Fables Volume 5: The Mean Seasons.
Collecting 'Fables' Issues 22 & 28-33 .
Written by Bill Willingham.
Pencils by Tony Akins (Issue 22 & 28-29) & Mark Buckingham (Issues 30-33).
Inks by Jimmy Palmiotti (Issues 22&28-29) & Steve Leialoha (Issues 30-33).
Last time, things didn't go well for anyone in Fabletown. For many reasons, but most because war was declared by The Adversary. First Geppetto sent in a crack squad of his Wooden Soldiers, lead by Baba Yaga pretending to be Little Red Riding Hood, to murder a few people and deliver his message. When that didn't end how he wanted, The Adversary sent in an entire army of the weirdly funny wooden sociopaths. That also didn't end very well, for anyone, as Fabletown repelled the attack at huge cost. Now, it's time for democracy to reign, as Fabletown holds its first elections in centuries! But first, a trip back in time.
Chapter 22: Cindarella Libertine. Cinderella is Prince Charming's third wife. Because that dude gets AROUND. But ol' Cindy has a lot going on right now. Far more than anyone really knows, or ever CAN know!
Chapter 28: Dog Company: War Stories, Part One. Bigby goes to see an old friend, who gives him some unwelcome news. But he also has a slightly more welcome gift for his old friend. A book, containing a story only the two of them will ever know. Well, the two of them and now, US!
Chapter 29: Frankenstein Versus The Wolf Man: War Stories, Part Two. Deep behind enemy lines, at the in-hindsight-obviously-named "Castle Frankenstein", Bigby and Dog Company give it their all to complete their mission. No matter the cost...
Chapter 30: The Hot, Cruel Summer. Snow White has gone into labour! But, as is so often the case, birthy proves to be a long, agonising, and extremely surprising event. Meanwhile, the day is finally here, as Fabletown votes for who should be its mayor!
Chapter 31: The Long, Hard Fall. Prince Charming is officially MAYOR Charming, now. And he's finding out that doing BEING Mayor is much harder than BECOMING Mayor. Meanwhile, Snow White and Bibgy Wolf train up their replacements. Which involves a few eye-opening moments, for The Beast.
Chapter 32: The Dark, Killing Winter. It's not just Prince Charming who's suffering. It seems all his new hires are finding life a lot more difficult than they'd imagined them to be. The populace aren't exactly pleased either. But NO ONE is having a worse time of all this, than Mr Web.
Chapter 33: Until The Spring. The Farm has a new guest, and he's here to offer his help raising Snow White's litter, who are proving to be more of a handful than expected. Meanwhile, the mysterious, seemingly causeless (is that a word?) deaths continue, and everyone is stumped as to who, or what, could be doing this.
That was quite the volume, wasn't it? Starting off with a classic spy thriller, shifting to an old school war story, crossed with a creature feature, and then wrapping up with... Well, that last arc kinda defies description. Was one hell of a story, though! And through it all, as always, Willingham kept us guessing with his twists, and twisted takes, on so many great stories.
One of the great benefits to this series, given the incredibly broad range of characters they have to play with, is that you can NEVER expect what kind of story you're going to get next.
And never has that been more apparent, than with Volume Five! We start of with a tale of young Cinderella, who has worked real hard to avoid the public eye, and now we know why! As she delivers a classic spy thriller. Honestly, my only problem with this story was that it was over so soon.
The whole story is incredibly well done, and given how last volume started with Red Riding Hood pulling a VERY similar con, you immediately believe that Cinderella would turn against the denizens of Fabletown; especially given that she spends the first few pages complaining to Charming's other exes!
Combine that with the many hints she drops to The Adversary, and the teasing that we might FINALLY found out his identity, and you're shocked and almost a little let down, but also kind of pleased, when her boss is revealed to be... Bigby Wolf. It's a triple agent twist that would fit perfectly into any Le Carre novel, and is a suitably satisfying ending to this first tale. But I can't lie... I really hoped we'd get a little more info about The Adversary!
Then, we take a HARD left turn, and jump back in time a little for a classic war story, with none other than Bigby Wolf. I can't lie, I'm not a huge fan of war stories, except Band of Brothers, that show is a masterpiece. BUT, I do love when they do flashback tales like this, showing powered characters doing their part during the war, putting the Hero into Superhero.
And this story is no different! Bigby is an outside contractor, a civilian assistance attached to a crack regiment sent on a mission so beyond top secret that once you're finished reading about it, you'll have to eat your computer, or phone, or whatever you're reading this on.
But, because this is still Fables, there IS something of a twist. In fact, there are a few... So, we're initially lead to believe that Bigby is there to take out Frankenstein, while the soldiers keep his escape route clear, and then blow the whole place up... but it turns out that is actually a trap leaked by the Axis and this whole castle is set up to lure Bigby there. But still, for shits and giggles, Frankenstein's monster IS there, and Bigby has to fight him. Because... I mean, who DOESN'T want to see that fight? And, speaking of, it's a GREAT fight, guest artist Tony Akins delivers a fast, brutal clash. surprisingly free of gore, but packed with satisfying slams, smashes and a great ending. I also love that Willingham resisted the urge to fall into the standard "Frankenstein's monster is a groaning, shambling simpleton" trope that seems to have befallen our poor friend in most adaptations. The monster here is just as eloquent as Shelley intended him to be... dude can still throw down, though.
