Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fables: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred and David Hahn

The War with the Homeworlds is over, and the Fables of Fabletown have won. And that's the ending to make things 'happily ever after". Or is it? As Gepetto tries to settle into life in Fabletown with his first son, Pinnochio, the Fables around him make their displeasure of him known. Not the Fables who run Fabletown- they've granted him amnesty for his crimes in order to determine the sheer extent of them. But as the irascible Gepetto points out everywhere the fables are lacking, back at home, trouble is brewing.

In search of treasure in the ruins of Gepetto's kingdom, two mercenaries known as Freddy and Mouse set free a tremendous evil that has been locked away. They open and free it, releasing a horrible creature known as "Mister Dark" from its imprisonment. Back in Fabletown, Boy Blue is still having trouble with his wounded arm- he keeps having to go on and get it operated on. But soon it becomes clear that something is making him rot away from the inside. And as Prince Charming's funeral goes ahead, Blue is back at the Doctor's having his gangrenous arm amputated. But can that save him?

Bigby brings back another casket from the Homelands, but when it is opened, it proves to be empty. It should have held the mummified body of the Blue Fairy- but who might have stolen it? Not Gepetto- had she gotten free and been revived, she would have been as angry at Gepetto as at the rest of the fables. Meanwhile, Baba Yaga escapes from the well beneath the Fabletown office, and the magic protections and spells holding up Fabletown suddenly disappear, leaving only bare spaces where they were once located. This causes most of Fabletown to collapse, and the residents must move upstate to the Farm with their homes and businesses destroyed.

Up there, Blue finds that Rose Red, the woman he thought loved him, has married Sinbad. But now that Blue has showed up dying, she finds her interest in him renewed. He imparts a few home truths to her as he dies, which result in her finally seeing herself in a different light. Knowing that Fables rarely die, she intends to wait for him to come back, and to be a better woman for him.

Meanwhile, Lord Dark has emerged into the Human world, where he waits for the Fables to return. He encounters and kills Kay, who cut his eyes out again after he saw the extent of Gepetto's crimes, and Lord Dark has plans for the Fables, including eating their teeth to make him able to summon their spirits to do his bidding. But who is he and what plans does he have for the Fables of Fabletown? Nothing good if his actions so far are any clue!

The volume ends with a five-part story showing Mowgli returning to his homeland to see if it is re-conquerable by the Fables of Fabletown and Fabletown East. With him come Bigby's five brothers, tasked with keeping Mowgli safe. But as it turns out, shortly after entering the jungle, he encounters the last lone figure of the resistance, Lord Mountbatten, a clockwork Tiger, and his companion Bad Sam, an alcoholic Kinkajou, who acts as both companion and clockwork winder for Lord Mountbatten. Can Mowgli and his new comrades free his Homeworld of the Adversary's forces?

This volume was a sad adjunct to the volumes concerning the war. Because even though the Fables lost very few of their own in the war (in comparison to Gepetto/The Adversary, who lost millions), Boy Blue became a hero during the war, killing the wooden statue that was Gepetto's mouthpiece as the Adversary, his heroics during the war, including the use of the Witching Cloak, had a cost, and that cost eventually turns out to be his life. No, he wasn't one of the big Fables- he just wanted to be ordinary and play his horn, but thousands and millions of ordinary people just like him die in wars every day. The fact that Boy Blue was one of many people's favorite character just makes his death all the sadder. I also was sad to see the death of Kay, the boy from the Snow Queen, although now that he's dead, he won't have to live with the agony of seeing the evil in everyone, something that has caused him to gouge out his eyes more than once in the past.

The Title of this collection has many resonances, from the rise of the new villain, Mr. Dark, to the darkness that is revealed in the hearts of many of the characters, from Gepetto (Who at one point compares himself to God and becomes one of the most unlikeable characters you will ever read. The vision Kay gets of him and his spirit- a burned out wasteland filled with severed heads on sticks and endless corpses- is pretty shocking and gruesome. But he's not the only one with darkness inside him. Even Rose Red has dark spaces in her soul- and the way Boy Blue points this out hits the nail on the head while showing her to be seriously broken inside.

But unlike the other volumes of this series, we don't really get a complete story in this volume. Instead, it reads more like the beginnings of a story, with pieces being set up for more happenings further down the line. Because of it, it didn't quite satisfy me as much as some of the other volumes in this series- but that could be completely redeemed depending on what happens in future volumes.

I love this series. It puts just the right amount of spin on the old Fairy tale characters, and updates them for a totally modern story with links to the original fairy tales. This is a series you will want to read from the beginning to understand who the characters are and where they come from. But this is definitely a series you should be reading if you aren't already. Highly recommended.

No comments: