feel free to subject him to violence (usually depicted in stomach churning detail by the artists), but it seems to be a running gag in this series so far - Jack is going to be maimed or gored in some horrifically visual way, and as we know he's capable of recovering quickly, there's never really any shock there, no risk of creating complete empathy with him. Jack's an asshole, without the brains necessary to pull off his trickster schemes so they're pretty much doomed from the start, but ... but it's just so damn fun watching him weasel his way through it. His convenient sidekick of choice, Gary, also known as the Pathetic Fallacy, is also hilarious in the way he counters Jack's arrogance and self-belief. There are some hints here toward a overarching narrative, but at this stage I'm willing to just roll with it. Jack's adventures alone are enough to keep me reading this series. (less)
Okay, so I don't love the Fables series, but I was intrigued by the set up of Jack's spin off series, mainly as Jack has been established to be a bit...moreOkay, so I don't love the Fables series, but I was intrigued by the set up of Jack's spin off series, mainly as Jack has been established to be a bit of an arrogant prick so he is significantly different from the do-gooders of Fabletown. Jack of Fables: Volume 1, The (Nearly) Great Escape is a fun start to the series. Jack's voice and attitude are still as obnoxious as ever, but somehow it comes across as endearing. He's not a particularly likable character, for sure, but that is one of the advantages of this spin-off series as that ambiguity of the lead characters is completely lacking in Fables.
Banished from Fabletown and having lost his stolen fortunes in Hollywood, Jack hits the road again, hitchhiking across America in search of ladies and loot. He is kidnapped by a group of librarians and taken to a Fable retirement village, a place which functions as a sort of prison for the lesser known fables. Here Jack meets some familiar Fable faces and hatches an escape plan. As Jack is the archetypal trickster, he gets up to a lot of mischief, but there's also a fair amount of humour in watching him fail and/or flail during his shenanigans. I love the artwork here too, Akins makes Jack look, well, ruggedly handsome in a way I didn't really expect. (less)
Fables: Volume 12, The Dark Ages explores the post-war realities for our Fable heroes, as they are displaced from their Fabletown lodgings due to powe...moreFables: Volume 12, The Dark Ages explores the post-war realities for our Fable heroes, as they are displaced from their Fabletown lodgings due to powerful, magical stirrings in the Homelands. A new adversary power is established, who could be potentially interesting despite his naff and decidedly un-sinister moniker of Mister Dark.
My dear Boy Blue loses his battle with his wound inflicted during the war, and any "OH THAT'S NOT FAIR! But Fables are pretty much immortal so he'll be back!" arguments I was building up were quickly dashed by Flycatcher's eloquent reasoning with Pinocchio. Flycatcher: "Yes, he was our friend. And he was good and heroic and all of those things you mentioned. So, why would we want to drag him back into this world of woes and heartbreak? One thing I've learned recently is that there are, in fact, other lives possible after this one, places of reward and rest. Don't you think he's earned a better life somewhere?"
(Although Blue will be very much missed, he was such an under-used character.)
Stinky the Badger shines again, especially in his dialogue with Frau Totenkinder, although he does look rather dashing in his little brown suit. He may have to be my replacement favourite character.
Michael Allred illustrates an issue again, and I really like his style but can't quite find the words to adequately describe it. I also enjoyed David Hahn's more cartoon-like illustrations in "Waiting for the Blues", which worked with the heavy emotional impact of that issue.(less)
All the war planning and maneuvering that has been building up in previous volumes finally comes to actual combat in Fables, Volume 11: War and Pieces...moreAll the war planning and maneuvering that has been building up in previous volumes finally comes to actual combat in Fables, Volume 11: War and Pieces. Like many of the other "big bads" in this series, the Adversary's troops are made so unthreatening that the concept of the Fables' losing never seems at all likely. The Fables make it through 95% of the battle without a single casualty with their unstoppable flying ship and modern weaponry, this doesn't exactly seem like a war as much as, well, an all out massacre. I know we're supposed to be on the Fables side, but when their enemy is presented as hopeless as it is here, all sense of narrative drama is completely lost. Eh. At least Boy Blue (my favourite!) gets to narrate the battle and takes a central role throughout. A Cinderella spy mission dominates a couple of issues as well, told in a visually different than other stories which added some variety to the mix.
It will be interesting to see where the series goes now that the Fables have so thoroughly defeated the Adversary and Geppetto has signed the Fabletown contract, forgiving him of previous crimes and allowing him to become a citizen of Fabletown.
