Fables Vol 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers COMICS RETROSPECTIVE. This story just got real.
Fables Volume 4: March Of The Wooden Soldiers.
Collecting 'Fables' Issues 19-21 & 23-27.
Written by Bill Willingham, Pencils by Mark Buckingham,
Ink by Steve Leialoha.
Last time around, we were treated to a selection of shorter tales. Jack of Stories got up to no good, dealing with Death itself! Then Bigby Wolf had to wrestle with a fearsome foe: the free press! As a reporter threatened to expose the Fables to the whole world. After that, things somehow got even more dicey, as Snow White and Bigby found themselves in the middle of the woods, with no memories of how they got there... and a very angry Goldilocks, on their trail! The volume came to a close with a cute tale of the history of Smalltown. This week, we're doing something slightly different, as Fabletown prepares for War.
Chapter 19: March of the Wooden Soldiers I: Out Of The Woods. Everyone in Fabletown is happy and content, blissfully unaware of the chaos about to descend on them. Prince Charming continues his push to get elected Mayor, Snow White and Bigby Wolf continue their dance, but all the while... a new Fable is on their way to town.
Chapter 20: March of the Wooden Soldiers II: Red, White And Blue. RED Riding Hood has returned. The first Fable in over a century to escape The Adversary. And, while the tragic tale of the horrors of war and her bloody escape to freedom is enough to win over King Cole, Snow WHITE doesn't seem so convinced. Things backfire, when Red is reunited with her lost love: Little Boy BLUE.
Chapter 21: March of the Wooden Soldiers III: Very Long Title. Little Jack Horner, AKA Jack and The Beanstalk, and potentially Jack from Jack and Jill is up to his old tricks. Trying to gather some money, to field an expedition to the Sky Kingdoms, to rob them blind! But, after trying and failing to recruit someone that looks suspiciously like Alan Moore, his new backers seem a little... violent. Bigby continues his investigation into "Red".
Chapter 23: March of the Wooden Soldiers IV Our Second Amendment Issue:
The creepy "brothers" who assaulted Jack attempt to purchase a large quantity of firearms, but find the three day wait to be a little long, for their plans. Meanwhile, Jack finds his history of less-than-honest deeds makes him somewhat hard to believe.
Chapter 24: March of the Wooden Soldiers V The Letter: We head to The Farm, where it seems a piece of sentient housing is causing a few issues (and leaving a few breadcrumbs in its wake, if you pardon the wordplay). Meanwhile we find out a little more about "Red", which honestly leaves us more questions than it answers. Then, Fabletown receives a proclamation, and begins to prepare for war!
Chapter 25: March of the Wooden Soldiers VI Our Right To Assemble Issue:
Fabletown builds its defenses, as The Wooden Soldiers build their army. But as they try to prepare for the invasion, the people of Fabletown start to realise just how badly prepared they are.
Chapter 26: March of the Wooden Soldiers VII The Battle Of Fabletown:
Battle is joined! The denizens of Fabletown put up the best defense they can against the unstoppable hordes of Wooden Soldiers. But as their barricades fall, one by one, things begin to look a little Grimm.
Chapter 27: March of the Wooden Soldiers VIII Another Long Title:
Up in the Penthouse, two witches have a rather one-sided showdown. Down on the ground, Bigby does what Bigby does best. After all is said and done, an accounting is held. But, are Fabletown's troubles really over... or are they only just beginning?
Well, that certainly got a bit dark, didn't it? I mean, the whole concept of Fables (so far, anyway) is a more adult twist on fairy stories. But so far it's been rather NC-17, this time they cranked it all the way up to hard R rating. But, it wasn't just violence for violence's sake. There were some very interesting snippets of Lore in here, and I can't wait to see how some of this plays out!
Whew, that was pretty epic, wasn't it? There have been some solid ongoing stories, so far in Fables, but this was the first time we've had one this long! But amidst the carnage, and the untimely deaths (RIP Boo Bear, you're with Goldilocks, now.) there were also a couple of rather important revelations.
First: The Empire has an army of wooden soldiers, crafted by none other than Geppetto. Needless to say, this had Pinocchio a little worked up. He seems to think that Gep is a captive and working for The Adversary under duress. Personally, I can't help but feel that, given the tone this series has taken so far, Gep's fate isn't quite that simple.
Geppetto always struck me as a slightly creepy figure, but I don't know if this is just my personal prejudice talking. Everything about the way the soldiers act, and the letter they read from The Emperor makes me feel like while Gep might have been against them to start with, he's now well and truly drunk the Kool-Aid and is an Imperial, through and through.
I'm sure this WOULD have lead to a terrifying and heartbreaking reunion between him and Pinocchio, but that silly puppet got his head cut off during the battle. Horrors and tragedy of War and all that.
I absolutely LOVE the concept of a wooden army, though. everything from their utter hatred and disgust for "Meatheads", as they refer to anyone not carved from wood, to their ability to 'heal' themselves by taking parts from each other to rebuild themselves when injured is just the right level of off-putting and terrifying, while still being 100% Fairy Tale.
