I enjoyed the story of The Hidden Kingdom a lot more than I did the previous volume, Wide Awake, but it still gets three stars3 stars - Review to come
I enjoyed the story of The Hidden Kingdom a lot more than I did the previous volume, Wide Awake, but it still gets three stars from me because I’ve become a much harder marker since then. It avoided a lot of the things I complained about in Wide Awake – The Hidden Kingdom is written by a woman (Bill Willingham is credited as ‘consultant’) and Rapunzel is very much the lead character, she has her own agency, and her presentation isn’t filtered to us (too much) through the eyes of a male character. She does things for herself and the story can be (and probably should have been) told without a male love interest. But I just simply couldn’t get into it enough for it to rank in the four stars.
The Hidden Kingdom ties Rapunzel, a very minor player in the main Fables storyline with only one minor appearance there so far, into Japanese mythology and folklore. The story is set several years ago in universe, with flashbacks going back several hundreds. With the exception of a couple of plot threads that are left hanging, it can easily be read as a stand-alone or out of order, as long as one knows the basics of the Fables universe. Though in part it seems to have been set in this time period purely to give Jack Horner the chance to appear. Why he has to be in this book though, I don't know. He’s not necessary to the story, he’s not been a part of Fabletown for years now and there’s really no reason to set the story while he's still around just to give him a pointless cameo. But for some reason the writers of Fables always try to squeeze Jack in at any and all opportunities and pretend that he’s just a harmless trickster rouge rather than a vile rapist shitbag, which is what he actually is.
Aaaanyway, back to the story. As someone who doesn’t know much Japanese folklore I have to confess to feeling rather out of my depth and oddly disconnected while reading this. I could follow the plot along just fine (despite a few choppy cuts) but I felt like I was missing key context about certain characters that could have been easily addressed. Without just that little bit of context, explaining the stories the new characters came from, some scenes seemed little more than a barrage of flashy lights and weird monsters. Art-wise, though, it was pretty great to look at and Rapunzel has some fucking fierce outfits and hairstyles too.
But the love story. Well…nothing against Rapunzel being bisexual (I am all for it!) but the relationship between her and Koi No Yokan never managed to feel like an enduring love story of the ages, the writing just couldn't convince me of it, neither in the flashbacks nor in the modern timeline. It felt like a lust-fuelled fling (which again is something I’m all for but probably shouldn't be presented as ‘love’). The real disappointment though was the unnecessary hetrosexual love story in the present-day time period. I’m tired of guys in stories ‘earning’ the heroine just by existing in their proximity and not being total arsewhipes. You cut her hair, Joel Crow, you’re her hairdresser and her friend and she doesn’t owe you fuck all in terms of romance. No, no matter how long you sit silently by pining in secret you will never have the right to get sulky at her for not somehow knowing and respecting your never-vocalised feelings for her. That's what nice guys™ do, and everyone knows they're sexist entitled jerkwads. Also, as a plot thread this romance felt tacked on and underdeveloped. By the way it was written it almost seemed to imply “see! she’s not a lesbian!” or to put an “it was just a phase” filter onto her previous relationship. Both of which are yucky motivations for introducing a love interest. The story would have worked just as well, if not better (much better), with Rapunzel traveling to Japan on her own.
But at least, the story wasn’t shown through the male character’s eyes this time. Which, unfortunately, can not be said about the final stand alone issue in this book written by Bill Willingham. It’s pretty much everything I dislike about the treatment of women in the Fables universe – a story about a woman’s life – in this case her love life – told through the eyes of a man who wants to date her. It’s just as skeevy as it sounds. And the ‘joke’ of the story is completely puerile. ‘Hurhur, she’s a dryad. Dryads are trees. Trees ‘eat’ manure. Dryads must eat poo. Hurhur! Dryads have poo breath!’. And that, in a nutshell, was basically the whole plot. The only part of the story worth reading at all was the “ominous epilogue” – and that could probably have been squeezed into any number of Fables stories without interrupting anything.
So yeah, three stars. The Rapunzel story was good and a definite improvement on the last volume in terms of actually doing what this series said it would by showing female characters having their own stories and adventures. But the Reynard Fox story was, much like a dryad’s casserole, kinda shitty....more
News broke last year that Fables would be ending for good with issue 150. As a massive Fables fan I actually couldn’t have been more pleased be3 Stars
News broke last year that Fables would be ending for good with issue 150. As a massive Fables fan I actually couldn’t have been more pleased because, since issue 75 when the first main plot thread was resolved, the series has rather lost its direction. New threats have been brought in, new villains, but none with the same impact. New plots and ideas and characters have been cycled through at such a pace that I find myself losing track and longing for more of the original main characters to step back into the spotlight. It’s still good, don’t get me wrong, but it's no longer brilliant. And I no longer instantly want to rush out and buy the trade paperbacks the moment they come out, I sit about not even realising they've been released and then go ‘oh yeah…I should probably catch up...‘ when I do chance to see a new volume in my comic store. A planned endpoint is really what the series needs right now.
