Fables Volume 8: Sons Of Empire.
Collecting 'Fables' Issues 52-59.
Written by Bill Willingham.
Pencils by Mark Buckingham (52-56) & Michael Allred (Issue 57-59)
Inks by Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (52-56).
Backup story art by Gene Ha (Issue 52), Joshua Middleton (Issue 53), Michael Allred (Issue 54) & Inaki Miranda (Issue 55).
Last time, Mowgli set off on his most important mission to date: Tracking down Bigby Wolf! But that sly old fox (or maybe cunning old wolf?) proved tough to track down. Thankfully, if there's one Fable who can get into a wolf's mind, it's Mowgli. If you want one to get into their pants, though, you need Snow White! Speaking of her royal paleness, she finally made an honest dog out of Bigby, and the pair tied the knot, retiring to a small annex outside of The Farm. This time... After Bigby's visit to Geppetto last volume, The Homelands are preparing for WAR!
Chapter 52: (Very long title) - Part One of Sons Of Empire. Still smouldering from Bigby's visit, the leaders of The Empire all gather to plan their revenge on Fabletown. Meanwhile, Red Riding Hood gets a new look... and the reactions are unexpected.
Chapter 53: The Four Plagues - Part Two of Sons Of Empire.
Lumi, AKA The White Queen, has come up with a rather... extreme plan to deal with Fabletown, and indeed, the entire Mundy (human) world.
However, not everyone is a fan of her plan, so Pinocchio and Rodney the Wooden Spy decide she must be stopped.
Meanwhile, Flycatcher is still a frog. Ribbit.
Chapter 54: The Burning Times - Part Three of Sons Of Empire. Taking Bigby up on his offer, The Empire has sent an emissary: Hansel. Former resident of Fabletown, former sibling to Gretel and former dude who pushed Totenkinder into her own oven. Needless to say, the dude has some enemies, in town.
Chapter 55: Over There - Part Four of Sons Of Empire.
Pinocchio spells out why Lumi's plan for the invasion and destruction of the Mundy world probably won't work, and, in all likelihood will lead to the destruction of The Empire as we know it.
But will his reasonable theory be enough to stop Lumi unleashing all manner of hell on Fabletown?
Chapter 56: Jiminy Christmas.
Coming somewhat out of left field, we take a break from the looming destruction of Fabletown, to spend a pleasant christmas with Snow White and Bigby Wolf. As their brood prepare for the festive season, they hatch a most devious plan... to catch Santa, and ask him one all-important question!
Chapter 57: A Man's Home Is His Castle - Part One of Father And Son.
Despite his complaints, Bigby takes his wife and kids to spend a little time with the in-laws. So, he loads the earthbound members of his family onto a flying carpet and ships them off to see Grandpa! I'm sure this will all end REALLY well, and no one will be eaten by monsters.
Chapter 58: Big Scary Monsters!- Part Two of Father And Son.
Bigby is terrified and furious, after learning that he sent his kids to practice hunting in a forest full of monsters. Charging off alone, he attempts to rescue his children from their doom!
Chapter 59: Burning Questions. Guest artists (in order of appearance): M.K. Perker, Jim Rugg, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Joelle Jones, D'israeli, Jill Thompson, David Lapham, John K. Snyder III, Eric Shanower, and Barry Kitson finally answer a number of reader questions, in a hilarious fashion.
Well, that was all rather exciting, wasn't it? First, we saw the many terrors that The Adversary wants to unleash on us, then we saw the many far more realistic terrors that WE would probably unleash in return. Then, we had a lesson in how to parent from Bigby Wolf, combined with a lesson in how NOT to parent from his dad Mr North. It was all rather pleasant... and sandwiched between the two: a classic Christmas tale that got all too real, as it closed.
DAMN YOU, WILLINGHAM.
How did you take a sweet, innocent tale of a child waiting up to talk to Santa and turn it into a dread-filled pile of dread, sprinkled with dread. GREAT freakin work.
So, sprinkled throughout this volume, we have a running gag that Flycatcher has been turned into a frog, because he got a little too close to doing something with Red Riding Hood. It SEEMS like mostly harmless, vaguely funny filler.
Then the Christmas special drops, and it's a mostly harmless, vaguely heartwarming tale. One of Bigby's kids is chosen to wait up and ask a single question of Santa, he asks HOW Santa manages to get it all done in one night and the answer —unsurprisingly— is Magic!. But, then, once he's lured us into a false sense of security with all the wholesome, Willingham hits us with THE DREAD. Because, one of the good people he is visiting right now is... Flycatcher! Eh, he got his Christmas wish, and he's back to being human. Transformed back with a ghostly kiss from his dead wife... slightly less wholesome. He's not actually all that happy about being back, though, so he asks WHY Kris Kringle did it. Only to be hit with "Chaos and death are coming, and you're the only one that can stop it. Merry Frakkin Christmas".
