Tag Archives: Mark Buckingham

Bill Willingham’s Fables 14–22

Bill Willingham (writer), many artists, mainly Mark Buckingham, Lee Loughridge (inking) and Todd Klein (letterer), Fables:
– 14: Witches (Vertigo 2010)
– 15: Rose Red (Vertigo 2011)
– 16: Super Team  (Vertigo 2011)
– 17: Inherit the Wind (Vertigo 2012)
– 18: Cubs in Toyland (Vertigo 2013)
– 19: Snow White (Vertigo 2013)
– 20: Camelot (Vertigo 2014)
– 21: (two short chapters written by Matthew Sturges) Happily Ever After (Vertigo 2015)
– 22: Farewell (Vertigo 2015)

Tl;dr: I binged on the last nine volumes of Bill Willingham’s witty, edgy, intelligent, original stories entwined with twisted versions of fairytales. Mark Buckingham and a host of other artists serve the story brilliantly. While catering to the bloodlust and other lusts of ‘grown-up’ comics readers, this huge work does what the best fantasy does, makes us think about what it means to be human – with a particular emphasis on power struggles. But really the story is the thing.

Fables is a long-form story whose telling spanned 13 years, 150 individual magazine comics, and 22 compilation volumes. I’ve written about earlier volumes here, herehere, here, here and here, and have just finished a most satisfying binge-read of the last nine volumes in less than two weeks. What follows here is a spotty recap.

fables14 In Volume 14, Witches, the narrative picks up with new coherence and energy after a bit of stumbling and crossing over with spinoffs after the halfway mark, when the great battle that had been stewing from the start had been fought and won, and a new, more dangerous enemy unleashed (shades of ISIS rising from the ashes of Saddam Hussein).

Bufkin, the ape librarian who is a close cousin of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld librarian, begins his transformation into a revolutionary hero whose feats appear as a B plot until his apotheosis as a Hanuman-like figure in Volume 20. Here, he is still bookish, as his friend the magic mirror testifies to Baba Yaga, Bufkin’s antagonist in this volume:

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP imageTotenkinder, the powerful ancient witch, becomes even more fearsome, and transforms into a gorgeous young witch (clearly about to become a heroine, as heroines in comics must be young and gorgeous). Ozma, little-girl in appearance, vast in ambition and witchy power but fortunately on the side of good, moves toward centre stage. And Geppetto, the conquered Adversary, begins his long attempt to regain power, in this book with two naked wood spirits as his protectors. As always, the family life of the Fables continues: Beauty announces to Beast that she is pregnant, which is alarming given the gift that Totenkinder has given them (see image on the right).

Fables15With Volume 15, Rose Red, we’re deeply immersed in complex power politics.

Mister Dark continues to consolidate his power, and wreak havoc in New York City, but the Fables are engaged in a web of struggles for dominance. Much of the volume is taken up with Rose Red’s back story, a delightfully, darkly twisted version of a number of Grimm tales (Snow White’s time with the seven dwarfs is spent in a ‘comfort cottage’, and if that phrase reminds you of Japanese army’s treatment of Korean women in the Second World War, you’re barking up the right tree). Things come to a head with a great, shapeshifting duel between Mister Dark and Totenkinder.

fables 16.jpgVolume 16, Super Team, makes the necessarily but potentially dreary preparation for further armed conflict not only tolerable but even enjoyable, as the comics-educated Pinocchio persuades the Fables that they need to dress as superheroes to prevail against the mounting forces of darkness. The battle when it comes is much more personal that the build-up suggests, but this is the book where Mister Dark is disposed of, thanks to fairytale cleverness rather than big explosive violence (though there is some of that amidst the shape-shifting).

fables 17.jpg

Volume 17, Inherit the Wind has many plot balls up in the air, or should I say plates spinning – the dexterity of the telling is brilliant to behold. Mrs Pratt has had a change of name, lost a lot of weight and turned to the Dark (capital intended) side. Ozma utters an oracle about the seven ‘cubs’ of Bigby and Snow, providing a slightly clunky spine for their unfolding narrative (one is to die, one become a king, etc). Rose Red has a Scrooge-like dream on Christmas Eve.

fables 18The main story of Volume 18, Cubs in Toyland, is a digression in which the Fisher King legend is mashed up with the notion of a place where lost toys go.

