Sunday, January 15, 2006

Comics Review: January 15

Fables: Arabian Nights and Days (42-45)

It's strange that "Fables" is so low-profile these days: it's one of the best Vertigo books being published, it's extremely consistent, and Willingham could certainly have used the positive attention after the beating his reputation took during his stint on the Batman line.

In any case, I personally see "Fables" as the contemporary successor to Neil Gaiman's masterpiece, "The Sandman". Oh, there have been countless spin-offs and series set in that specific universe, but I don't feel many of them made proper use of Gaiman's themes relating to stories. "Fables" does just that, appropriating a cornucopia of mythical and legendary figures and transplanting them into 21st-century America, following an invasion of their homelands by the mysterious Adversary (whose identity was revealed in the previous arc). It's a premise with near-limitless potential, and Willingham has been up to the task: we've seen the Big Bad Wolf in World War 2, Jack (of the Beanstalk story) making movies in Hollywood, Prince Charming as Mr. Big, and so on. All done with equal parts loyal interpretation and revamping, and with multilayered plotlines spanning several arcs. Willingham also takes risks with his characters, shifting the players around and removing central figures for months at a time. It's all quite dynamic and exciting.

All of which leads us to the current story, in which Willingham expands the scope of his series yet again. Having focused almost exclusively on European-based fables (ie: Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, etc.), we now shift gears as Arabian fables led by Sinbad arrive in the "mundy" (Fable slang for mundane/"real") world, bringing about an inevitable culture clash. Unfortunately, Fabletown is still unstable following a major coup by Prince Charming, and to make matters worse, Sinbad has brought a deadly weapon of unstoppable power with him.

It's a fast-moving storyline, with a brilliant twist towards the end. Willingham makes good use of the "Arabian Nights" template, and it's pretty interesting to see the juxtaposition of Western and Eastern imagery (to say nothing of the amusing mistranslation scenes).

"Fables" is a must-read for fans of the more literary, artistic sensibilities; it seamlessly combines a modern setting with fantastic creatures of lore, and provides a universe where almost anything can happen.