But onto this particular volume! Although I’ve rated it 3 stars I actually like it more than the last one. It’s a much welcome return to the core cast and the two characters who really sold me on the series right back at the beginning: Snow White and Bigby Wolf.
But, the problems I identified with the post-adversary plot lines are still there. The new villain comes from almost nowhere to suddenly dominate the storyline and then, just as suddenly, be vanquished. If this were a US TV series it would be one of those self contained episodes which has no impact on the overarching season arc. Except that Snow White will have an impact on the Fables universe, a pretty major one, and it makes the whole thing seem really oddly written and plotted out. This is how you chose to get rid of a main character? This? I think I just kind of stared at the page with a raised eyebrow for a full minute. This a character who, if he/she is gone for good, really deserved a much better exit – this is more of a whimper than a bang.
Also, again with the relegating of female characters into mere observers of their own story. Fables gets a lot of praise for its female characters, but it still pulls the ‘men do the physical action things, women do the thinky organising admin. things’ thing more often than I would like. It does get subverted at the end here, with Snow showing us some of her more badass skills, but I can’t help but feel Snow, her sister, and their witchy friends should have been able to work out a way to escape the villain far quicker than they did.
I enjoyed the story – up until the end, and I loved returning to the main characters, but it certainly wasn’t Fables at its best.
The sidestory for this volume was, again, Bufkin’s adventures in Oz and, again, I really don’t care about Oz. I can admire Baum for trying to write fantasy for children that had girls as the heroes and the rulers, but I still think his books themselves are pretty shite. I don’t like the world, I don’t like the characters and, in this case, I don’t like the art. I loved Bufkin when he was in Fabletown, and I’m very sad it doesn’t look like he’ll be returning, but I found his adventures in Oz dull and his romance with Lilly skin crawlingly yuck. So I’m very glad that subplot’s over, it feels like it was going on forever.
The next storyline, according to wikipedia, is apparently ’Camelot’. And, as a lifelong King Arthur buff, I’m looking forward to it. But I’ve more or less accepted now that new volumes of Fables are never going to be as good as the first 11 were....more
Without a doubt the darkest volume of Fables yet, this volume is also the best addition to the series for a long time. It’s not up to early Fab 4 Stars
Without a doubt the darkest volume of Fables yet, this volume is also the best addition to the series for a long time. It’s not up to early Fables standards, and I’m still not quite sure that the series was best served by continuing after the main plotline of the Adversary was concluded, rather than ending it on a satisfying, epic conclusion – Fables has been starting to show the wear and tear of a story stretched out beyond it’s initial plotline for a while now – but this has restored some of my faith.
I can’t really say I enjoyed this volume, it’s a pretty horrible story, but it was also a very powerful one. The cubs have been a constant presence in Fables since their introduction but, apart perhaps from Ambrose, I’ve always found them rather one-note and rather underdeveloped until these last two volumes – almost indistinguishable save by their gender and hair colours. Yet Cubs in Toyland, despite a few pacing issues, got me invested in their fates and managed to land some pretty emotional punches too.
And the artwork, I’m sure, played a big part in that. I’ve loved Mark Buckingham’s art since the beginning of course (though his Pinocchio took some getting used to) but it worked particularly well in this story. If you want bleak, hopeless, and more than a little terrifying, he’s obviously your guy.
As for the story. I’m not quite sure how and where it fits into the wider Fables plots going on at the moment, but obviously it’s going to have a huge impact on the Bigby/Snow family in future books. Therese (the blonde girl cub) is magically kidnapped by a creepyass toy boat and taken to a creepyass magical Toyland peopled by broken dolls and dismembered teddybears who declare her their queen. Only living in a decaying castle full of decaying toys isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (who knew?) and in a land of inanimate objects there is nothing for a human girl to eat. It’s up to her family, and particularly her brother, ‘pack leader’, Darien, to find and rescue her before she slowly starves to death.
As well as the Toyland plotline we also got a look in on the training of the new North Wind (my joint-favourite of the cubs), an intriguing vision of their future (my least favourite bit of artwork in the volume – magic hair colour change and stupid posing), a short story from Bigby Wolf’s past that promises an interesting future for another of the cubs, and the set up for nasty bit of backstabbing and treachery down the line in the main Fabletown plot too.
