Tag Archives: Steve Leialoha

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’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 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 Legends in Exile

Bill Willingham, Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile (Vertigo 2002)

140123755XIn my former life as an editor of children’s literature, we regularly received manuscript stories and plays that rang the changes on classic fairytales – the wolf as a good guy slandered by dodgy pig developers or, far too often, a frog who is nothing but a frog but tricks a princess into kissing him anyhow.

Bill Willingham’s Fables belongs in that tradition. The many lands of fairytales have been invaded by a monstrous Adversary, seen only in flashback in this first book of the series, and the survivors of his onslaught have now lived centuries-long lives among the mundanes (that’s us) in a film-noir inflected New York City. At least, the action of this book takes place among those who live in New York – we are told that others, who can’t pass as human, live in enclaves upstate.

I expect that later volumes will tell the story of the expulsion. Here we are plunged in medias res, and the workings of the Fable community are revealed to us in the course of  a murder investigation. Rose Red has vanished and her blood is all over her apartment. Bigby Wolf, almost always human in form, is the hardboiled detective who investigates. The main suspects are Bluebeard (who is engaged to Rose Red) and Jack, of beanstalk fame (who has been her boyfriend for a long long time). Old King Cole is the figurehead mayor while Snow White does all the community’s real administrative work. Beauty and the Beast are a bickering couple with a difference – whenever she is angry with him, he starts to revert to his beastly appearance. Prince Charming is a parasitic conman. Pinocchio is a real boy, who is permanently enraged for reasons you might be able to guess.

It’s all good, knowing, M rated fun. The art, pencilled by Lan Medina and inked by Steve Leialoha and Craig Hamilton, serves the story well, tactful with the violence, restrained with the comic transmutations, moodily noir when it has to be, and just every now and then completely over the top.