Archive for January, 2012

#CBR4 Cannonball 11: Fables, Volume 9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 9: Sons of EmpireFables, Vol. 9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sons of Empire was a little up and down for me, but the little bonus at the end brought the volume as a whole back up to solid ground.

The Fables are continuing to prepare for the possibility of war against the Adversary, and the Adversary is now preparing his hostile takeover of the mundy world (that’s our world, y’all). This is especially tough for Pinocchio, who still loves his friends back in Fabletown, even though he’s under a loyalty enchantment to his father, Geppetto (also known as the Adversary).

Here’s one thing I don’t get: the wooden soldiers Geppetto creates to people his armies are so disdainful of “meat” people (humans). Yet, they hold their “father” in such high reverence. It doesn’t make sense to me that they’d think so ill of meat when their own beloved father is meat.

Snow & Bigby continue rearing their rambunctious brood of sons and daughters, and the kids are growing and learning all the time.

There are two special treats at the end of this volume. The first is a Christmas special, and we get to see the Wolf family take a special trip back to the Homelands to visit Grandpa: the North Wind. He and Bigby have a strained relationship, and we get to peek behind the curtain and see why.

By the way, the Wolf kids/cubs are absolutely adorable. Good job, artists.

The second special treat is especially fun. Over the years in which Fables has been in publication, readers have sent in thousands of questions. Willingham and the writers chose eleven questions to answer in one-page comics. Some of them are absolutely hilarious. This segment alone elevates an otherwise unremarkable volume.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 10: Fables, Volume 8: Wolves by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 8: WolvesFables, Vol. 8: Wolves by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s been a lot of build-up for this volume. Mowgli’s hunting down Bigby, Fabletown is still strategizing for a war against the Adversary, and Snow White is raising six kids/cubs on the Farm.

It’s the will they/won’t they of the series, and we finally get answers. The tying off of that thread is beautifully and satisfyingly done, but Willingham’s a smarter writer than to just leave it there. He knows how to keep us on the line, even though we’ve already gotten the answer to the question we called in to ask in the first place.

In this case, he does so by introducing a new world to us: the Cloud Kingdom. It exists over all of the other kingdoms, which is interesting, considering that we’re already supposed to believe that there are thousands of other dimensions in existence. The Fables want a treaty with the Cloud Kingdom, but the Cloud Kingdom is hesitant to get involved, since the Adversary poses no immediate threat to them.

Wolves was a nice lift after Arabian Nights. I just hope that Willingham can keep the mojo going.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 9: Fables, Volume 7: Arabian Nights by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 7: Arabian Nights (and Days)Fables, Vol. 7: Arabian Nights by Bill Willingham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

They say that too many cooks spoil the broth. I would say that, sometimes, it’s too many ingredients that spoil it.

Arabian Nights fell a little flat for me. I was excited when Willingham started including characters from the Arabian Nights world. But the storyline involving them wasn’t all that captivating. Also, one of the characters kept calling Sinbad, supposedly the head of this royal retinue, “sirrah.” I gathered that he meant it as a term of honor, but I couldn’t get over the fact that, in English, it has a negative connotation. If what they’re saying in Arabic is going to be translated into English, then shouldn’t that term be translated, too?

The one thing I will say is that Frau Totenkinder is pretty ossom. She’s the wicked witch of “Hansel and Gretl” fame. Her name is German for “dead children,” and she’s ossomly creepy, and Willingham uses her well.

There was a vaguely interesting secondary plotline involving a wooden soldier from the Adversary’s armies. Rodney, a wooden soldier, falls in love with June, a wooden “medic” — she repairs damaged wooden soldiers’ limbs. Together, they travel to find Geppetto and ask him to turn them into flesh so that they can marry and raise children. It’s a sweet, little love story, and a reminder that the soldiers in the enemy’s army are people, too, with cares and lives disturbingly similar to ours.

It’s a nice aside, but I still hope that the next volume gets back to top form again.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 8: Fables, Volume 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 6: HomelandsFables, Vol. 6: Homelands by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This volume of Fables revolves mostly around Boy Blue. Unlike in the nursery rhyme, he’s actually a fierce warrior in addition to being a talented bugler.

His mission is to return to the Homelands, which have been taken over by the mysterious Adversary, and to rescue Red Riding Hood, the woman he loves, or die trying.

There’s plenty of adventure and subterfuge involved. Blue has stolen the Witching Cloak, a magical cloak that can teleport you to different places and hide items until you need them, and the Vorpal Sword, of “Jabberwocky” fame, which can vanquish any foe. He goes riding through the Homeland until he finds and confronts the Adversary.

We also get a short tangent about the life of Jack Horner, the “Jack” of all the fairytales and nursery rhymes. After the Battle of Fabletown, he steals a bunch of treasure from the Fabletown coffers, moves to Hollywood, and starts a production company (“Nimble Pictures”), which he uses to make a movie trilogy about “Jack.” The second movie, interestingly enough, is called Jack the Giant Killer. So, did I miss the first movie or what?

This volume is full of twists and turns, from the Adversary’s identity to Blue’s reunion with Red Riding to the truth about Blue’s quest into the Homelands. This series is going strong.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 7: Fables, Volume 5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 5: The Mean SeasonsFables, Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mean Seasons is a solid follow-up to The March of the Wooden Soldiers. After the Battle of Fabletown, we get a nice expositional episode that ties up a few loose ends: Snow White gives birth, there’s a regime change in Fabletown politics, and we get to see behind the scenes into Bigby’s operations as Sheriff of Fabletown.

We also get treated to a scene from the past, from Bigby’s time serving in World War II.

And some new threads are also introduced: there’s a serial killer on the loose in Fabletown, we meet Bigby’s father: the North Wind, and Fabletown comes to the cusp of war with the Adversary.

There’s a lot of good exposition in this volume, and I appreciated the character development. Willingham continues to introduce plenty of new characters into the story, but doesn’t do so at the cost of putting any of the original starring cast on the backburner.

All in all, it’s a solid volume, and it made me eager to read the next one.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 6: Othello by William Shakespeare

OthelloOthello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A word to the wise: reading on the Kindle is great: you can take your book with you on the go and read without having to physically hold your book open.

But if you’re going to read Othello on Kindle, do your very best not to read the last act in public, and especially not while doing cardio at the gym. Reading it in public will rob you of the comfort of tears, and reading it on the elliptical machine will turn your workout into an ugly spectacle of snot, sweat, tears, and gasping.

I saw Othello before I ever read it. I studied abroad in England in the last semester of my senior year, and part of the program was to take weekly excursions all over England. One week, we visited Stratford-upon-Avon, and had the privilege of watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello.

I remember being profoundly moved by the last act, and I experienced that same emotion today on the elliptical machine at 24-Hour Fitness.

Othello is a Moor. He’s the 16th century equivalent of a Huxtable: he’s black, but respected. He’s the general of an army, and the play opens with his elopement with Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman. Roderigo, another wealthy nobleman, is sulky because he wanted Desdemona for himself. This presents a golden opportunity for Iago, Othello’s right-hand man, who pretends to be loyal to Othello, but is actually eaten up with envy of the Moor. Iago and Roderigo conspire to deceive Othello and bring him to ruin.

othello and iago

Othello (Laurence Fishburne) and Iago (Kenneth Branagh) in the 1995 film version,

If you’ve ever been tempted to do something underhanded because you were jealous of someone else, you can understand Othello. But it’s also a cautionary tale, showing the dire consequences of jealousy. Iago himself ironically warns Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock/The meat it feeds on…” (III.iii.165-167)

(Basically, he’s saying, “Don’t be jelly, cuz it’ll eat you up.”)

o and i

Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett) and Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) in O, the crappy 2001 bastardization of the play.

