Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Tony Akins (p), Jimmy Palmiotti (i)
You know, I’ve never been very impressed with the ‘Fables’ series. It’s not that I hate it. I just don’t love it as much as most people. I can take it or leave it. Usually, I leave it. I’ve never had any complaints about the series, per se, I just can’t get into the whole “fairy tale characters living amongst humans” premise.
But this particular issue is one I cannot recommend to new readers. Nor do I imagine regular readers being happy with it.
This short story takes place during WWII, when Bigby, a.k.a. The Big Bad Wolf, guided American soldiers behind German lines to destroy a secret Nazi experiment. And since the experiment takes place in the castle Frankenstein, you can guess when they’re doing.
The problem with this book is all filler and no killer. We’re introduced to nine characters in two pages. Don’t bother keeping them straight; they all look alike, and only three of them talk. Most of the book is this platoon stealthily running through the woods with Bigby bringing them food. They find the aftermath of a fight Bigby had with some Nazis. The narrator is chilled, but hasn’t realized Bigby did the killing. The whole issue leads up to the big discovery on the last page. And then the book ends.
I can’t help feeling that the entire story could be done in a single issue. You cut this issue down to 10 pages, then do 10 pages of Bigby fighting the Nazi monster. Now the regular readers of ‘Fables’ can correct me, (and I’m sure you will), but do we learn anything here that has any bearing on the modern life of Bigby or the Fables? I already knew he snuck out to fight in the World Wars. Do we really need a detailed account of one mission? Does this Frankenstein monster reappear in the series? I doubt it. I think Willingham just wanted to do a monster story. Unfortunately, he put al the monsters in the next issue.
There’s nothing here for new readers, and regular readers will feel cheated. Check out the trade books, or the recent story arc about the war against the wooden soldiers. But give this a miss.
After the epic March of the Wooden Soldiers storyline, it’s time for a breather and a change of pace before we get into the birth of Snow White’s & Bigby Wolf’s cub, by flashing back to WWII and seeing one of these missions of Bigby’s which have been alluded to in past issues. As you might expect, this is no ordinary mission, as Bigby is effectively a one-man…er…wolf Special Ops division, and he’s closing in on a Nazi experimentation lab (think Dr Von F…).
The troops accompanying the story are seen through Bigby’s perception of them – effectively cookie-cutter soldiers, the likes of which he’s seen a hundred times in the past. Their names and abilities are irrelevant, it’s their presence he needs (and one suspects that precious few will survive, maybe just the one who opens the issue talking to Bigby in the modern era?), these are the equivalent of the red-shirted Star Trek security guards, our focus is the lead character and the plot. One danger does exist – Willingham is obviously have a fine old time writing Bigby Wolf, and there’s a danger the series will turn into “Bigby Wolf and the Fables” rather than just “Fables”. He’s an appealing character, sure, but should he continually save the day and be the hook around which everything revolves?
Nice touches include some off-screen violence, where the troops wonder what has happened but with a nod and a wink to the reader, we know without being told. Coupled with some good (if unsurprisingly dark – after all, the story is mostly set at night, in some woods!) art by a fill-in crew, the series continues to consistently hit the high mark of quality.
Before I begin the review proper, I should mention that I have knocked a full bullet off the score for Mr. Willingham’s fashionable but grossly incorrect use of the phrase “begs the question.” Sorry, but it does not mean “begs that the question be asked.” A gold star to anyone who can tell me what it does mean and use it in a sentence. For those who don’t think language is important, try reading 1984, or listen to George W. Bush speak. English has suffered enough indignity over the last four years without otherwise talented writers adding to the wreckage.
Now. Ahem. The two-part “War Stories” begins with an old soldier preparing to die, bequeathing his World War II journal to Bigby Wolf. The diary is an account of the top-secret Operation Chambermaid, in which men from Dog Company parachute in to the heart of Germany, led by a mysterious man from Area F. For a time, their mission seems more like a vacation, until the soldiers are joined by the civilian Mr. Wolf. Now, Dog Company must infiltrate a heavily-guarded Nazi laboratory, never realizing the true horrific nature of their target.
Tony Akins’s art is a bit reminiscent of the Beatle Bailey comic strips, with square jaws for the heroes and potato-shaped skulls for kindly old men. The soldiers are tough to tell apart, since their features are almost identical and, of course, they’re wearing uniforms.
The mystery of Sergeant Harp’s identity is fun, and the upcoming title bout between two legendary Fables should be a treat, but the bulk of this issue is pretty drab. The reader is introduced to a handful of new characters, who are then given a mission that sees them lounging around Germany for fourteen pages. That’s a pretty good way to ensure that no one is interested in the plight of these soldiers. Still, Bigby is enigmatic as always, and it’s good to see him let loose with some wolfishness.
After the crashing pace of the last few story arcs, it may be worth a “flashback tale” breather. In other issues focusing on the Fables’ history, however, an element of mystery and fantasy skittered through each tale, shedding light on who the characters are and how they came to be. Here, however, this magic is all but absent. Perhaps next issue will redeem all, but the issue on its own is the weakest of the series.
What did you think of this book?
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