Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fables: Sons of Empire: Don't start reading the series here

I mean, really, who would start with volume 9?

Fables: Sons of Empire (volume 9)
Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, Gene Ha, Joshua Middleton, Inaki Miranda, M.K. Perker, Jim Rugg, Joelle Jones, D'Israeli, Jill Thompson, David Lapham, John K. Snyder III, Eric Shanower, and Barry Kitson (whew!)

Heh, I just wanted to type out that long list of contributors, because it amused me. I'm not sure if I have too much to say about this volume, since if you're not reading Fables by now, a review of the ninth volume probably won't persuade you. Although, I don't write these things just to try to get people to read stuff, do I? Huh. I guess the story here is worth a look, but be forewarned, I'm kind of biased about the series in a fannish way, so I might overlook anything bad and overhype anything good.

Anyway, it's an excellent volume, with two story arcs and a couple bonus issues. I love the way the first story is put together, fleshing out the characters and details of the world while setting up grave events to come. The main story is about a war conference in the Homelands, as the Adversary listens to possible plans to invade the mundane world and decides whether to wage war. But we also see various events around Fabletown, including a burgeoning romance between Boy Blue and Rose Red, some significant events surrounding Flycatcher, and the arrival of Hansel as the Adversary's ambassador. Plus, each of the four issues in this arc feature backup stories about various characters, and they are set up beautifully in the main stories. I loved that feature, how we saw something going on in the corners of the panels and then learned what was happening in the backup. Nice. At least one of these stories seems to be setting up future stories, but they mostly seem to be fun one-offs exploring the world that Willingham and company have created. My favorite is probably "Porky Pine Pie", a tale of a hedgehog who convinces a human girl he is a prince in disguise in order to get a kiss. It features some beautiful art by Joshua Middleton:

"The Road to Paradise", a story about the Three Blind Mice, is another fun one, with some really nice looking art by Joelle Jones (who I'm not familiar with, although she apparently did a story in the Sexy Chix anthology):

We've also got a Gene Ha-drawn bit about Rapunzel and her ever-growing hair, and a Mike Allred-illustrated story, but I'll wait to talk about him until later.

After the "Sons of Empire" story, we have a Christmas-themed single issue featuring Bigby, Snow, and their cubs/kids. It's really cute and everything, but the highlight is probably the bit where Santa visits Flycatcher. He was a character who seemed kind of goofy but was given a lot of depth in the 1001 Nights of Snowfall anthology with an incredibly sad origin story. From this issue, it seems he's going to be very important in the series' future; in fact, I think he's the subject of the storyline running in the current issues.

By the way, I've been focusing on the "guest artists", but I should mention that Mark Buckingham does some excellent work as the regular series artist, whether he's portraying the apocalyptic visions of the Adversary's minions' plans to conquer the mundane world:

Or the simple antics of the Wolf cubs:

It's great stuff. He also does this cool thing where each page has vertical borders on the sides, with location-specific details from the current scene. It's a great way of setting the stage for whatever is going on.

Okay, the storyline after the Christmas issue is a two issue arc about the Wolf family's trip to the Homelands to visit Bigby's father, the Great North Wind. It's beautifully illustrated by Mike Allred, and it gives us some interesting character work between Bigby and his father (not to mention the other characters who show up). And Allred gets to draw a pretty fucking awesome battle between Bigby (in wolf form) and some scary monsters:

That's only half of a double-page spread. Wow! Man, I love this book.

Finally, the volume wraps up with the much-maligned (from reviews I perused on various comics blogs) "Burning Questions" issue, in which Willingham scripted a bunch of short stories answering questions that readers sent in. I can see how this might have been annoying if I was reading the series in monthly form, but it works just fine as part of a collection. We get some nice guest art, with my favorites being the stories illustrated by D'Israeli and Jill Thompson. And, since I'm also a fan of Jack of Fables, I liked the Jack story illustrated by Andrew Pepoy. Sure, the stories were all pretty inconsequential, but they were pretty fun.

So, as a fan of Fables, I thought this was another great volume. As always, I can't wait until the next one shows up. From what I hear, it seems like Willingham and DC want to continue this series for as long as they can, and I hope they do. There is a wealth of stories that can come from this world and these characters, so I hope they continue to deliver good ones.

I'll be busy with comics-related events tomorrow (see Monday's post for details), so probably no new content, even though I have a couple books to talk about. Thursday, I guess.