We see the poisoned fruit that jealousy bears: Iago’s jealousy leads him to set the plot against Othello in motion. Roderigo’s jealousy leads him to get involved, which (SPOILER ALERT!!) eadslay otay ishay untimelyyay eathday. Othello’s jealousy, once sparked by Iago’s insinuations, leads him to destroy everything he has, including that which he loved most in life.

It’s Shakespearean tragedy at its best. The audience is helplessly pulled into the action unfolding before them, watching as Othello’s passionate love for Desdemona, nudged off-balance by Iago’s machinations, slowly but inexorably destroys everything in its path — and all in language that will make your soul shudder at its terrible beauty.

If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend that you try to see a staged production. Bring the Kleenex. Leave the elliptical machine.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 5: Fables, Volume 4: The March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden SoldiersFables, Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m glad that Bill Willingham thought to follow up the somewhat weaker Storybook Love with some good, old-fashioned war. It’s a smart move that gets us all back on the bandwagon of Fables = GOOD, Adversary = BAD.

We start with a seemingly unrelated tale: Little Boy Blue, who served as an aide de camp to the Fable general who led the last stand to protect the last gateway to the mundy world from the Fablelands, tells the sad tale of the fall of that army. In the process, he met and had a night of passion with Red Riding Hood (more nudity. It’s unfortunate, since it kind of tainted this volume for me). They were in love, but, thanks to a misunderstanding, she was left behind, while Blue made it out.

Aside: whenever I think of Little Boy Blue, I can’t help but to think of Michael Emerson:

Some of the art in the beginning of this volume is a little off. Hmm, never thought I’d have much of an opinion about that.

Anyway, so, Snow White is coping with her pregnancy as best she can when she has a dream in which she’s visited by the head of Colin Pig (who was murdered in Animal Farm), who warns her that great danger is coming. This dream puts her on edge.

In the meantime, the rest of Fabletown is dealing with the upcoming mayoral election, which will, for the first time in Fabletown’s history, have a candidate to vote for besides the incumbent, King Cole: Prince Charming.

But before the election can really get off the ground, Fabletown is faced with an unstoppable army that threatens not only to wipe out the citizens of Fabletown, but also threatens to out them to the mundys in the area. Reinforcements are called in from the upstate Farm, but Snow is worried that, without Bigby, who’s gone off to look into a troubling matter to the north, Fabletown won’t be able to hold its ground.

It’s all kinds of fun to see Fabletown gearing up for a battle royale, and to see some of the Adversary’s forces close-up for the first time. The battle itself is pretty epic, and there’s a good enough twist at the end to definitely make you want to pick up Volume 5.

Another solid “episode” of this series.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 4: Fables, Volume 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook LoveFables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Storybook Love; I did. But, as ridiculous as this sounds, I did think that you had to… ahem… suspend your disbelief a little more with this one than you did in the first two volumes of this series.

The volume starts off pretty fun, with a glimpse into Jack Horner’s adventures during the Civil War. It’s funny and pretty charming; he cheats both the Devil and Death in this segment (nudity warning here. Jack be a player). It’s just an aside, so it doesn’t have much bearing on the main story of the volume.

The main storyline comes in two parts. The first is about a mundy reporter who documents the existence of the Fable community. The only thing is, he thinks they’re vampires. Bigby gets a crew together to neutralize the mundy and, in the process, makes an enemy of Bluebeard.

The second part results from Blackbeard’s beef with Bigby, and he enchants Bigby and Snow White and sends them into the Cascade Mountains to be assassinated by Goldilocks, who’s on the lam for her part in the insurrection we saw in Animal Farm. She’s been shacking up with Bluebeard, and he sends her to take down Bigby and Snow.

We see some romantic tensions slowly building between Bigby and Snow, which take a shocking turn at the end of the volume.

bigby wolf and snow white

Bigby in wolf form with Snow. I want to pet him.

While it was still a fun read, there were a lot of little details that seemed a little sloppy to me. For example, Prince Charming begins spying on Bluebeard and discovers that he’s plotting to kill Bigby and Snow. How did he decide to start spying on Bluebeard? How would he communicate with the Mounted Police (Lilliputians riding on Fable mice) to put them on the case? What authority does he even have to put them on the case?

