Drew: I love thinking about art. I know that sentiment sometimes seems sterile to folks who prefer to “feel” art, but I’ve really never seen the two as mutually exclusive. Indeed, I think deep thought about why a work of art invokes the feelings that it does makes for a much more rewarding experience, not only for our understanding of the art and ourselves, but for our own emotional satisfaction. For me, analysis doesn’t distance me from the art, it immerses me in it, allowing for countless stories within our favorite works of art. Surprisingly, the biggest resistance I get to this approach is in music, where most people — including musicians — seem to dismiss analysis as a sterilized intellectual endeavor. I personally think this is the result of incomplete familiarity with the tools and techniques of music theory. Even trained musicians tend to think of “theory” as referring to harmonic analysis almost exclusively, which is effectively like saying literary analysis is just the cataloging of assonance. One tool is not enough to effectively analyze any work of art, and flattens all art to existing in a single dimension. Then again, certain works of art lend themselves particularly well to focusing on one — the orchestration of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, for instance — yielding a rich narrative about the work, even if it isn’t the only narrative. I’d argue that Fables has this kind of relationship with allusions — one that is particularly pronounced in issue 146.
That Fables has always alluded to fairytales is no secret — it’s the log line of the series — but as it’s ramped into its endgame, writer Bill Willingham has introduced several other vocabularies of allusions, from books to tv to film (even digging into Fables‘ own history), creating a world less defined by genre, and more by the very idea of storytelling. This issue finds Fabletown coming to the all-but unanimous decision that Bigby must be killed by any means necessary. His sole defender is Leigh Duglas, who we know is actually the one behind Bibgy’s rampage. She’s stepping into the role of villain in more ways than one, as she bluntly lays out for King Cole.
Cole was misinterpreting their relationship — and thus, the narrative he’s a part in — so Leigh makes a point of correcting him. She’s being a conniving bad guy, and it’s time she started reaping the benefits.
Of course, Rose Red has seen through Leigh’s charade, and confronts her about it. This is Rose’s big chance to be the hero, slaying the villain and freeing her dear brother-in-law, but instead, she suggests that she’s just going to step right into Leigh’s role as controlling super-witch. She seems surprised at this revelation — accompanied by a damning change in color-scheme — but her stated intentions are almost graphically crude. Then again, it may not be as simple as good and evil this time around.
Rose is visited by a monstrously complex vision, ranging from a jilted would-be lover to the physical manifestation of hope, but I think the most interesting is the head of Colin. Colin was the straw third of the three little pigs — itself a cautionary tale about lax preparedness — whose head appears on a pike in the vision. That allusion to Lord of the Flies was acknowledged openly when Goldilocks revolutionary forces first displayed his head 140 issues ago, but I think it’s telling that he appears in that form here. Boy Blue appears as his healthy younger self, not the shriveled corpse he left, telling us that Colin’s appearance was a conscious choice. Whether we care if that choice is made by Willingham, Colin himself, or whatever force allowed this vision to happen doesn’t matter — the point is, we’re going to see some kids kill each other.
Or will we? The scenario they describe sounds an awful lot like the very first arc of this series, where Rose’s apartment was found covered in blood, and Rose was presumed dead. Now, Willingham could be building to any number of conclusions: a simple arch form, in which Rose fakes her death again, a mirror image of the beginning, in which Snow’s death is faked, or a more definitive parallel in which one of them actually dies. I have no clue which we might get, but I absolutely love that Fables itself is providing us with narrative clues as rewarding as those coming from Lord of the Flies and “The Three Little Pigs”.
Come to think of it, a reading of this series that only focuses on its allusions might still be too complex to draw any conclusions from. Patrick, do any of these lines of questioning interest you? Or maybe you’d like to utilize some other analytical tool to mine some different lines of inquiry. I completely ignored the further adventures of Grimble AND the backup about Prince Charming, both of which find predators becoming prey — do you suppose that has any bearing on the impending battle between Rose and Snow?
Patrick: It’s not just an inversion of the pedator-prey dynamic: Prince Charming’s story also tells the story of the fallout from shifting alliances. Charming uses rocket launchers (which, awesome) to take out the flying armada of Sinbad — and Willingham is careful to remind us that Charming and Sinbad used to be the best of friends and meaningful allies. I don’t totally understand what it is that changed Charming’s heart on his old friend, but Willingham waves it away with some narrative whateverry. The version of Sinbad that he’s attacking is an abstraction, a “new empire” — you’ll notice that we never actually see Sinbad in this back-up, just the flying ships and the potential menace they represent. It’s as clear a sign as we’re likely to get that “hero” and “villain” are terms on the verge of breaking apart as we head into the final act.
Hell, there’s no way to categorize what Rose Red is right now anyway. Hero? Queen? King? Villain? Matriarch? She tries out all of these titles in passing, but none of them really seem appropriate. I’m intrigued to see what the next issue will reveal about Rose’s past, but I’m even more intrigued at the wide-open possibilities that are spread out before us. Also, I love that she’s being lead by… a grasshopper? Or, more likely, a cricket.
While Pinocchio and Geppetto are mainstays of the Fables universe, the be-tuxedoed embodiment of a conscience has not. This form makes itself manifest just as Rose pleas for a way out that doesn’t involve killing her sister (or being killed by her). So much of this series is predicated on people fulfilling roles, and that’s especially pronounced in Rose Red’s Camelot, but this leaves the door open to characters being motivated by choice. Is that where the real resolution of the series lies? In knowing that the characters are free to make their own peace rather than unending conflict which has been prescribed for them?
Hey, so on the subject of allusions — let’s talk about You Can’t Go Home Again. I’ve actually never read any Wolfe, but like anyone even remotely literarily minded, I’m familiar with the phrase (though I’ll admit that I usually slip a “never” into it). Willingham inserts the line into the Grimble’s scenes, and then plays it off as one delightfully cheesy joke. I love that the two other birds are actually talking about a Wolf named Tom who just so happened to also say “you can’t go home again.” That kind of coincidence also hits on one of Fables key themes — that axiom exists across the Fables multiverse because it is powerful and true. It took a great American author to articulate it in our reality, but it only took a scheming wolf to express it in another. Plus, once we’ve got this powerful idea in our heads — and it’s supported by a solid joke — the issue veers away from Grimble for just long enough for the reader to forget that we were talking about it in the first place. It’s basically Chekov’s aphorism, and when the saying pops up one more time to close off the main story, it’s every bit as satisfying as a gun going off.
It also astonishes me how funny Willingham is throughout the endgame. With over a decade of history, and centuries’ worth of borrowed characters, in need of resolution, he’s still dropping jokes like a writer looking to prove himself. That little bit in the bit of narration that reassures us that it’s correct that all of Fabletown is enclosed inside a castle now, Rose almost calling Leigh a cunt, and the aforementioned Tom Wolfe joke all had me laughing at loud at my Kindle. There are precious few comics that make me smile this much, and none that do so while weaving such thematically consistent material. Plus, Mark Buckingham and Jae Lee in one issue? Guys, guys, Christmas isn’t for another month.
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?