But, at the end of the day, the part I like best is the part that is ALWAYS the best, when we see these "Superhero fought in the war" arcs: When you really look at what happened, at what was achieved, at the price that was paid, and by whom, you can't help but come to one conclusion. Bigby was an asset to the mission, but he was FAR from the only hero in the squad. His part was simple and was achieved quite easily. The people that really put it all on the line to achieve their goal were the normal humans he fought beside. And even though any one of them could have sold Bigby out after his secret was revealed... none ever did. Because that's not what heroes do.
But then, for the main arc of this volume, we return to present day Fabletown!
And boy, is there a lot going on... First: Snow White has had her children. A whole freakin litter of them! Because that's what happens, when their father is the Big Bad Wolf! Another thing that happens, when your dad is Bigby... you're born with fur and pointy teeth and stuff. Yeah, that part is a little harder to hide.
So, naturally, Snow White decides there's only one thing for it: She has to move to The Farm. Where Bigby isn't allowed to go, because he might be a war hero, but he's still persona non grata amongst many of the non-human Fables.
It's an oddly emotional moment for the volume. And I have no trouble believing that Willingham placed this story after the "Bigby is a warhero" story on purpose!
Seeing the different ways that Snow White and Bigby get treated, as they leave, hit me a lot harder than I was expecting it to. Bigby essentially being forced to quit, and to leave his whole family behind sits pretty badly, especially after seeing all that he's done for Fabletown, as he's handing his position over to The Beast. I mean, I know this isn't the end for his character, so this is more of a bump in the road than anything else... but still, well played, Willingham; you got me.
But of course, Snow White isn't exactly having a great time, either. Not only does she have to deal with a litter of new wolf babies... but they can freakin' fly, because their father is a wind-powered wolf guy. And now someone is murdering people by suffocating them, without leaving any marks!
And then Totenkinder sends Snow a letter, talking about her seven kids, when she only has six...
Yeah, I saw it too. Amongst the many twists and surprises in this volume, that one was probably the least surprising. Part of me is glad that it was wrapped up as quickly as it was, but part of me can't help but think that they COULD have done something really cool with that. Draw it out a little longer, make it a little less obvious that Snow had a seventh child and let it build a little more, so that when the reveal comes it REALLY hurts us. But maybe that's just my sadistic side coming out... I can't help but want to build up the painful reveals a little more, so that they really sting.
Of course, Murder Baby has been sent off to live with his father for a while, so there's every chance that story isn't done, yet...
And speaking of fathers: Bigby's dad, The North Wind, who looks a lot like a ripped Sam Elliot, has arrived and is planning to teach his new Grandkids how to be magic wind wolves. Including how to shapeshift, to allow them to fit in more easily with the Mundys (non-Fables/normal humans).
And part of me can't help but think: this is going to backfire. Snow White having to move up to The Farm, because she's had a litter of wolf babies is going to temper a few of the harsher opinions towards her, from some of the residents there. If she suddenly finds a magical way to get her old life back, I can't help but think that the simmering resentment might just boil over once more. Especially as Prince Charming made a whole lot of promises that he can't actually keep... And speaking of Prince Douchenozzle...
The Fabletown elections have begun, and quite swiftly ended. I can't lie, when I saw that they were allowing write-ins, I was SURE they were going to elect Snow White... but, given her current arc, and people seemingly being a little frosty towards her, I guess there wasn't much chance of that happening.
Nope, Prince Man-slag took the top spot. Because of course he did. Turns out, it's quite easy to win an election, when you spend all your time lying and overpromising to the electorate. But, as so many liars before him have found out, once you get in, and don't deliver... the people can turn on you, REAL fast.
I think at this point it's not a question of "How quickly will Prince Not-actually-that-Charming get kicked out of office", the real question we need to ask is: "How much damage will he do, before all is set right"? And I can't help but worry, given how many and varied are the calamities that seem to be circling Fabletown, just how high that bill is going to become, and more worryingly... who is going to end up paying it?
Overall, Fables Volume 5 delivered a varied, but strong collection of stories. As I said at the start, one of the strengths of this series is that you can really tell whatever kind of story you like, and you can find a way to make it work within the universe. Fables is very much a story ABOUT stories, and Willingham, with his motley collection of amazing artists, is utilising that premise to really cut loose and write some grand tales. But, woven within it all is a strong core that keeps me intrigued and engaged with a collection of incredibly relatable characters.
If you'd told me before I started this series, that one day I'd be sad to see The Big Bad Wolf leave his job, I'd have laughed in your face. Yet, here we are, and while this volume delivered many great tales, and many very interesting moments... I can't shake that image of Bigby Wolf, who has done more than many will ever know for Fabletown, sneaking away in a cab, alone.
If you're hoping for a slightly happier tale, come back next time for Fables Volume 6: Homelands, collecting Issues 34-41. "Homelands" follows Boy Blue on a mission of revenge as he uncovers the Adversary's true identity (HELL YES)! Plus, the two-part story of Jack's adventures in Hollywood, and the one-shot story of Mowgli's return to Fabletown.
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 shop, they're WAY nicer and need your support a helluva lot more.
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.