So, according to these instructions rubber-banded to a can of vitamin soup that just flew through my—thankfully open—window, I’m supposed to review Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm and see what there is to like about it? What the hell? Who signed me up for this?
THE MAGNIFICENT BASTARD, HE’S ALWAYS ONE STEP AHEAD.
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Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm
See my thoughts on Vol. 1 here!
They’re not as fraught with violence and barfs as I had predicted!
I actually felt a little uneasy about my review of Vol. 1, worried it was too long and too mean-spirited without being funny or insightful enough to pay for it; whether or not that’s a valid worry, I can assure the reader that Vol. 2 went down a lot easier, and there’s a lot less to say about it, to all of our good fortune.
The basic beats of the story are simple, in a good way: Snow White and Rose Red go on a road trip to The Farm, where all of the Fables who can’t pass for humans are forced to live, and while there stumble across a plot to revolute against the rule of anthropomorphic Fablekind and retake the Homelands by force, perpetrated by Goldilocks and with specially-adapted weaponry provided by Weyland Smith, whom they have enslaved in the name of their Glorious People’s Revolution. Rose joins their cause (revealed at the end to have been an act of double-agency), Snow straight-up murders Shere Khan with a little help from Reynard the Fox, and just as in the first volume, absolutely nothing changes by the end of the book, with the exception of Rose being left in charge of the Farm to make her ‘equal’ to Snow. Because nothing says “you and I are equals” like a position that you badger your sister into giving you!
Like its structure, the book’s message is also simple: Communism Bad, and if Communism is a potential solution to your problems, your problems and arguments are invalid. This is represented by Goldilocks’ portrayal in the style of every straw-socialist, “over-educated” intellectual college-student stereotype the Boomers ever cooked up whenever they took a break from blaming us for the participation trophies they decided to give us. I’ll be honest, I’m actually kind of impressed at how spot-on (if wildly exaggerated) this caricature is; the stolen valor of the army-surplus coat, the smug superiority and accompanying overinflated vocabulary, and I can’t put my finger on it but something about those glasses:
As will surprise no one, Goldilocks is revealed to have no intention of holding up her end of the bargain, instead using the rhetoric of unity and revolution and dignity to dupe the foolish masses of the Farm into giving her a position of bloody-gripped power, as Bill Willingham and his entire generation assume all socialists would do if given the chance:
What’s interesting is that Willingham does make a point with Goldilocks, but it’s not quite the one he thinks he is. Yes, the glorious peoples’ revolution is corrupt and murderous (as, in fairness, does often happen in real life), but the perpetrator isn’t a second-class resident of the Farm, she’s one of the proper Fabletown gentry and can only stage her coup by dint of the same anthropomorphic privilege she shares with Snow White and Rose Red, and the agency it affords her. Furthermore, Goldilocks is a bloodthirsty egomaniac for sure, but she was also the only Fable who ever looked past their social hierarchy and considered that the Farm Animals were capable of being activated and made into a…FARMY??? instead of just being imprisoned for being talking pigs and similar. (An idea that Snow can’t help but recognize as a good one and steals at the end of the book, establishing a training center to prepare the Fightin’ Fables for the war to retake the homelands…though only humanoids need apply, naturally.) However, as mentioned, Goldy was only interested in exploiting the Farmies to further her own agenda, just like every other humanoid Fable; you’d think the shape of these events would lead Snow and Rose to see that the call is coming from inside the house, so to speak, but rather than deal with that bad trouble and what it means about the system they protect and benefit from, they return most of the Farmies to eternal captivity and execute others for the crime of…wanting equality and following someone who promised it. (Under false pretenses, admittedly, but still.)