As I said, this book has a few pacing issues, the conclusion isn’t entirely satisfactory, and could probably do with a bit more exposition about certain plot elements, but it is the most raw and powerful instalment Fables has had in while. So while not ‘enjoyable’ per se, and while still far from my favourite volume, it still gets a high star rating from me.
But I will be happy to get back to the grown-up, better developed cast in the next volume....more
Although this book is the first book of its own series, it contains some pretty big spoilers for events in its parent series, Fables. In fact I 4 Stars
Although this book is the first book of its own series, it contains some pretty big spoilers for events in its parent series, Fables. In fact I’m not sure how someone trying to read this series without having read Fables first would be able to get into it, as it does rely quite a bit on knowing the character’s backstories already. But I enjoyed it, not as much as I was hoping, but a lot more than I was fearing after the last Cinderella book. It’s not the best, and I battled for a long time with myself over whether it should really be a 3 or 4 star read, but in the end, despite a few misgivings, I decided to be generous. Definitely worth checking out if you’re following Fables already, it has the same sort of feel to it – something the previous spinoff, Jack of Fables didn’t – but I’m not sure I’d recommend that someone new to the Fables universe starts here.
Fairest is, or is meant to be, a female-led spinoff from the main series, taking its name from the idea that with all the fairytale characters now living together there are lots and lots of ‘fairest of them all’s. I say ‘meant to be’ however because for the first half of the ‘Wide Awake‘ storyline it seemed a very standard male-led story with Ali Baba as the roguish hero and the second story ‘Lamia‘ is an entirely male led ‘film noir’ detective story. I liked both stories, but this is definitely something I want to see done better in future books – females taking leading roles in their own stories rather than being either love interests or the motivation for men’s adventures.
Still,as I said, I liked both stories. Wide Awake, the longer of the two takes up 6 of the 7 issues collected in this volume and is focussed, as you might expect from the title, on Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), last seen in the main comics in an enchanted sleep with Lumi, the Snow Queen, being carted away by goblins. The story opens with Ali Baba (of forty thieves fame), accompanied by an exposition-loving bottle imp, breaking into the goblin camp and waking Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Unfortunately with Briar Rose awake her spell breaks and wakes the Snow Queen up as well and the Snow Queen is (or was) a serious baddy. I have to say I felt she was a little ‘de-fanged’ here, which was a bit disappointing. And, though I liked it, the story seemed both to drag on and to be a little rushed in places. There is an awful lot of exposition on Briar Rose’s origins but very little of it is new information – the fairies who blessed/cursed her now have specific names, but actually it follows most versions or the ‘original story’ too closely to surprise anyone and I found the idea that Briar Rose had never heard the story before kind of baffling. But while that stuff seemed to slow things down the ‘present day’ stuff seemed rather rushed, making the relationships between the characters and their motivations seem very shallow. Limitation of the format, I guess, and the difference in reading these issues bound together in a single trade vs reading in monthly instalments. Despite a few problems it certainly had a nice Fables-y feel to it though, a much more promising start than the last spinoff I read.
The second story, Lamia, I’m still conflicted about. It’s a good little story, it’s got a nice art style to it as well, but it has some pretty huge implications for characters in the main comic and on how the reader now has to perceive those characters both going forward and with hindsight. And I’m just not sure I want to see those implications played out, I liked the reading I already had of them. But I guess I’ll just wait and see, it could turn out to be amazing.
A solid start to the series, not the most welcoming for new readers but I guess that’s not really the intention. What I would like to see going forward though is a lot more ‘female led stories’ and less ‘stories about men thinking about women’. With the title and publicity promoting this as a series about female characters I would like those female characters to have more agency, more varied goals and ambitions, and not to be called ‘bitches’ so often by the other characters they share the page with. And since each story is apparently going to have a different writer, I would like to see more women writing and drawing these stories too, writing them without male love interests and drawing them without ‘male gaze’ fanservice. I like Bill Willinghams writing on Fables, I liked most of the art in this book (though I couldn’t work out what was happening in the action scenes) but I won’t lie that I am worried this series won’t live up to the awesomeness that it could be if it continues to be so male dominated....more
Inherit the Wind is a much better volume than Super Team. The ‘superhero’ gimmick has thankfully been dropped – one volume was fun anymore an3.5 Stars
Inherit the Wind is a much better volume than Super Team. The ‘superhero’ gimmick has thankfully been dropped – one volume was fun anymore and it would have been horrible – and it’s back to more standard Fables storytelling. All the same it’s still not quite up to the standard of some of the earlier volumes. Part of this is because it’s an inbetweeny, set-up, sort of book. The last volume resolved a major plot thread so this volume has to introduce us to the next few plotlines, something it manages with varying success.
