J.G. Keely's Reviews > Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love

Fables, Vol. 3 by Bill Willingham
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's review
Nov 12, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: comics, fantasy, reviewed

Not as awful as the first two volumes, but still not very good. Not very good at all. It all comes down to the the unpracticed awkwardness of the writing. The characters spend most of their time explaining the plot, and the rest spouting movie cliches.

They don't have much personality because all we know about them is what we're told in the wordy exposition of other characters. If you want a character to be clever, have him do clever things, don't just have other characters tell us how clever he is. But even in the moments where the characters might actually exhibit some personality, it usually falls flat due to unrealistic or cliche dialogue.

Like this little gem:

"I have to call ahead. This is a SECURITY residence".

That's a sentence that no one has ever said or written before, yet somehow, it still sounds unoriginal.

Prince Charming is untrustworthy. We've been told as much every time he has appeared since the very first story arc, and he also demonstrates it at every opportunity. Long after this has been established, this line is delivered to him: "and you would know "treacherous" when you see it, dear--". Most authors would leave this unremarkable observation hanging, letting the reader fill in with a knowing raise of the eyebrows, but Willingham boldly completes the caesura: "being so personally experienced at it."

Really? The original statement is already redundant, it doesn't give us any new insight into the character, it's not clever or original, it's just another bubble, rudely pointing at someone's head, filling up space. Then, he adds an unnecessary and repetitive cap on it. That's what drives me crazy about this comic: it's not realistic enough to be sympathetic, nor is it ridiculous enough to be entertaining.

Later on, as two characters find themselves driving out of control down a tree-covered cliff, one of them remarks, mid-plummet "Try to avoid hitting the trees head on, but use contact with them to slow us down!" Even a character who was the picture of grace-under-pressure would phrase that with more 'oomph'. James Bond would make a bigger deal of it, and he's a sociopath with suicidal leanings. There's just no feeling to it, no character, no sense of how human beings behave.

If you noticed the author's GR bio there, next to this book, you might have learned that he worked on some of the early 'Dungeons & Dragons' modules, which gives me a warm, nostalgic feeling. But now I can't help but think of all the worst stereotypes about those guys, and what a pain they were to play with:

I find myself careening down a tree-lined cliff when suddenly, in my moment of peril, I hear a bland, unmodulated voice speaking to me, calmly telling me to use glancing contact with trees to slow myself. Was that the voice of Kanggax the Elf-Lord? Did he turn his head to me, wriggling in the ever-tightening grip of a Gynosphynx to scream across the widening expanse, while completing an off-hand attack, telling me how best to fall down a cliff?

No. It's just Steve, his dim-witted player, wriggling in the ever-tightening grip a belt he has already punched new holes into with a nail, blandly explaining in monotone, while deftly pushing his glasses up the same nose he peers down with such practiced condescension, because explaining things makes him feel useful.

But Ravager Deathwarden can't hear you, Steve, he's falling off a cliff in a magic, storybook world, deafened by his own roar of impotent, plummeting rage.

Even those of us who didn't spend our formative years in a basement playing games likely still recognize this kind of impersonal exposition; perhaps from an awkward, know-it-all cousin trying to explain the plot of the movie you're currently watching. Clumsy, overly-detailed exposition is not a very entertaining way to tell a story.

But it's not like the dialogue is the only thing 'off' about this comic, it's just the most persistently annoying one, and its spoiling effect seeps through to everything else in the book like a ruinous sop. The characters are dull. Our protagonist is Wolf, who is clearly Willingham's sweat-stained love letter to a mid-nineties Wolverine. He's so hairy and smoke-wreathed and grimacey with his fuzzy, undefined, threat-spewing mouth that I just want to give him a guest spot in Spiderman every month and make him the leader of the Avengers.

Oh well. This comic book sucks. I'm going to go read something else. I just want to leave you all with a piece of wisdom to turn over in your minds when you have a solitary moment, letting the variance of meanings coalesce; really try to SEE the hypocrisy of dualism highlighted in its central, ironical conceit:

"I have to call ahead. This is a SECURITY residence"

A security residence, indeed.