About here the game of Spot the Author comes on the scene – that is, Bill Willingham come close to disclosing that his alter ego in the Fable universe is the plump and earnest Ambrose, son of Snow White and Bigby. Ambrose narrates much of this book, and, we discover, is to end up partnered with one of the most formidable (and gorgeous) of the fairies.

fables 19.jpegAlmost half of Volume 19, Snow White, is taken up with the revolutionary adventures of Bufkin and his diminutive unrequited lover Lily. Bufkin&Lily.jpgThe art, by Shawn McManus, is brilliantly comic.

In the main story, Snow White’s history comes back to haunt her, and tragedy ensues, not without a lot of big, noisy drama. In this story, not even the most loved characters are safe, and there’s a devastating death, not the first.

fables 20.jpegIn Volume 20, Camelot, things comes to a head, ready for the climactic showdown in the last two books. Rose Red assembles a cohort of knights of a new, very large Round Table. Bigby Wolf meets Boy Blue in an afterlife, and is brought back into this world, but whether a force for good or evil who can say. The former Mrs Sprat is planning major bad stuff. Geppetto has found a way to build a new wooden army of his own – and the last time he had a wooden army he conquered many worlds.

fables 21.jpegThe title of Volume 21, Happily Ever After, is at least partly ironic. But each chapter of the main narrative is followed by a short ‘Last Tale of’ – so we see how at least ten characters end up, or at least what further good or evil they are up to when the series ends (Prince Charming is fighting the good fight on a world that is being taken over by Sinbad, Sleeping Beauty is turning into a zombie somewhere in space, Beauty is happily on the road with a new Beast, the Three Blind Mice logic their way to a happy ending …)

Meanwhile, on the main screen, the great final battle is shaping up to be be between Rose Red and Snow White. The rest of their back story is now told, and in a wonderful use of fairytale logic their sisterly rivalry is revealed as part of a family curse. Both discover they have vast magical powers, and both begin to wear armour. The character who has inherited the title of North Wind (I’m avoiding spoilers) is gathering great forces of nature. There are two male threats to be dealt with: Bigby Wolf, back from the dead, and Snow White’s apparently immortal first husband. There’s a very funny version of Sir Gawain’s decapitation of the Green Knight. By the end it looks as if everyone we cared about in the series is either dead, exited or about to kill the others.

fables 22.jpegAnd then, ‘Farewell’: where other volumes are compilations of up to 11 individual magazine, this one is from a single bumper issue, Nº 150, featuring what the text calls ‘the battle which ended Fabletown for all time’. (If like me you were just a little bored by the big battles at the halfway mark, be of good cheer, this battle has much more character – Willingham isn’t an idiot.)

For evidence that Bill Willingham is a brilliant story teller, you wouldn’t have to go past the way the Bigby-Wolf-out-to-kill-his-children story is resolved, in three and a half spectacular spreads. The dispatching of Snow White’s first husband is masterly in a different way – we’ve understood how it will come about for a hundred pages, but the execution is just beautiful.

Once the final confrontation has played out, there are more ‘Last’ stories. Some are on the raunchy end of the spectrum, as in the solution to the Snow Queen’s love life. Some are blissfully domestic, as in (The Lady of the) Lake’s. There’s politics (Pinocchio becomes a President of the US who will never lie – imagine that!), religion (the Boy Blue cult leader moves on to mammalian jihad), and philosophy (Death’s single page story is not a story). And then there’s a four-page fold-out happy-ever-after picture of Bigby and Snow with 20 generations of descendants.

A word about guest artists and stand-alone stories: in the last two volumes these are the ‘Last’ stories, but every volume has some of them. My favourites are:

Volume 15: ‘A Thing with Those Mice’, in which three blind mice could almost be characters invented by Lewis Carroll, art by Brazilian João Ruas.

Volume 18: ‘The Destiny Game’, in which Ambrose tells the unexpected story of how the Big Bad Wolf came to marry Snow White, with breathtaking guest art by Gene Ha. This incidentally sets up one of the main themes of the remaining volumes, that if someone enters a version of an old story, there is a powerful force at work to make things go the way they did in the original.

Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges’ Great Fables Crossover

Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges (writers),
Mark Buckingham, Tony Akins, Ross Braun, Andrew Pepoy, José Marzán, Jr and Dan Green (artists),
Lee Loughridge and Daniel Vozzo (colorists)
and Todd Klein (letterer),
Fables 13: The Great Fables Crossover (Vertigo 2010)

fables13.jpgThe crossover of this title refers, not to any plot developments in the continuing tale of the Fables (see my earlier posts on Books 1, 3–4, 5, 6–10, and 11–12), but to the fact that its contents were first published in three separate comics franchises – Nos 83–85 of Fables, Nos 33–35 of the spin-off Jack of Fables, and the first and so far only 3 issues of The Literals.

There’s a fairly bumpy start for those of us who haven’t seen Jack since he long ago stormed out to start his own franchise. It seems that he has been heading an army, toying with the affections of a formidable trio of sisters (no, not the Fates but the Page sisters, glamorous librarians with special powers), and generally amassing an entourage of odd non-human and possibly immortal characters. Perhaps readers of Jack of Fables will feel at home; latecomers like me can work it out as we go.

The Mister Dark story arc is put on ice for a story involving the Literals – personifications of aspects of the story-producing process. The most powerful Literal is Pathetic Fallacy, but he rarely uses his power because, well, he’s pathetic. There’s the Reviser, the enemy of imagination. There are the Genres. There’s Writer’s Block, a drooling idiot in a straitjacket. And so on.

Much meta fun is to be had, and this crossover sequence may have been intended to introduce a separate Literals franchise. But it turns out to be a bit of a squib. Rather than character development there’s silliness (the Writer turns Bigby Wolf into a cute little girl) and violence (the cute little girl has a couple of pages of graphic mayhem – and I remind you that the technical meaning of mayhem is the ripping off of parts of an opponent’s body). Though the Genres argue among themselves about how to fight the Fables, it’s the more violent ones – Blockbuster, War, Western and Science Fiction – rather than romance or Comedy, who dominate the action. The comic ends up being a grim reminder of just how militarised the US and its imagination have become.

Of course there are good things: the weird Boy Blue cult that developed in Volume 11 takes an interesting turn; a strange little blue bull, possibly familiar from the Jack of Fables franchise, does a deft parody of a Snoopy Peanuts strip; Jack Frost, son of Jack and the Snow Queen, has a lovely coming-of-age story; the meta elements are interesting – to what extent, for example, do characters take on a life of their own so that their creator can’t change them?

I guess it’s good to know that Jack of Fables exists, but I haven’t been seized with an irresistible urge to read it. I’m looking forward to getting back to the Mister Dark story in Volume 14.

Bill Willingham’s Fables 11 & 12

Bill Willingham (writer),
Mark Buckingham, Niko Henrichon, Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy (artists),
Lee Loughridge (colorist)
and Todd Klein (letterer),
Fables 11: War and Pieces (Vertigo 2008)

Bill Willingham (writer),
Mark Buckingham, Michael Allred, Andrew Pepoy, David Hahn and Peter Gross (artists),
Lee Loughridge and Laura Allred (colorists),
and Todd Klein (letterer),
Fables 12: The Dark Ages  (Vertigo 2009)

fables 11.jpgI’ve blogged about earlier volumes of Fables here, herehere and here. Volume 11 was originally published in single magazine form (that is, as monthly comics) as Fables 70–75. The epic battle that has been brewing between the forces of good and evil – the exiled Fables versus the Adversary’s hordes – in earlier volumes explodes into action here.

The teaser line at the end of the first section says, ‘Next: More gratuitous mayhem.’ And it’s not kidding. There’s a lot of gore, lots of explosions, plenty of dismemberment. Not my cup of tea, especially on Anzac Day, when the Australian government and media cloak the hideous waste of young men’s lives at Gallipoli in borrowed rhetoric about freedom.

I’m glad I read it all the same. It’s intricately plotted with a gratifying twist or two at the end. Bill Willingham is consistently witty – I love his dedication, to ‘the wonderfully restless shade of Edgar Rice Burroughs’. The longer story arcs move along significantly. And it’s a light read, perfect at bedtime and for a walk with the dog when the other book I’m reading at the moment requires solid concentration.

Mercifully, the war comes to an end with this volume, and we can move on.

fables12.JPGVolume 12 (comprising magazines 76–82), The Dark Ages, introduces a new slew of artists. In contrast to the ominous title and the James Jean’s dark pietà on the cover, an optimistic note is struck in the new, bright, clean look of the first chapter’s art, by Michael Allred with color by Laura Allred. It looks as if the main problem now will be how to integrate the recalcitrant but now virtually powerless old Adversary into the community.