The title storyline, Inherit the Wind, gives some sort of self-contained structure to the volume and is by far the most interesting thread of the three plotlines that take up the majority of the book (Finding a successor to the North Wind, Bufkin’s adventures in Oz, and Mrs. Spratt training for revenge on Fabletown). After having treated ‘the cubs’ almost as a single entity throughout a lot of the run it was interesting to see more panel time devoted to their individual personalities and the sibling relationships between them. I have to confess that I still can’t remember half of their names, but I have a slightly better grip on their personalities now and after hearing the prophecy surrounding them in this volume I look forward to them developing further and featuring more prominently in the future. I also liked the choice for which one did eventually win the title of the next North Wind. The entrance of the East, South, and Western winds also introduces some interesting story potential. The only bum note in this storyline that I can really think of is that Bigby and Snow’s dialogue came a little from ‘the big book of parent dialogue’.
The other plotlines in this book though…eh…I honestly can’t rate them too highly. If the payoff is good I’ll take it all back, but Nurse Spratt’s scenes seemed both too frequent and far too repetitive to really hold my interest: be praised by how far she’s come, flirt with whatshisface, make vague threats to destroy Fabletown, rinse and repeated ad nauseum. And call me oversensitive as well but I have to say I also find the ‘bitter fat woman’ characterisation a little…lazy? I can understand where the plot comes from in a verse were almost all the other females are ‘the fairest in the land’, but it really plays into the whole misogynistic idea that women who aren’t ‘pretty’ are all jealous bitches. If something interesting happens there I will take it all back, and for the moment I’m really reserving judgement on this plot, it could go somewhere really good, but it has yet to wow me.
The final of the main plotlines though did more than just fail to impress, in fact it actually prompted me to use the contemptuous look that I normally reserve for creepy men who try to grind up against me in nightclubs (and that normally sees them shuffling off looking suitably shamed). Bufkin in Oz…Bufkin in Oz… what to say about this plot… I stated in my review of Super Team that, although I love Bufkin, I don’t very much like Oz and well, if anything the dislike has increased with this volume. I was silently hoping that a more competent writer than Baum might do something I liked with the potentially interesting setting – unfortunately not. In fact if anything the Oz storyline has brought about some of the most puerile and irritating writing of the whole series ‘The new emperor fed me lots of people, because he had many enemies to go away of. “Yoop,” he’d say to me, “the secret of a stable empire is to turn all of your enemies into waste product as quickly and as often as they spring up.” Yoop poop!’. How funny! A babby-talking giant who eats people and shits them out! Oh wait, that’s not remotely funny. The whole storyline is characterised by this childish writing and annoying characters that simply don’t gel with the tone of the rest of the series. Unfortunately this plot also looks to be a big one, having come nowhere close to a resolution by the end of the volume. It’s not quite The Great Fables Crossover level of shit, but it’s probably going to be similarly ignored and sipped straight over in subsequent rereads. If you like Oz though you might like this, I'll happily admit my bias against the setting may be clouding my judgement.
And that’s it for the main story, the last two issues collected in the volume are ‘standalones’. ‘All in a Single Night’, a Christmas Carol>/i> parody featuring Rose Red is surprisingly important for what at first glance looked like a ‘holiday special’. It sets up her upcoming role as one of the major players in the series and I have to say this is one thing that I am really looking forward to in the next few volumes. Rose Red is awesome and definitely deserves more time to shine. The second standalone ‘In those days‘ is more of a traditional standalone, being a collection of very short stories, illustrated by a number of different artists, set in the fairytale worlds before they were conquered. Mostly these stories are self-contained but at least one gives some insight into the past of characters we have seen before.
So overall a solid, if slightly directionless volume. I like where the North Wind plot is going, where the Rose Red plot is going, and reserve judgement on the Mrs. Spratt plot. Only the Oz storyline doesn’t gel well, and even there I’m still hoping that later volumes will me round to it....more
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. ACrossposted from my blog
Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. And it makes me sad because, despite the recent lackluster issues, I do love Fables and Cinderella was one of my favourite characters. I enjoyed her last miniseries too – not as much as the main comics but enough to buy the second – but this is just…underwhelming on all fronts.
