Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciler: Lan Medina
Inker: Steve Leialoha
Colorists: Sherilyn van Valkenburgh and Zylonol Studios
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover: James Jean
By Michael David Sims
01 February 2008 Last year, even though I produced over 120 podcasts totaling more than 175 hours of content, I only wrote 10 items for the site less if you count If I Ran DC as one long piece, not four individual pieces. That shames me. Earth-2.net is my site, my baby, yet I didn't contribute as much writing as I wanted to. So earlier this year I decided to write at least one thing for the site each week. With the exception of my forthcoming holiday, I'm not allowed to skip a single week. If I do, there's a price to pay: I must review a DMZ or Fables trade.
Why those two books? Well, if you don't frequent the Earth-2.net forums or listen to Earth-2.net: The Show, you're blissfully unaware that I have... issues with both series. From what I've read of DMZ, I can say my problem isn't with the series itself. No. What I take issue with is Brian Wood's attitude, as put on display at Wizard World Chicago 2006. Since it's hard for me to separate the creator from his creation, I can almost sense Wood in every page of DMZ making it impossible for me to read.
Fables, on the other hand, I just can't stand.
When I first heard the concept in 2001 (or maybe it was early 2002) I instantly saw the promise each issue would bring. But then I read the first storyline and was woefully underwhelmed. The characters were clich้s (and no, it's not because they're archetypes; it's because they're clich้d), the dialog was stiff and expositional, the plot was transparent, the mystery was lacking and, overall, it just wasn't fun. A book like Fables, I thought, should have been layered with groundbreaking excitement but it left the shovel at home.
Both series, to my chagrin, have their fans. Vocal fans, at that. And whenever I dare say, "Fables is overhyped," or, "I can't get past Brian Wood," I'm bombarded with e-mails questioning my sanity and taste in comics.
Due to that, I thought a fitting punishment for not meeting my weekly deadline would be to reexamine each series one trade at a time. Maybe DMZ would be so full of drama I would finally overcome my anti-Wood bias after all, I was able to do it with Northlanders. And maybe, just maybe, something in Fables would hook me, pull me under and make me realize how tasty the Kool-Aid is. Or maybe my opinions would be reaffirmed, and I would be vindicated. Either way, I swore I would give the books a fair shot if that's possible when reviewing something you already have a bias against as a self-imposed punishment.
This week the plan was to review Madrox: Multiple Choice, the miniseries that launched the superbly written X-Factor. But then I realized my hardcover collection would be arriving next week, and I'd much rather review it after having said book in-hand. (Oh how I can't wait to crack it open!) So then I thought about covering Witchblade: Witch Hunt, the collection Top Cow recently sent me for review. I even went so far as to start a review, but then I lost the damn file. Discouraged and not wanting to start over, I searched for something else.
That's when I found Fables #1.
That's when I thought to myself, Let's give this another shot.
That's when I realized, yes, I was right all along.
To further set the stage, allow me to admit that I've read the first storyline twice first in issue format, then in trade format. Both times the result was the same: a letdown. So why did I think a rereading of the first issue of the first storyline would be any different now? I don't know. Maybe I was possessed by a rare moment of optimism. Maybe I was looking for something to bitch about. Only the Shadow knows, and he isn't here to tell me.
The issue opens with Jack rushing to Bigby Wolf's office to report a crime. You see, the Big Bad (Big B... Bigby) Wolf (Wolf) is the sheriff of Fabletown, so all crimes relating to Fables (the inhabitants of Fabletown) are his to investigate. (Yup, the wolf that ate an old woman and her granddaughter, and then later destroyed two homes in an effort to eat three other sentient beings is the law. Uh-huh.) And even though a Fable is there to report a crime, Bigby is callous to the end just like every hardened TV cop. Worse yet is Jack's blatant overacting. If there was one clue that something was amiss (and I don't mean the crime), it's how Willingham scripted and Lan Medina drew Jack. We're never drawn into the scene, and therefore the book. If this is our introduction to the series and characters, I've no desire to read more. But I did for the third damn time.
After this dramatic scene we're shifted to what I suppose is a laugh riot involving Snow White (Deputy Mayor of Fabletown) and a feuding couple: Beauty and the Beast. This transition from the (pseudo-)dramatic to (attempted) comedy gives the issue an unfocused feeling. We're left wondering if we're supposed to be anticipating the reveal or laughing at the couple's predicament. Is this series a lighthearted comedy or a hard-boiled police drama?
When Bigby arrives to tell Snow White the news "about [her] sister, Rose Red" the dialog takes a turn for the worse. First, unless someone has multiple siblings, who speaks like that? Yeah, yeah Snow White calls him on it, but pointing out exposition doesn't make it any better. Beyond that, everything said between the two is typical "I'm the tough cop" / "Well, I'm your bitchy boss" exchanges we've heard and read in countless mediums. If I wanted scenes like this, I'd flip on the TV. At least good actors might be able to make this horrid quarrel worthwhile. But when flat dialog is laid on a flat page and delivered by flat characters, nothing can save the moment.
For the most part I can't complain about the art. For the most part.
Snow White's office is expansive, some of the layouts force you to look in every corner for hidden gems and the characters are all distinct (though it's tough to tell if Bigby is supposed to be cynical or browbeaten at times). Really, the only panel that bothers me is the final one shared between White and Wolf before heading off to investigate Red's possible death. Snow White has just been told that her sister is "possibly the victim of violence," yet she gives Bigby this toothy, "clean out your desk if you don't do as I say" grin. It's wholly out of place and does nothing for the character. In another scene it would work, but not here.
As this is going on, Prince Charming (White's ex) swoons a hapless waitress because... this is a Vertigo comic?
Back at Red's apartment, Wolf investigates the overly bloody abode and quickly arrests Jack (who was guarding it because somehow, to Wolf at least, it made sense to have Jack oversee a crime scene; really, though, Jack was there so Willingham could move the story along). In doing so, he drops more "I've read too many dime store novels" dialog, such as, "Jack, I'm taking you in... let's call it resisting arrest." Never mind that the Deputy Mayor is right there. Yeah, let's trump up charges right in front of her. Good thinking, grandma eater.
Thankfully that was the end of the issue, because at that point I literally said, "Fuck it." My intention was to reread the entire first storyline, but I could barely get through this tripe. I know where it's going hell, I knew where it was going the very first time I read it and after this I don't see my opinion changing. Maybe the subsequent trades get better, but why should I keep reading if the opening storyline opening issue, at that doesn't compel me to? For a comic with such a unique pitch (RE: characters of lore living in our world), it's rather mundane. Simply put, there's nothing new here. Dropping the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White into a murder mystery doesn't, by default, make it any more interesting than the last murder mystery I read. Adding spice to it does that. So pass the pepper, please, because Willingham's story is bland.