But no! As with real wars, the war with the Homelands casts a long shadow. In chapter two Lee Loughridge’s moody color work is back and the Fable community has to deal with terrible grief, first with the loss of one much-loved hero, and then with the slow, agonised death of another.

Worse, as with real wars, new dangers, even more deadly, rise from the ashes of the old. The end of World War One gave rise to Hitler. George W Bush’s declared victory in Iraq unleashed civil war and the horrors of ISIS. Here, the looting of the conquered and devastated Homelands sets loose a dread figure known only as Mister Dark, and all of Fable land is in deep trouble again.

By the end of Volume 12, the whole political geography of this world has changed. The Fables have fled their refuge in Manhattan, and there are hints that Mister Dark is corrupting their relationships from afar, and sowing the seeds of a weird cult (or maybe the weird cult is a separate postwar ailment). Perhaps the ending of the war wasn’t so merciful after all.

There are ten books to go, and I’ve just borrowed the lot from a fellow enthusiast.

Bill Willingham’s Fables 6–10

Bill Willingham and many artists, mainly Mark Buckingham, and Todd Klein letterer, Fables:
– 6: Homelands (Vertigo 2005)
– 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) (Vertigo 2006)
– 8: Wolves (Vertigo 2006)
– 9: Sons of Empire (Vertigo 2007)
– 10: The Good Prince (Vertigo 2008)

fables6.jpg I’ve written about earlier volumes of Fables here, here and here. If I say that these five volumes, borrowed from a son, give us more of the same, that is not a negative comment. The story, which unfolded as a series of monthly comics, came to an end last July with No 150. These five collections bring us up to No 69.

For synopses you can go to Wikipedia. I just want to reflect here that though Bill Willingham may, as he says, have decided to work with fairy tale characters because they are out of copyright, that’s not as simple as it sounds. Lots of characters that are out of copyright have completely disappeared from the cultural memory: fairytale characters come with histories.

fables7.jpg There’s wit in making snoopy little Goldilocks grow up to be an adventurous spy, for example. Likewise, Hansel makes sense as a fanatical witch-killer and Prince Charming as a feckless womaniser.

More broadly, the identity of the Adversary  – the powerful character who aims to dominate or destroy the all the Fables (as fairy tale characters are called here) – as revealed in Book 6 plays beautifully  with our inherited lore. Or when Sinbad the Sailor turns up in Book 7 as an emissary from fairytale Baghdad, we are well prepared for his vizier to turnout to be a bit on the wicked side, and we’re not surprised when the survival of the universe is threatened by an all-powerful d’jinn.

fables8.jpg The overall arc of these five volumes is something you don’t expect from the ‘fractured fairytale’ genre: an epic battle is brewing between the forces of good and evil. Bigby Wolf has more in common with Achilles or Arjuna than with the Grimms’ Big Bad Wolf. And it’s not too much of a stretch to see Jack (of candlestick and beanstalk fame) as a wily Odysseus. Not that epics and fairy tales have to be kept separate. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Iliad and the Odyssey are built from a whole storehouse of received folk stories, the early books of the Bible have a strong folk content (the J and E strands, rather than the P and D), and the Mahabharata (as Cheryl D mentioned in a comment on this blog recently) has tremendous popular appeal now, and almost certainly did from its beginnings.

fables9.jpgThe intimacy / domesticity of fairy tales is still there: several romances are brewing as surely as the war. Bigby Wolf and Snow White marry at last, and Bigby resolves some big issues with his father and siblings in Book 8. There’s  a sweetly comic romance in Book 9 between a wooden soldier and his wooden woodcarver. They have heard about kissing:

‘Basically we open our mouths and touch them together.’

‘We can do that.’

‘How long do we stay like this?’

‘I’m not sure. At some point it’s supposed to feel good.’

‘Maybe I didn’t write down the instructions correctly.’

But sweet as this romance is, we don’t forget that its outcome has a strategic importance in the overall conflict.

fables10.jpg In Book 10 this combination of the domestic fairy tale and the epic is most clear. The Good Prince is a single narrative arc that takes up most of the book. It beautifully melds the story of a prince who was turned into a frog with harrowing of hell / raising of dead armies / return of the king stories. Its conclusion is a great point to take a rest in one’s progress through the massive work.

