ONCE UPON A TIME, mistakes were made.
And as far as community-service sentences go, I reckon yelling about comics while watching Star Trek: Picard is getting off fairly easy. In f–YO WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT MY BOY JAMES CALLIS, HOLY SHIT GAIUS BALTAR IN THE HOUSE!
Or w–wait, it’s been some years since my last Battlestar Galactica watch-through, is that an older Bashir? Is that what Alexander Siddig looks like now? What the hell is happening?
Okay, well, that deeply confusing distraction aside, I’ve returned for the third installment of my Fables read-through project, for my many sins. Come, ye penitents, and join me in purifying mortification.
Fables, Vol. 3: Storybook Love,
by Bill Willingham (Author), Mark Buckingham (Illustrator, Artist), Lan Medina (Illustrator), Bryan Talbot (Illustrator), Linda Medley (Illustrator)
Vol. 3 starts off with an unrelated one-shot Jack Tale! I’d be lying if I said I found Jack a particularly engaging character, but he does have the benefit of an enormous backlog of stories for these creators to draw from; he’s Mr. & The Beanstalk, Mr. Of All Trades, Mr. O’Lantern, the list on both sides of the Atlantic goes on. He seemed like kind of a scumbag in the first two, but characterization marches on, maybe this time he’ll be b–
Things go as you might expect because the Confederacy was composed either of traitorous, racist cowards or people threatened into cooperating by them. But Jack being Jack, he manages to scarper off loaded down to his very last encumbrance point with all manner of military-issue swag, and while I generally disapprove of theft I must admit that everything he stole was something that couldn’t be used by people who thought starting their own country and waging war on their brethren would be easier than learning not to enslave, rape, and murder human beings, and so I approve of this particular abscondment. Knowing him he’ll lose it in a deeply stupid way pretty soon anyway. Oh look, here’s one now!
Jack, ironically, has apparently never heard or read a fable in his long and storied life, and fails to recognize what we here at TropeCo call Schmuck Bait: this is OBVIOUSLY a trap but the question is irresistible to someone like Jack, who would fall for The Burns Gambit roughly 100% of the time. As if you hadn’t guessed yet, he ends up playing poker with, and losing everything he managed to thieve from General Lee’s largesse, to the Devil himself. But Mr. Scratch can’t out-trick the Trickster Archetype itself, and at the very last second Jack manages to bamboozle him out of his magic sack, which he noticed was bottomless when ol’ Nick Slick shoved all his shit into it. He bids the Red Prince adieu and proceeds to make like Luigi in a haunted mansion with everything that wanders into his eyeline:
Here he meets a young woman dying of the incurable mysterious death, and asks exactly what she’d be willing to do to live, hint-hint, eyebrows eyebrows, for some reason we’re pretending “have sex with me or I let you die” isn’t something a psychopath would do, nudge-nudge. And right on time, the ol’ Bonesman himself arrives to make off with her only to find he’s been…SACKED???
They have a vigorous, visually unpleasant roll in the hay and hey, turns out she really likes sex! Which is good. What’s not good is that this is the equivalent of discovering that you really like heroin after someone forced you to do it at gunpoint the first time. Regardless, they get hungry, go to butcher up a breakfast-chicken, and it turns out that uh, well, here:
HA, THAT’S PRETTY FUCKED UP ACTUALLY, THAT RULES. It is, however, unsustainable–the gut bacteria alone, good Lord–and if for no other reason than to finally get his hands on a friggin’ breakfast burrito, Jack releases Death from his bag and prepares to face the music:
So that had a lot of problems, obviously, but if we take it as given that Jack isn’t a hero in the sense of role model but in the sort of fallible, Greek sense, it–yeah no he’d still blow into town and not be allowed within 500 yards of the school, church, or courtroom by lunchtime. But still a fun story if you remove all the racism and sexual predation, none of which was mechanically necessary or useful unless the story is trying to paint Jack as a cad, but that doesn’t really track with the ‘war of Yankee aggression’ hogwash??? Whatever.
Fun fact, once at an old job of mine, the power went out and we all circled up and told stories; I told this one, and my pal Timtams regaled us with THE TRUE TALE OF THE PHANTOM SHITTER, an uncatchable rascal who would poop up the bathrooms at her brother’s company and vanish from the bathroom in ways that shouldn’t be possible. He eludes pooping-authorities to this very day, haunting the lumber mill crappers of the Pacific Northwest.
THAT DONE, let us on to the volume proper. Feel free to take a break from reading; fix yourself a drink, maybe! 🍹
This one starts on a pretty intriguing note, actually: A journalist–you can hear Willingham’s distaste for being forced to use such a filthy word right on the page–has done his job very, very well, put many pieces together over several years, and figured out exactly who and what this mysterious community of insular, long-lived weirdos are.
This to me would actually be an ideal situation, I would tell him to go right ahead and publish, personally; but Bigby is responsible for the safety and privacy of an unknown number of magical folk, and so unable to take even the risk that “what if they believe him about wampires” entails, which is fair, I respect that.
The problem is that this reporter, Sharp, wasn’t issuing a threat, wasn’t trying to blackmail anyone, wasn’t speaking any language that this deeply treacherous, scheming community ever did any DuoLingo lessons for; he just wants to do his job, and is giving them a heads-up as a professional courtesy, which is actually damned decent of him, I feel. He is not dissuaded when Bigby says “Hey please don’t tho”, and so they are left with only one option:
There’s a really fun heist sequence that involves Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty infiltrating the guy’s building, Beauts pricking her finger (apparently this puts everyone in the entire building to sleep along with her when it happens, which I’m not enough of a Grimmy to question), and Jack, Bluebeard, Flycatcher and Boy Blue ransacking dude’s apartment for the dirts. But it turns out he’s got backups on backups on isolated servers, and they end up having to bodily kidnap him while his building is enveloped by thorns.