(This probably should be a two-star book for me, but the any issue that features Boy Blue so heavily automatically gets an extra star tacked on. I just like him okay! Plus, his conversation with Stinky the Badger at the opening of this volume is some of the funniest dialogue written in this series.)(less)
AMBROSE! In Fables, Volume 10: The Good Prince, the Frog Prince, a.k.a. Flycatcher, a.k.a. Ambrose, previously a background character, usually only us...moreAMBROSE! In Fables, Volume 10: The Good Prince, the Frog Prince, a.k.a. Flycatcher, a.k.a. Ambrose, previously a background character, usually only used as a comic foil, is given a substantial narrative which builds not only his character but also advances the plot in a really satisfying way, suggesting that this episode will be integral to the foreshadowed Fables v. Adversary war.
When he is returned to human form after having transformed back into a frog, Ambrose is forced to relive the memory of his slaughtered family and vows to seek his vengeance. The details were kind of sketchy here, I'm not sure whether this is because our awareness is supposed to be built on the actual story of the Frog Prince told elsewhere? With the help of the ghost of Lancelot, Excalibur and a magical suit of armour, he establishes his own kingdom in the Homelands and uses his magic as a way to cut the enemy's numbers down and to create an alternative option to the two sides about to go to war. The plot does rely, as usual, on invincible magic powers, but Ambrose's personal transformation is captivating anyway.
Probably the strongest volume in the series since Volume 6: Homelands but I just can't bring myself to give it more that 3 stars.(less)
Shift is a tightly plotted psychological thriller for young adults that deals with mental illness and toxic female friendships with a suggestion of th...moreShift is a tightly plotted psychological thriller for young adults that deals with mental illness and toxic female friendships with a suggestion of the paranormal. The shapeshifter is a surprisingly apt metaphor for insidious friendships, and is made use of in a subtle and effective way here. Olive is grieving for her absent father and recovering from a recent suicide attempt. The new girl at school, Miranda, takes on a sinister tone when she begins to ingratiate herself to Olive's ex-best friend, the pretty & popular Katie. As Miranda begins to take on Katie's appearance and personal qualities, Olive believes she knows what Miranda's secret is, but who is likely to believe her outlandish theories, especially given her recent behaviour?
Shift's plot twists are genuinely gripping, and yet adolescent mental illness and the harmful effects of manipulative friendships are treated with great sensitivity within the suspense of the narrative, and presents a unique take on some otherwise well-worn young adult tropes. (less)
Weetzie Bat is back, now a woman pushing forty who, while questioning her relationship with her Secret Agent Lover Man (now just plain old Max), takes...moreWeetzie Bat is back, now a woman pushing forty who, while questioning her relationship with her Secret Agent Lover Man (now just plain old Max), takes some time to herself in a mysterious pink hotel filled with equally enchanting and mystical creatures. In Necklace of Kisses much of Block's trademark dreamy lyricism is absent, but an eye for strong mythological imagery, combined with pop cultural awareness and sensuous prose make it a valid addition to the Weetzie canon.
Yes, Weetzie is a woman entirely obsessed with her own wardrobe - to the point where the theft of a suitcase of clothes is situated as a major personal loss. Okay, maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's the chance to revisit familiar (and much loved) characters, but I'm willing to forgive this superficiality here. The secondary characters, the inhabitants of the Pink Hotel, work as wonderful metaphors for Los Angeles but they're never quite fully explored; much of the focus is on Weetzie and I fear that she is probably the least interesting of the bunch.
Though I'm not entirely convinced that Block's magic realist style is as applicable to middle age as it is to adolescent dramas, Necklace of Kisses is a charming read for those already enamoured with Weetzie and her merry gang of gorgeous misfits.(less)
Just as I was considering giving up on the Fables series, Volume 9: Sons of Empire delivered a more entertaining, though still fractured, narrative. T...moreJust as I was considering giving up on the Fables series, Volume 9: Sons of Empire delivered a more entertaining, though still fractured, narrative. The Adversary and his empire hold a conference discussing their plans for Fabletown; Hansel is made the Adversary's special envoy in Fabletown; there are a few short Christmas stories; Snow & Bigby visit Bigby's father the North Wind; and throughout the volume are a number of short character pieces, including some that were inspired by reader questions.
These shorter pieces were probably my favourites, especially any involving Boy Blue, and give a bit of insight into what Fabletown and its inhabitants are like when not directly involved in the plot against their enemy. There are also a number of different artist's work featured within this volume, some I really liked such as Michael Allred's illustration of the Bigby & Snow vacation, others giving a different interpretation of the familiar characters.
Not quite a strong enough volume to garner four stars, as the narrative is still all over the place, but a vast improvement on the last couple of volumes.(less)
A short but powerful punch of a novel, The Sense of an Ending explores the fallible nature of memory, misinterpretation of events and others, and comi...moreA short but powerful punch of a novel, The Sense of an Ending explores the fallible nature of memory, misinterpretation of events and others, and coming to terms with the fact that the mutability of the self. Tony Webster and his group of friends meet the intelligent and serious Adrian Finn in high school, and now a retired man living a "peaceable" life, Webster is shocked into looking back and delving through his past when he receives a letter from a lawyer.
