Return of the Jedi
Drew: If I had to point to a line that hooked me on Star Wars, it would be this line from Return of the Jedi. Maybe I should back up. I had somehow made it to age 9 without ever seeing a Star Wars movie when my 3rd grade teacher perplexingly allowed us to watch the first half-hour of Jedi in class. Knowing nothing about the movies, I was thoroughly enjoying my introduction to the Star Wars universe when the above exchange blew my mind straight out of my eyeballs. There are other adventures like this one? I honestly don’t think I could have been as hard up for the other movies if I had seen them in order. I suppose that’s my way of saying beginning a story at the end can be a rewarding, if unorthodox approach. It’s a particularly intimidating prospect in a world as steeped in its own mythology as Fables, but I’ll be damned if issue 144 doesn’t give me that same “I’ve got to go back and read them all” feeling.
The issue itself is one big Worf Effect — just building up some credible offense against Bigby, only to have him ably knock them down. And to show writer Bill Willingham means business, “knocking them down” means “killing them horrifically”. As a newcomer to the series, it would be easy to dismiss those killed here as faceless redshirts, but their mythological significance belies their importance to the series. The first to go down is Beast, of Beauty and the Beast fame.
Did I mention that the deaths were horrific? The second victim is a bit of a deeper cut — Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz — but previous issues had made it clear just how important she was to the Fables mythology. The gloves are off, and seemingly nobody is safe.
While it was easy enough to pick up on the significance of those deaths, the issue-ending return of Totenkinder had a decidedly weaker effect for me. A quick consult of the Fables Wiki made it clear that this is basically the witch version of escalation — shit just got real — but as it happened, I was left a little in the dark. To his credit, artist Mark Buckingham imbues her reveal with enough ceremony to make her importance clear, even if I had no idea who this person was.
But enough about my ignorance! Where this issue really shines is in bouncing Ozma off of the Mundy cops that can now see Fabletown. Willingham and Buckingham clearly relish having this little girl (which one cop hilariously identifies as a cosplayer) giving orders, and really lean in to her Sherlock-esque contempt for the police. The best detail, though, is that that contempt is actually an act for the benefit of the cops.
It turns out, the rules that govern myths also have power in the mundy world, you just have to know which myths to call upon. Suggesting that “cop shows” — or by extension, all modern fiction — are something akin to Fables is an interesting subject to hint at as Fables accelerates into its conclusion, but it ultimately may be central to the philosophy of the series. Let’s be clear; nobody is insinuating that Joe Friday should be considered a Fable, but with Prospero watching the fight from the comfort of Fabletown, where exactly we draw the line certainly warrants some scrutiny. Ultimately, who’s in and who’s out is up to Willingham’s discretion, but I think it’s interesting that he does confer some power to “cop shows” — maybe not the literal magic we associate with fables, but certainly some kind of power.
That’s a big idea in an otherwise light-on-plot issue, Patrick, so I’ll leave it to you to delve into that more thoroughly. And/or maybe you want to speculate on where you think this might all be going. And/or this is the first time we’ve talked about Fables in a while, so maybe this would be a good time to talk about some of the other plates Willigham has spinning that don’t appear in this issue. And/or you know, whatever you want to talk about. I will insist that you answer one question, though: aren’t options great?
Patrick: The greatest option you’ve given me — and one that you’ve given so readily — is the option between “and” and “or.” How’s a boy supposed to choose? I don’t know if you were intentionally affecting the tone of the Three Blind Mice in your final paragraph, but the result is just as charming and just as semantically dizzying. So while I do think the modern mythology of The American Cop is an interesting topic, I want to start by mentioning those verbose little bastards.
Once the dust has settled on the whole Bigby situation, the Mouse brothers seek their ideal home by describing it to Flycatcher. They get all the ridiculous things they ask for, but are Twilight Zone-d into living in a world without wi-fi, dooming them to a sex-full, but tablet-free, existence. It’s a positively adorable story (as evidenced by the panel I posted above), but I can’t help but linger on what the effect of having such a pat “happily ever after” story accompanying the gruesome tale that Drew described.
One of the reasons I’m as attracted to Fables as I am is that Willingham allows for this kind of light, even amidst his grim-as-fuck conclusion. I can’t help but compare this to other end-of-the-world scenarios I’ve read in comics in recent memory. To cite examples from each of the Big Two: both Forever Evil and Age of Ultron went out of their way to insist that “nothing would ever be the same” after the final act. Willingham almost seems to be working against that impulse, downplaying the game-changing nature of his story by giving the reader glimpses into how charmingly life goes on after issues 150.
Plus, the whole thing is titled “Happily Ever After” – which is fitting for the end to a long-running series about fairy tale characters. But this could also be an apt title for the last act of any Cop show. I love seeing Willingham’s take on the NYPD — it’s a hilarious mix of TV cop and weirdly vestigial Fables-ism, making the characters awkwardly sorta-English. For all of the bluster Willingham endows them with, these cops don’t take any action in this issue, which seems to contradict the modern American cop myth of the trigger-happy pseudo-army. They also just use language strangely: one cop refers to a pair of binoculars are “glasses” and another uses the phrase “what in the bloody fuck-hole of America is going on here?” There’s a lot to unpack in that last one. I read a couple of really efficient contradictions here — first between the Britishism of using “bloody” as a swear word juxtaposed with the most American curse imaginable: “fuck.” The fables all affect a slightly more European form of the English language, and it’s interesting to see that seep into the Mundy characters here. There’s also the weird little “of America” the cop tosses in there. When I was growing up, my mother weened herself off the phrase “God damn it” by saying “God bless America” — it’s doubly effective because you can make it all the way through the first word and still have time to fix it. For me, inserting “America” into an expletive phrase is a clear indicator that the character is trying not to swear. That just makes it all the more hilarious that it’s preceded by the word “fuck-hole.”
Hey! Turns out I love talking about swearing. Goddamn shit! Piss ass bitch! Ooooh, speaking of piss-ass bitches, I’m excited to see Frau Totenkinder back in the mix. Drew, you likened her appearance to the ultimate witch trump card, but it’s sorta more than that right? She’s kind of the archetypical witch — the character that stands in for all the unnamed witches and child-murders in old stories. She’s not a Super Witch, she’s the Ur Witch, making the character almost mythical among fables.
As far as the un-touched other-storylines in this issue, I appreciate that insert of little-bird-Grimble. Willingham is hip to the struggle dummies like Drew and I might face in trying to keep 130+ issues of unread material straight, so he’s always there with an assist. Whenever this Grimble stuff pays off, not even newbies like the two of us will be left scratching our heads.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?