Fables is often compared, with some justice, to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s not as serious as the Gaiman work: Gaiman’s work features the Endless, eternal beings who are his own reinvented pantheon. Fables is not about gods but non-human beings at the fairy level (goblins, shapeshifters, giants, d’jinns, sentient animals) and humans who deal with them (witches, wizards, the enchanted). Even in the episodes of carnage, there is a fairy lightness to it, the stakes are less than cosmic. It’s consistently funny and exciting and inventive, it challenges us to think about the meanings of fairy tales, and I’m looking forward to the next10 or so volumes, but it makes no claim to explore the meaning of life.

Bill Willingham’s Fables 5

Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham, Tony Atkins, Jimmy Palmiotti and Steve Leialoha (artists), Todd Klein (letterer), Fables Vol. 5: The Mean Seasons (Vertigo 2005)

f5Another loan from one of my generous sons.

In Volume 3, Snow White got pregnant to Bigby Wolf in an encounter that embarrassed them both. In Volume 4, while the pregnancy progressed, Fabletown fought off an attack from the fairytale Homelands and endured a campaign by Prince Charming to become mayor. In this volume, Snow White gives birth, and our suspense about the species of her issue is resolved – eventually. The captured invaders from the Homelands are being interrogated in secret dungeons without noticeable benefit. Prince Charming wins the election, with not very happy results, so that by the end of this issue he is planning to go to war, always a good plan for an incompetent government to keep the electorate onside.

That’s how the main story arc develops. There’s also a two-part war story and a one-off in which Cinderella is a spy. As a ten-year-old I thought there must be something wrong with me that I didn’t enjoy war comics, but now, well, a war story is a war story is a war story, even if it incorporates a battle between a giant wolf and a Frankenstein’s monster, and I don’t mind who knows that’s how I see it. The Cinderella tale feels like a sleeper – there are plenty more volumes in which her role as spy can blossom.

Apart from the truly lovely invention (no spoilers here) of Snow White’s offspring and Bigby’s father, there’s not a lot to get excited about in this instalment, but the series will go on being a reliable source of Christmas and birthday gifts in this family for a while yet.

Saga 5, Fables 3 & 4

Fiona Staples (artist) and Brian K Vaughan (writer), Saga Volume Five (Image Comics 2015)
Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham, Lan Medina, Bryan Talbot, Linda Medley and Steve Leialoha (artists), Todd Klein (letterer), Fables Vol. 3: Storybook Love (Vertigo 2004)
Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham, Craig Hamilton, P. Craig Russell and Steve Leialoha (artists), Todd Klein (letterer),  Fables Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Vertigo 2004)

One of my sons kindly went through his comics collection recently and put out a pile that I might be interested in. I passed on Swamp Thing and something about zombies (or they might have been vampires), but carried off a small swag. These are some of them.

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In Saga, Hazel, the child of parents from two different, warring species, has her father’s horns and her mother’s wings, or at least the beginnings of both. Her existence challenges the ideologies of both sides, and the little family has powerful enemies. In previous volumes they have had narrow escapes, acquired a number of bizarre allies and fellow travellers, and dealt with an apparently endless stream of weird, murderous monsters.

Though this instalment, in which Hazel is a toddler, continues to enthral and delight those of us who have the preceding four volumes under our belts, I wouldn’t recommend that you start with it. You’d still have the wit, the wonderful art, the occasional outrageous action, and even the underlying celebration of love and family, but you’d be left wondering if there was any coherent thread at all as the family members are spread across the galaxies.  I recommend reading Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4, in that order, before this one.

The series has a bit too much explicit sex for my taste. Not that it’s pornographic: I can’t, for example, imagine many people would find the sexual behaviour of the dragons in this book anything other than disgusting. I guess I find other people’s sexual activities and fantasies mildly embarrassing. There’s a bit too much graphic violence too, come to think of it. Oh, and there’s some romanticising of drugs, though the realisation that a main character comes to as a result of his stoned dreams is hardly endorsed by the narrative. None of those misgivings stop me from already hungering for Volume 6.