And the whole thing of Bluebeard enchanting Bigby and Snow to get them out camping in the Cascades seemed just a bit lazy to me. I mean, I know you’ve gotta throw them into some crazy adventure to bring them closer together, but, come on.

I can’t believe I’m essentially saying that this story about fairy tale characters living in New York City was a little too unbelievable for me.

But it’s still a fun read, and the characters still hold steady, even if some of the plotlines are a little shaky.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 3: Fables, Volume 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 2: Animal FarmFables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun one.

So, we learned in Vol. 1, Legends in Exile, that those Fables (fairy tale characters) who couldn’t pass as normal humans in New York City live on a farm in upstate New York.

Snow White and Rose Red travel upstate for Snow’s semi-annual visit, but they’re met with an unexpected rebellion: some of the Fables living on the farm felt that living in a prison for your own protection is a prison nonetheless.

Although some characters really only make cameos, it’s still fun to see so many fictional characters all jumbled together, rubbing elbows: Shere Khan and Baghera the Panther from The Jungle Book, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe and all of her spawn (who are armed to the teeth, by the way), and Reynard the Fox from Aesop’s Fables are all living together with characters from classic fairy tales like the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Willingham’s handling of the animal uprising is a little predictable, but still fun. And at least he’s trying to inject some real-world themes into his work. We meet our first true villain of the series, and, incidentally, see our first true murder of the series as well. Because the tone of the novel is so fun, it was a little jarring to see such a serious and gruesomely portrayed incident. But it’s jarring in a good way; a stark reminder from Willingham that, while these stories are all in good fun, there’s a real world out there for which actions like these have dire consequences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this volume; it “read” like another solid episode of a TV show.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 2: Fables, Volume 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in ExileFables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” is getting mixed reviews: some people like it, and others hate it, and some are willing to give it a chance because it’s being produced by two of the writers from “Lost.” It’s drawn some comparisons to Bill Willingham’s Fables, but the producers claim that they’re “telling a different story” with the show.

After having read the first volume of Fables, I wish that they’d decided to adapt this for TV instead.

In Willingham’s world, the former residents of the Homelands — better known as characters from popular fairy tales — have been forced into exile because an Adversary has taken over their lands. The Fables, as they call themselves, now live in New York City amongst the “mundies” (mundane people like you and me) in a secret community imaginatively dubbed “Fabletown.” Unlike the wide-eyed innocents of the fairy tales most of us grew up reading, the residents of Fabletown are hardened, jaded, and about as human as fairy folk can get.

In this series, Willingham perfectly blends fairy tales and noir, which I would never have thought possible. His characters have a certain bite to them that’s missing from the ABC show. “Once Upon a Time” is still essentially about the fight between good and evil. The line between the two is deliciously blurred in Willingham’s series. While it’s generally accepted that Adversary = BAD and Fables = GOOD, that doesn’t stop the Fables from bickering amongst each other.

fables

Snow White invites herself to become part of Bigby Wolf's investigation.

In the first volume, Legends in Exile, Willingham introduces us to the main characters. Snow White is the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown. While the Mayor, King Cole, is the figurehead, Snow’s the one who’s really running the show. She’s smart, tough, and determined. Bigby (short for “Big Bad”) Wolf is a reformed villain who now works as Fabletown’s sheriff. The two are forced to work together when Snow’s sister, Rose Red, goes missing. Bigby proves himself to be quite the detective, and the story moves at a solid pace while introducing us to various characters in the Fable world.

The story is smart and entertaining, a novel spin on the fairy tales of your childhood. The artwork is also pretty classic, which adds to the fun of the series. Legends in Exile read like an episode of a television crime procedural to me, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You know I loves me some “Law & Order.” If this volume is the graphic novel equivalent to a pilot episode, then I’m looking forward to the rest of the “series run,” so to speak.

On an unrelated note: I think I watch too much television.

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