My Suggested Readings in Comics
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Reading Progress

November 12, 2010 – Started Reading
November 12, 2010 – Shelved
November 12, 2010 – Shelved as: comics
November 12, 2010 – Shelved as: fantasy
November 13, 2010 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 13, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Glad I dropped this turkey after reading Vol 1. I wonder why so many current comic fans over-praise so many mediocre books (looking at you Walking Dead.) Maybe the current crop of comic readers are so desperate to have new creators of the quailty of Moore, Morrison, Ellis that they put on rose tinted glasses when reading whatever crap is on the stands.

J.G. Keely Well, there are always those works that seem to achieve popularity by mere chance. These days it can have more to do with what the Barnes & Noble buyer thought the ad budget should be.

Usually I can understand the appeal of mediocre books to some degree. Walking Dead had a strong start and jumps on the big Zombie thing, Pride has its far left anti-war stance, even Twilight has its housewife-pleasing escapist fantasy.

Which is why Fables confuses me. I really don't see the appeal, it's not even fun from a pulp-excitement stance. I guess it's kind of a watered-down rehash of what Gaiman was doing, but really, it's not even close.

Douglas Cootey I don't feel the comic is as bad as you make it out to be, but, heck, it ain't as phenomenal as it has been made out to be, either. Perhaps it is a poor substitute for literary themed work in a sea of mutants, manga rip-offs, and buxom babes. Perhaps James Jean's covers add a sophistication to the series that the insides lack. All I know is that I didn't mind reading this volume, but I won't likely remember it now that I've finished. I'm more interested now in researching how this some-what average story became so critically acclaimed.

Still, I loved your review, but next time you should tell us how you really feel.

J.G. Keely Perhaps it is a poor substitute for literary themed work in a sea of mutants, manga rip-offs, and buxom babes.

Hmm, I guess I was thinking of it from the other direction: in a sea of great Vertigo titles by Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, Ellis, and Milligan, Fables isn't even a blip on the radar.

It does have more literary aspirations than the average mutant-laden anime hybrid, but I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing. There's something unapologetically and guilelessly fun about mainstream comics that Willingham's plodding title lacks.

So for me, it was neither very literary or very fun, and being lost somewhere in-between didn't make for a very interesting book.

But I think that's why it became so popular. I often find that when something reaches popularity, it is because it is so bland and vague that it doesn't directly insult any one group, which really isn't very high praise.

Another part of it is that all the characters come preset with a background. The author doesn't have to write interesting personalities for them to draw readers in because we have a cultural connection to these characters already.

Glad you liked the review. Thanks for the comment.

Joshlynn Fables will always be a huge (and often guilty) pleasure for me, and that's not going to change. Still, this is an elegant and refreshingly honest review. Thanks for helping clear my fanboy haze with your Pauline Kaelian insight.

J.G. Keely Man, I wanted to like it. I was ready to like it, but it was just so bland and--well, you read the review. Comics are a great medium, but I don't see anyone out there beating a new path. All I find are books like Fables, Scalped, Y: The Last Man, Wanted, and Exterminators that are still doing the same things Gaiman, Moore, Milligan, and Miller were doing thirty years ago, but doing even less with the ideas than the originals.

Ah well, I'll just have to keep looking. Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed the review.

Ronyell Awesome review Keely! The wolf character does seem like Wolverine once was.

J.G. Keely Thanks, glad you agree.

Kyle Herberger-sullivan So if this series is so bad, why did you keep reading it?

Larry Uh the author is assuming you already know these characters from the very well known fairy tales they are derived from. If you are looking for some background material I suggest you go visit the children's section of your local library.

message 11: by Kyle (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle Herberger-sullivan I do wonder what the reviewer thinks of Alan Moore's seminal and one of his most well-known series' The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

message 12: by Kyle (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle Herberger-sullivan The reviewer seems incredibly biased against "nerds" or people who play D&D, way to make your opinion sounds really shallow when you compare it to some pale basement-dweller. It really undermines what could be a well-thought criticism. I can understand clunky dialogue or over-wordy prose, but MAN, this is just way too much hate! You can put Gaiman & Moore on a HUGE pedestal but that means you're
forgetting how A LOT of Sandman's characters are from old fairy tales and Alan Moore's biggest hits are League, which is ALL old characters used in a new interesting setting and Miracleman, an intricate deconstruction of a lackluster ripoff superhero from the 50s. He also notes on how everything he reads these days sounds like everything from Vertigp that isn't by his favorite writers.

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