I’m painting with a broad brush here, naturally; Snow and Rose do actually care about their constituencies and aren’t, y’know, openly villainous, but it’s also made clear that Snow in particular is much closer to Goldy’s end of the scale:
Part of the point of this project is to give credit where it’s due, and there’s at least one piece in this volume that I’m happy to give for two reasons: because it deserves to be given and because it doesn’t go to Bill Willingham. I’m overall not a huge fan of the art style of Fables so far (although art evolves, and also who the fuck am I); it’s not offensively bad, I just find it dull and lackluster enough to detract from the story. That said, this volume was (as far as I can tell) drawn by a gentleman named Mark Buckingham, and there are a couple of absolutely gorgeous big splash-pages in Animal Farm:
Okay, my fondness for that adorable dragon MAY be a factor.
If my research has bamboozled me and Bill His Own Self drew those, I will gladly admit my error and finger-shoot him a penitent “Way to be”, because even though they’re still in a style I’m not crazy about, good work is good work, and that’s great work.
Another bit I liked a lot is some work this volume did toward the worldbuilding, mythos, and mechanics of la vie fabuleuse, specifically regarding the archetypical power the Fables hold in the minds of We The Mundies, which allows for some really interesting fuckery re: the sort of narrative-physical overlap in which they exist. We see this first, and most dramatically, when Goldilocks fucking headshots Snow White (not pictured here because c’mon) and she, as the man said, got better.
This is some very cool shit to me, verging as it does on Gods Need Prayer Badly, and while I’m rolling my eyes a little at the fact that it’s being used primarily as yet another thing for which Rose resents Snow, I do think it’s a very nice mechanical exploration of how their rivalry is unique and complicated due to their natures and their relationships not only with each other but with us, the Mundies. That’s some thoughtful stuff, and I appreciate it and the amount of real work it indicates for these books.
The second example of Fables-as-archetypes is not nearly so emotional or poignant but is, in some ways, a hell of a lot more interesting to my storyteller/Dungeon Master brain. So, the Three Little Pigs were Goldilocks’ generals, and were summarily executed following the war-trial I mentioned earlier, and the three giants and dragon that Snow & Co. woke up to defeat the Farmy are an enormous logistical problem, so they push Fabletown to the brink of bankruptcy to transmogrify them into the new Three Little Pigs (and their fire-breathing crow), which will allow them to occupy the preexisting node in the narrative grid that just opened up.
If that sounds a lot like what happened with many Doctors Who, [REDACTED] becoming the new Dream of the Endless, or Tom from Toonami: yes, and that’s probably not intentional to those specific properties but is broadly, thematically intentional. This book–and, I am begrudgingly forced to admit, by extension its author–understands that stories are living things, and that organ transplants are perfectly possible if done with care and for a worthy purpose.
Also, Bigby has been explicitly, legally, eternally banned from the Farm (see: the Three Pigs incident, etc.), which is a pretty neat narrative trick to keep an overpowered character out of the action, AND it allows the B-team of Boy Blue, Bluebeard and Prince Charming to go on a Just Bros Road Trip to try to save the girls, and I’ve seen Planes, Trains, And Autombiles too many times not to love that shit.
And they arrive at the Farm in the nick of time…to see Snow and Rose stand in blood-spattered victory over the failed revolution like warrior queens; fair is fair, it’s pretty damn funny.
So I’m forced to admit: I don’t know that I’d say I liked this, but I certainly enjoyed it more (and think it’s better, which is not the same thing) than Vol. 1. While Goldilocks was a preposterous parody of left-wing politics, she was only using those as camouflage, and I’m willing to extend the credit of believing that was done on purpose. The narrative-mechanism stuff was cool, the boys’ trip was fun, and aside the Wadsworth Technique, Willingham managed to keep his social and political bullshit out of the story for the most pa–
Oh god dammit.
Volume 2 Grade:
8.2/10 Bluebeard Burgers
AND THAT’S ALL. THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO FOOBLE, friends and neighbors. I hope you enjoyed the book, or my thoughts on it, or ideally both, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! Join me next time for Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love; I’m sure Willingham’s meanspirited world full of women who hate women and men who hate themselves is simply chocka with romantical opportunities, and that they’ll have aged just as well as all of his other views. See you then!