Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

15 October 2008

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

Collects: Original graphic novel (2006)

Released: February 2008 in TPB form (DC / Vertigo)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401203696

One of the cleverer ideas out of Vertigo — one that falls in neither the Neil Gaiman-derived property or character-reimagined-so-drastically-even-its-own-creator-wouldn’t-recognize-it camps — is Fables. In this series, writer Bill Willingham, usually assisted by artist Mark Buckingham, tells the story of characters and creatures out of legends and fairy tales who have made their way to our world as refugees from a world-devouring Adversary. Here, they stopped fleeing, and the story has been slowly building, through several volumes, toward a decisive conflict.

But Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall is a flashback — or a prequel, depending on your point of view — set before Willingham’s story begins. In Snowfall, Snow White, one of the leading Fables, travels to the land of the Arabian Fables to enlist their aid against the Adversary. Unfortunately, Snow is forced into the role of Scheherazade and tells the stories of the refugee Fables to spare her own life and instruct the king in morality and of the refugee’s plight.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall coverThere are quite a few excellent stories that fill in missing pieces in some of the most prominent characters’ histories. The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is recast as a revenge tale. Old King Cole, a merry old soul in prosperity, is shown as a good king in adversity. Frau Totenkinder, the grandmotherly villain of Hansel and Gretel, truly and frighteningly lives up to her name. Ambrose, the lowly janitor of the Fables’ apartment building, becomes a tragic figure after spending so long as bumbling comic relief; this story should be read before Fables, v. 10: The Good Prince, or it loses most of its emotional impact.

For long-time readers, this is a reward, a book that simply answers questions without the plot getting in the way. Readers who are unfamiliar with the story might get something from the stories, but the background of the series is necessary for the stories to have their intended impact.

These are excellent stories; I can’t praise them enough. Willingham takes some of the oldest characters around and recasts them again, after already recasting them at the beginning of the series. Most of the stories have a war-refugee theme that link them together, which fits the frame of Snow telling the Arabian king these tales. The imagination is impressive, and even if I don’t care for one or two of them, overall Snowfall delivers.

On the other hand, the art didn’t match the quality of the writing. First, there are as many different pencillers as there are stories, giving the book a hodgepodge, thrown-together look. Secondly, I don’t particularly care for the art styles of two of the most prominent stories — John Bolton’s painted art inexplicably makes Snow White look Japanese and everything else look like an optical illusion, and Tara McPherson makes everyone look like a 2-D cutout. Other than Charles Vess’s illustration of the framing text and James Jean’s work on Ambrose’s story, I don’t really like the rest. I realize I am making a stylistic judgment into a decision on the work’s quality, and strictly speaking, that isn’t fair. Many people will probably enjoy Bolton and McPherson, but their work stylistically distracted my attention from the story without adding anything to it that a more commonplace style would have.

And thirdly, speaking of distractions and Vertigo, when related to the art: there’s a fair amount of gratuitous nudity. Other than Vess’s and McPherson’s work, every story with a prominent female character displays a woman’s breasts, if not more. I may be a prude, but I don’t think every story requires female nudity without any male nudity. I know this is mature-readers material, but come on: there are limits. Also, after seeing Bolton’s work, I’ll never see the Disney princesses in the same way again.

Fables readers who skip this volume won’t miss any plot points, but they’ll miss some very entertaining work. They’ll also miss a great deal of eye-straining art, but you have to take the good with the bad sometimes.

Rating: Vertigo symbol Vertigo symbol Vertigo symbol (3 of 5)

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