f3There are no giant dragon’s genitalia in Fables, but there’s enough human-looking sex to ensure that this series about fairy tale characters in exile isn’t for the very young. The tales are dark, though not exactly in the way the original fairy tales were dark: more like childhood noir. The big bad wolf is now Bigby Wolf, a tough-guy operative on the side of good who is – mostly – in human form. Old King Cole is a figurehead mayor of Fable Town while Snow White as his deputy really runs the show.  And so on. All in the midst of unsuspecting ‘mundies’ (short for ‘mundanes’). In Volume 3, the love story between Snow White and Bigby Wolf passes a significant milestone (see cover of Volume 4 below for a spoiler), tiny police mounted on talking mice do their bit for law and order, Bluebeard turns out not to have reformed as thoroughly as he claimed,  Prince Charming moves back in with one of his ex-wives when he realises there’s more to be gained there than by conning mundy women into supporting him, and a gun wielding Goldilocks does a lot of damage. What’s not to like?

f4In Volume 4, the framing story comes back to life. The characters are in exile because someone known as the Adversary had mustered a huge army and was murdering everyone in fairyland. Those who escaped set up a clandestine community known as Fable Town in New York City, with a farm upstate for those Fables (as the fairytale characters are known) who don’t look human. These two places have been hard enough to police so far, because as everyone knows, being a fairytale character is no guarantee of decent behaviour. In this issue one of the gates dividing the worlds is breached and, after centuries of believing themselves safe, the Fables face Tarantino-esque violence at an industrial level.

In a long-lasting comic series like this, one of the pleasures is the regular appearance of guest artists. Mark Buckingham is the principal artist, and it’s his gritty vision that dominates. Then for a retelling of an American folktale or an episode involving cute miniature characters, someone else (in these cases Bryan Talbot and Linda Medley respectively) shows us the familiar characters and milieux through a different lens. The lettering, by Todd Klein throughout, almost makes one regret the less labour-intensive digitised process that (I’m assuming) is used in more recent comics such as Saga.

Wikipedia tells me that this series has continued from 2002 almost to the present – issue 150 was released in July. I’m reading it in the trade paperbacks, so far up to issue 27. I have 18 books to look forward to.

Bill Willingham’s Bad Doings and Big Ideas

Bill Willingham (writer and artist), and Mark Buckingham, Zander Cannon, Duncan Fegredo, Peter Gross, Paul Guinan, Nico Henrichon, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Michael Wm Kaluta, Jason Little, Marc Laming, Shawn McManus, Linda Medley, Albert Monteys, Kevin Nowlan, David Peterson, Paul Pope, Eric Powell, Ron Randall, John Stokes, Jill Thompson, Daniel Torres, Bernie Wrightson (artists), John Costanza and Todd Klein (letterers), Bad Doings and Big Ideas: A Bill Willingham Deluxe Edition (Vertigo 2011)

As I continue on my intermittent re-entry into the world of comics, which I abandoned at roughly 12 and came back to in my late 50s, it’s the non-fiction that I respond to most, and after that – oddly, since I don’t care for it in non-graphic narratives or movies – it’s fantasy-horror. Or maybe it’s not so odd, as it was Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman that re-piqued my interest.

This hefty hardback full of horror was a Christmas gift, and one that gave me a lot of pleasure. Bill Willingham, I gather from his entertaining interstitials here, is a writer and artist best known for a series of comics called Fables. This is not that. It’s a collection of Other Stuff, including a number of adventures of minor characters from the Sandman universe. I don’t know what the uninitiated would make of these, with their injokes and unexplained walk-ons, but the stories stand up by themselves, especially the 60 or so pages of Thessaly the witch (the second half of which I read in its own book, also a gift, a while back).

The opening story, Proposition Player, is the longest (130+ pages) and most interesting. Willingham tells us it was the first thing he wrote for Vertigo, having been an artist with them for some time. It must have been quite a debut: the hero starts out working for a casino and ends up through a series of poor choices and successful gambles as the most powerful God (capital intended) in the cosmos. The gambles are much grander than Pascal’s bet, and I wonder if the story’s cheerful blasphemy does more damage to the cultural authority of established religion than the humourless argumentation of, say, Richard Dawkins.

I’m currently leading a double life as a reader. In one life, I’m reading a number of huge books, and in the other a whole lot of smaller ones as counterpoint. When I was reading Reamde, which is great fun but far too big to lump around in a shoulder bag, I read poetry books and literary journals, physically but not intellectually light. Now I’m a third of the way through Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light, not as physically weighty as Readme, but quite a slog – the slogginess doesn’t make me want to give up on the book, but it does make me cry out for something lively to relieve the pain. Bad Doings and Big Ideas was perfect for the part. And I have a couple more Christmas present comics that are also looking good.