I’m especially disappointed with it because I was midway through drafting a post about how the portrayal of women in mainstream superhero comics puts me off buying them when this arrived on my doorstep and well…just look at that cover. Almost every other page seems to be an excuse to put Cinderella in underwear/a bikini/a towel/nothing. At least she has more human anatomy than a lot of comic book women but it’s still totally gratuitous. I know this Cinderella’s a sexy sexy spy who uses her looks as a tool – the first time we really meet her in the mainline Fables series she’s seducing a repulsive bloke as part of her job – but having her first appearance here be wandering round in a bikini in the snow (in Russia!) is ridiculous. Yes she has a reason for it and yes the first person narration acknowledges that it’s ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it better: she has a reason for it because the writer wanted her in a bikini enough that he made up a reason for it and then openly acknowledged the situation as stupid in the textboxes. There were many, many ways she could have used her spy skills to track the people she’s trailing down, the only reason to go for this way is to put her in a skimpy outfit. If it’s meant to draw people in it’s having the opposite effect with me – I’m now doubting that I even want to read Fairest (a new female-centric Fables spinoff) when it comes out.
But onto the story…what little there is. Fables are forever follow’s super-spy Cinderella’s attempt to track down her ‘archenemy’, a super assassin named ‘Silver Slipper’, accompanied by this miniseries Bond-Guy, the Russian Fable Ivan Durak (Ivan the Fool). Peppered throughout it are flashbacks to Cinderella’s previous run ins with Silver Slipper in the 80s which mainly consist of frames showing the two women shouting at each other, fighting each other, or tying each other up. The actual modern-day strand of plot is equally thin on content and complexity with things happening to the character rather than her making things happen. Cinderella seems to spend most of the time reminiscing about her previous encounters rather than actually doing anything.
And the Silver Slipper well.. although it’s revealed in the first issue I won’t share her identity – but if you’re familiar with the original books rather than the film adaptation it’s not gunna come as a surprise for you. While she could have been very interesting she ended up being a bit of cardboard cut out ‘evil woman’. I didn’t really get why she was so fascinated with Cinderella and I don’t get why Cinderella considered her her ‘archnemesis’. Silver Spy works as a mercenary for ‘Shadow Fabletown’, an organisation we’ve never been introduced to before but apparently stands in for Cold War Russia to main Fabletown’s America… really, did we have to go there? I know it’s a spy story and people love setting those in the Cold War but it doesn’t work. In fact ‘Shadow Fabletown’ seems to be minding its own business and doing nothing much besides ‘existing’ before Cinderella pokes her nose in. Her original mission seems pointless and her later mission to get a member to ‘defect’ to Fabletown seems even more so. Literally no reason is given why Fabletown couldn’t get in touch with a friendlier envoy and try to start up a better and mutually beneficial relationship – at the 1980s point in the story both groups are refugees from the same war with a common enemy, allies are just what they need! The whole Cold War element just seems ill-conceived.
Worse than the ‘wait a minute…’ moments though is the repetitive repetition (see what I did there?). As a miniseries I know the writer has to update the reader on what’s going on at the beginning of each issue in case someone missed the last or hasn’t read it since it came out and has forgotten details, but when they’re all collected together in one volume it doesn’t work. Every time we go to a flashback we get treated to a summary of what happened in the last issue’s flashback – when collected together this can be summarising a scene that happened as little as three pages ago and makes for really disjointed storytelling. Flashbacks and stories told in multiple timezones I can deal with – when I have to read the same scene told in an almost identical way several times I get annoyed. Maybe the summarising would have been less annoying had the narration not been first person from Cinderella’s point of view – it just made her sound forgetful and stupid - having to repeat and summarise herself so much - rather than the super-intelligent spy she’s meant to be. Even some important lines stressing the differences between Cinderella and Silver Slipper (‘I’m a patriot, she’s a ‘mercenary’) seem to have been repeated ad nauseam so that they no longer have any impact by the time we reach what’s meant to be the climactic show down between the two.
It’s not a terrible book though. It’s certainly not great, and it’s a massive step down from almost any of the mainstream Fables volumes, but I didn’t dislike it enough to give it one star. The plot twist at the end of the main timeline was interesting – even if I did see it coming – but most of the rest was just a series of things happening and unconvincing flashbacks that didn’t really fit with what regular readers would know about Fabletown history. So yeah…2 stars.
Oh and I guess I should mention that it’s got a one issue Cinderella story from the main Fables series tucked away at the back too. But I don’t quite understand the point: regular Fables readers will already have read it and newbies to the series well…firstly they shouldn’t be starting here and secondly it’s issue 51 and art of an overarching Fables storyline so a lot of the context that would be needed to really understand it isn’t there…
At least it completes a set on my shelves though…...more