Listen, who among us hasn’t abducted a member of the Fourth Estate to prevent them from printing *checks notes* the, uh…truth.
Now, against my every instinct and better judgment, I was actually really enjoying Vol. 3 at this point. I love a heist! I am but a man, with a main’s elemental vulnerabilities.
Then things got…weird. Upsetting-weird. Moral event-horizon weird:
Like look obviously I don’t wanna speculate on what any of those materials actually depict, but the clear implication is contact of an unsavory and hellworthy kind, for to create suitable leverage. Here’s the thing though: Sharp was unconscious for all of it, so he couldn’t actually have been doing anything, which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that–and please for the love of God know that this is not a joke and I’m not happy I have to write about it–Bigby had Pinocchio sexually assault this man, photographed it, and is now blackmailing that man with the proof? Because that dude was threatening to go to the press with a story that absolutely no one would ever believe and which would almost certainly scuttle his career? I mean I know he’s not the Big Good Wolf, but Jesus. Oh, and then Bigby tells Sharp it’s his own fault for…being in the media???
And then, despite his life already being thoroughly ruined, Bluebeard murders him anyway just to prove he’s bigger and badder than the Big Bad Wolf, to whom he had just crashed and burned in a dick-measuring contest that was his own idea.
So…yeah, all of that’s not great, and just reinforces to me that Bill Willingham doesn’t really seem to understand who the bad guys in his own stories are. This story was mostly fun though, and outshines the next bit so powerfully that I actually consider it the main story of the volume. In fact here: Bluebeard and Goldilocks, who escaped prosecution for the Animal Farm Incident, are smoochin’ and schemin’ to do away with Snow and Bigwig; they put a magic-whammy on them and send them camping, where the plan is for Goldilocks to literally murder them. To what end, given that we already know Snow can survive having her brains blown out and presumably Bigby could as well? Unclear. It doesn’t work, Biggledypiggledy confessed his olfactory-based love for Snow, and Goldilocks embarks on an exciting new career as a hood ornament.
Good thing it all wrapped up so nice and neatly! Yessir, bad guys are beaten, Snow and Mr. Bigglesworth had a nice heart-to-heart and even if they aren’t quite square romantically, re: his unrequited feelings for her, at least they shared that intimacy and have tome to respect and trust one another a little m–oh god dammit.
Okay, okay, enough Grinchgiffing, time to take me lumps and see what I liked about this volume:
- As is probably evident, I loved the Jack-story prologue aside its racism and ignorance of the concept of ‘consent’; I’m a huge sucker for American mythology and folklore, and the idea that sure there’s faerietale creatures and the fucking Devil and oh yeah Death’s around here somewhere, and they’re all pretty dumb and bad at their jobs, it’s great, I love this big stupid endless America-that-was.
- Credit where it’s due: Willingham hates women more than a little bit but he made Goldilocks a deeply despicable villain without rooting it in her femaleness, and obliterating her with the Final Destination 2 truck was horrifying, disgusting, and EXTRMELY satisfying.
- The bit in the Jack-story where he and Lucy the Southern Belle walk into the barnyard and discover a living massacre of animals screaming for death, which is messed up and very upsetting, but what makes me happy about it is the way it implies that she decapitated one chicken, it didn’t work, and she just kept trying until she ran out of animals. “Well that’s odd,” she must’ve thought, “but I need more data to know if it’s the animals or the knife, so back to chopping I go.”
- The big journalism-heist was a TON of fun until it suddenly, violently wasn’t, and the joy on Big Breakfast‘s face when the dude says ‘vampires’ is one of the purest things I’ve ever seen:
- There was a characterization bit I actually really liked when Snow and Bigbug were camping:
This is ordinarily the kind of thing I’d hate, but–and maybe this is just me projecting–Snow looks genuinely saddened by the realization that she’s slipped that far out of touch and away from the world she’s supposed to help her people live in. Or maybe she was just really looking forward to seeing if Y2K was gonna be a thing and now it’s like “Oh, well, my toaster worked this morning, guess that answers that.”
Volume 3 Total Grade, Against My Better Judgment:
8.0/10 Local Fable-Run Small Businesses
- I Am The Eggman Diner: Plentiful seating, confusing but vibrant Sonic The Hedgehog-themed decor, only place in town to get a decent bowl of Cadbury cereal.
- Nod’s Books: Excellent selection of recent releases in old-world languages, hosts a weekly Reading Zoo where animals from local farms are welcome, closed every day during the siesta-hour
- Edward Bear’s Candies: HOPE YA LIKE GLAZED GRUBS, GUMMY-LESS GUMMY-WORMS, AND BEETLE BRITTLE. WHAT’S THAT, YOU DON’T, COOL, MORE FOR ME, PASS THE MAPLE MAGGOTS.
Rejoin me next time for Vol. 4: March Of The Wooden Soldiers, when Bigby has a reunion with an old foe, Prince Charming does what every rich white asshole eventually does: gets into politics, and Bill Willingham finds a way to paint I dunno, nurses as Communists or some shit.
–The Bageler (Baked Fresh At The Eggman)