It's SUCH a brutal twist, and such a fantastic way to tie together two seemingly unrelated stories, both to each other and to the narrative as a whole, in a way that left me genuinely shocked and a little scared.
And still, somehow, I can't help but think that the threat Santa's warning us about ISN'T The Empire. Or at least, not SOLELY them...
Because there's a new bad guy in town! Hansel, Witch Hunter Supreme.
I can't lie, I really loved this take on his tale. The idea that after his run in with Totenkinder, who we all need to be more afraid of, Hansel would become this hyper-fanatical witch hunter, and religious zealot, is just way too plausible and entirely too fun to pass up. And now The Empire has sent him to act as their Ambassador to Fabletown, knowing full well that it's going to piss off a lot of people. Just perfect. And, OF COURSE, because nothing ever goes well for Fabletown, Hansel has set up his temporary embassy in a house managed by none other than Jack Freakin Thawne. AKA that reporter with a hard-on for Fabletown, who seems to be spying on them during his off hours.
So, we now have a Fable who hates Fabletown, and is basically there to sow the seeds of its destruction, living in a building looked after by a guy whose life has been ruined because no one believes his claim that Fables are real.
Oh, we also have dire warnings, that all manner of horrors are about to be unleashed.
Oh, yeah. We also, ALSO have a long and detailed plan, via Pinocchio, of exactly how easily the Mundies could utterly ruin the Fables, if they were actually to go to war against them.
But don't worry. I'm sure there's no way that these totally separate plot points could ever be connected. It's not like Willingham has ever done this before, using current plot points, to foreshadow major arcs to come...
And now, a fun fact: Recent history has ruined media for me. It's awesome.
So, in the first arc of this volume, Lumi, The White Queen, outlines her plan for the total destruction of the Mundy world using four plagues. The first of these is an ACTUAL plague. She talks about how this would almost certainly bring the world to its knees, and within a year or two would leave the world totally vulnerable to their second attack...
Then, in the following issue, Pinocchio details why this plan actually wouldn't work; he talks about how the amazing CDC and WHO would step in, identify the viruses and stop their spread. He goes on about how everyone would do what the agencies told them to, and in the end while some people would die, all it would REALLY do, is let the people know they were under attack, and the people of the world would rally together.
And, reading this, I couldn't help but laugh slightly and think to myself "If I hadn't known before, this issue would let me know this volume was written before 2020."
Because, we had a worldwide pandemic. We had people dying, in their thousands, every single day, for MONTHS. And still, large portions of the populace didn't even believe the virus existed, and just wanted to get back to life as normal. The CDC tried their best, alongside the WHO, to curb the spread, and to issue guidelines for everyone to follow to mitigate the disaster... and certain people's reactions varied from ignoring them, to outright hostility towards the various people trying to save them.
So, far from uniting to defeat a common threat... many people in fact did the BARE minimum required to not murder all life on earth as we know it, while kicking and screaming like petulant children the entire time.
I can't help but think, if that WAS the first stage of The Empire trying to invade our world, far from being put off by our resilience, they'd take one look at the absolutely state of some of us, and just give this whole realm up as a lost cause.
So, yeah, while I DID really enjoy Pinocchio's alternate take on how humanity would deal with an attack from The Empire... I can't help but think he might have slightly too high an opinion of us, and how we'd handle those particular circumstances.
Overall, Fables Volume 9 was another VERY strong addition to a series which just keeps getting better. Between Willingham's twisted tales and Buckingham's very classic style, you feel like you're living in a Fairytale world, but one that is constantly forced to remember that it's living in the real world now. The way it takes characters that we've known and loved for centuries and turns them into genuinely terrifying villains, while taking characters that have come to be synonymous with the idea of villainy, and turning them into loving fathers and true heroes, is genuinely refreshing, and a lesson in character development that many need to follow.
The story continues to grow in strong and unexpected ways, giving you just enough to theorise around, while still keeping enough back that there are still plenty of surprises to keep the reader engaged.
I can't wait to see what I'm wrong about next!
If you want to see that too, come back next time for Fables Volume 10: The Good Prince, collecting chapters 60-69. With war looming between the forces of the Adversary and the free Fables living in the mundane world, everything now depends on a humble janitor known as Flycatcher. Released from centuries of trauma-induced amnesia, Prince Ambrose (as he was known in happier times) faces a long and difficult road—one that will take him through the lands of the dead and into the heart of the enemy's realm. Once there, this unassuming and unlikely hero will face his greatest and most arduous test, and the future of both Fabletown and the Homelands will turn on the outcome.
Damn, that sounds freakin intense.
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.