Reminds me entirely too much of the creepiest scene ever committed to film: The Fire Gang, from Jim Henson's masterpiece Labyrinth. For those who weren't scarred in childhood, The Fire Gang are a group of singing bird puppets, who dance around and swap body parts, because this is a children's film made by someone who clearly hates children.
So, being as the Fables are basically fighting nightmare fuel, the Battle of Fabletown was a pretty savage one. For a series that has kept the violence at a fairly contained level, before now, it went harder than expected.
Although, another benefit to having enemies carved out of wood is that they don't bleed. Meaning to matter how much they get shot, or cut up, there's none of that pesky gore than censors hate so much. Although, as we see in this big battle, guns aren't a huge amount of use against an army that feels no pain and can rebuild itself on the fly.
I'm hoping that if (let's be real, WHEN) the Wooden Soldiers attack again, we see less guns and more classic Fairy Tale weapons, like swords and axes! Mostly just because I really enjoy when stories set in the modern day find a way to make classic weapons viable again, and this series seems to have created a pretty solid excuse to break out Excalibur or whatever else comes to hand!
But let us not forget: The leader of these evil toy soldiers, the lady we initially met as Red Riding Hood. Her introduction was handled really well, seeing her return and how both sides of the ongoing political battle tried to use her return to their advantage, all the while Bigby was IMMEDIATELY suspicious.
One of the things I enjoy most about Fables, is trying to work out who is who in the series, and what their connections are going to be to the others. So, when Red Riding Hood showed up, but was clearly NOT the real Red, I started to wonder who she might actually be. The way Willingham and crew are weaving all the stories together like this, means that honestly NO theory is too crazy! And if you know me, and my proclivities toward crazy theories, you'll know why this makes me so happy.
As it turned out, "Red" was actually Baba Yaga. No, not Keanu Reeves, but the magical crone of Slavic lore. Of course, this means that we're no longer dealing with just the Brothers Grimm/Charles Perrault branch of fairy tales, and we're bringing in folklore from all around the world, too. Which means that the list of potential identities of The Adversary just got a LOT longer. I'd love it if he turned out to be someone like Merlin. Who, as we all know, was actually kind of a douchebag. In the end, though, Baba Yaga met her fate at the hands of Frau Totenkinder (AKA the witch from Hansel and Gretel). Despite being conducted mostly off-panel, this was one of the more interesting battles of the volume, for me. During the pre-battle trash talk, the Frau mentions a few times that although she is in a couple of stories, her name has been kept out of all of them, and implies that she's something older —and clearly, stronger— than we could ever know. Then, when King Cole returns briefly to his penthouse, during their first, we see a split second reflection of the clash in his glasses... which seems to involve a freakin dragon, potentially a HYDRA.
In the post-game, the Frau mentions that she's never really been one to believe that whole mess about a Fable's power being connected to its popularity.
There is SO much to unpack there. Despite being maybe two pages of story, the implications are kind of crazy. The fact that this seemingly unassuming old lady is actually some kind of super-powerful mythical creature ticks every single box for me. And it connects rather nicely to another of my favourite aspects of this series: The idea that stories are somewhat self-correcting. If you're close enough to the tale, even if the details are a little fuzzy, the story will make it work, because that's what people want it to be.
SO, maybe this lady really is just a witch who tried to eat a couple of naughty children. Or maybe she's something else all together, and is just playing a role... for now.
But, of course, even with the battle won, things are never that easy for the residents of Fabletown. Because while they've got magic working overtime to hide the fact there was a giant battle in the middle of New York, working at that scale means people are going to slip up. And now, ANOTHER reporter is starting to ask the right questions, to the wrong people. I'm sure that will totally blow over though, right?
Overall, Fables Volume 4 was a great book. Packed with action, some AMAZING full-page panels from Mark Buckingham that really conveyed just how grim large scale battles like that can be, but without getting overly detailed on the gore. It's a perfect way to highlight the issues, in a very... Fable-like manner.
Meanwhile, as we're distracted by the huge battles and tragic deaths, Willingham sneaks in a few breadcrumbs, and moves the story forward in some very meaningful ways. Just what is up with Geppetto, that creepy old bastard? Is this the last we've seen of his Wooden Soldiers... and how many others spies has The Adversary sent to infiltrate Fabletown? Will we ever really know...
If you want to find out, join me next week for Fables Volume 5: The Mean Season, collecting issues 22 & 28-33. This volume features two tales of Bigby’s exploits during World War II as well as "The Year After," which follows the aftermath of the Adversary's attempt to conquer Fabletown, including the birth of Snow White and Bigby's children!
So, if you want to read along, you can find Fables at your Local Comics Shop, or on Comixology/Amazon. But go to the comic store, they're WAY nicer.
Taheg Gloder is a Freelance Copywriter from England. Obsessed with comics and Manga since his teens, he now splits his time between writing comic reviews and retrospectives for POP, and doing reactions on his YouTube Channel, The Dragon & The Hound. He lives alone, because he’s a hermit.