Barnes writes gorgeous prose, which frequently makes philosophical diversions between major plot points. Webster appears to be self aware, confident in his interpretation of the past, only to have the emergence of people capable of corroboration crumble that delusion. What he eventually discovers changes not only his image of himself, but of how he interpreted the acts of others, how he perceived their lives from the outside. It is quietly devastating. The failure of memory to accurately retain the past completely, the unconscious edits we make to our personal histories to make it more palatable to our sense of self. The Sense of an Ending is intelligent, powerful and perceptive, leaving the reader with much to mull over after reading.
Barnes was never really a writer I was interested in before, but I am keen to check out more of his writing after reading this wonderful book.(less)
There are some good action/adventure styled tales told in Fables, Volume 8: Wolves, but the weaknesses of this series are becoming more apparent. Mowg...moreThere are some good action/adventure styled tales told in Fables, Volume 8: Wolves, but the weaknesses of this series are becoming more apparent. Mowgli tracks down Bigby, Bigby is sent on a mission to confront and threaten the Adversary so that he can settle down with Snow and their cubs, and Cinderella is sent on a diplomatic mission. For a reader who was, for a moment, quite taken with the potential of the Snow/Bigby relationship for character development and lots of brooding, this resolution seems somehow unsatisfactory, uncharacteristically sappy. We've never really been able to see their relationship develop. Ehh.
The pacing is all over the place in these stories, switching between the Farm, Fabletown and wherever our adventurers may be, in a chaotic way - to the point where I kept having to check the page numbers to make sure vital scenes hadn't been removed. It just doesn't run smoothly. Again, there's a lot of exposition placed awkwardly into the character's dialogue, very little actual drama or tension and a lack of cohesiveness - within this collection and the series overall. (less)
After the high point of the series so far in Volume 6, Fables, Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) returns to the clunky storytelling of the first 5 v...moreAfter the high point of the series so far in Volume 6, Fables, Volume 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) returns to the clunky storytelling of the first 5 volumes. However, following the superior Volume 6: Homelands, it comes off as much less tolerable in comparison.
C'mon Willingham & co, I know you're capable of creating something much more compelling than easily defeated magical powers. Here that magical power is a D'Jinn, a genie, released by a defector among the newly arrived Arabian fables to Fabletown. Story arcs in Fables tend to go - revelation of possible enemy, long explanations about how powerful and dangerous that enemy is, a battle plan enacted in secret, fables defeat enemy due to secret battle plan which is only revealed retrospectively. There's no tension, no drama, nothing to keep the momentum of the story going. Sigh. It's disappointing.
The last two issues make up a tale of forbidden love between a wooden soldier and a wooden female, who are turned into flesh by Gepetto and released into the mundane world to act as spies. The structure of this story isn't as effective as it could be - the written accounts from both the male and female perspective - and maybe sets up something interesting to happen in future volumes. Maybe. (less)
Fables, could it be? Finally, in Fables, Volume 6: Homelands, the series starts to live up to the acclaim and high esteem in which it is held by other...moreFables, could it be? Finally, in Fables, Volume 6: Homelands, the series starts to live up to the acclaim and high esteem in which it is held by others, and to my demanding expectations.
First we learn what became of trickster Jack (who is a potentially interesting character, so I'll be checking out the Jack of Fables series as well) and his loot stolen from Bluebeard - he moves to Hollywood to become a studio mogul. Now, while it's not quite the Fables meets Entourage I was expecting, it is unusual in that the way the story is told deviates from the usual slabs of expositional dialogue this series relies on. It is told retrospectively by those that were seduced, duped or benefited from Jack and his money. It is also reveals Jack as quite clever, given that the fables seem to gain longevity from their popularity with the mundane population, making a trilogy of blockbuster films all about his own exploits (and fantasies) is shrewd manipulation of the system. I didn't love the artwork in this story, it seemed too ... blocky and simple, almost to the point of flatness. Maybe that in itself is a comment on the nature of Hollywood power? Of course, Jack eventually gets his comeuppance from Fabletown and is banished, setting up his spin-off series Jack of Fables.
But what I really loved about this volume was Boy Blue's revenge quest back into the Homelands, to save his lady love Red Riding Hood. Boy Blue has slowly become a favourite character of mine, and often gets shafted by the Snow & Bigby storylines, so it was GREAT to see him become a hero in his own right. His is an adventure tale, as he battles his way through the Homeland territories to gain intelligence and finally unmask the Adversary. The dialogue here isn't as stilted as it has been in the series so far, and Blue finds a way to self-narrate his quest in a way that is both endearing and funny, as well as providing genuine thrills, he proves to be more than capable of a witty quip while beheading his enemies. It reflects on what we know of him from previous issues as well, not only is he a fearsome warrior in battle, but his love of superhero comics come through as well in his transformation into a caped avenger. There are a few unexpected narrative twists along the way which adds to the excitement.(less)