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Once Upon a Time?

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It is a concept so simple that you’d think it would be easy to do right—fairy tale characters living in the present day. Many movies and TV shows have done varieties on this theme, but none quite as well as Bill Willingham did with Fables.

The characters of the series are the ones from your favorite fairy tales—Prince Charming, The Big Bad Wolf, Snow White and others. They actually exist in the real world and their power derives from how well the regular humans, or “Mundys” as they’re called, believe in them. They gain a certain immortality based on how popular their stories are with the regular folk.  

These “Fables” used to live in a magical land referred to as “The Homeland.”   They were forced out by an invasion by the mysterious Adversary and forced to go into exile. If you can pass as human, you live in an apartment building in New York City. If you are a talking animal or other magical creature, you live in upstate New York at a place called “The Farm.”

The first arc deals with the suspected murder of Rose Red, sister to Snow White. The Big Bad Wolf is now Bigby Wolf, and has reformed to the point where he is now in charge of security for all the Fables. Bigby plays the part of the Humphrey Bogart-like gumshoe that investigates, and eventually solves the case by the title’s fifth issue.

The cast is introduced to us in these few issues, and to Willingham’s credit, each is fleshed out from the original fairy tales they started in and made more realistic. Jack is a trickster con artist. Prince Charming is a cad but does possess the ability to lead. Bigby is gruff but lovable. Snow White is strong yet human.

These first five issues of Fables are pretty much self-contained and read more like a miniseries than the beginning of an ongoing.  It was a fairly straight forward murder mystery set in the urban fairy tale world created by Willingham and artist Lan Medina.

This could be by design. Vertigo was in the midst of a drought of successful ongoing titles in 2002, when Fables hit the scene. Other than 100 Bullets, which began in 1999,no other attempt at starting a new ongoing to my knowledge lasted longer than 30 issues. So it was reasonable for Vertigo to hedge their bets.

But Fables was an almost instant success. Word of mouth was so strong that the first issues of the series shot up in price on the back issue market only months after release. People wanted to read this new take on their favorite fairy tale characters and the book became a hit.

I’d imagine that early adopters of the series were surprised as to the place where the title went to after its humble beginnings. The storyline involving the Fables’ exile from their Homeland, and their longing to return to it, was a long-running subplot bubbling underneath the main story through many early issues. It eventually became the driving force of the series.

For over fifty issues, the machinations leading up to war dominated Fables.   There have been invasions, espionage, treaties and alliances, and detailed planning. It has all come to a head in the recent “War and Pieces” storyline as the exiles have begun to attack their Homeland.

This issue wraps up the three-part arc. The Fables’ bombing attacks have been overwhelmingly successful and have all but closed out the mystical realm’s contact with the real world. But things will be taking a turn for the worse in this issue. How bad will it get? Who will live and who will die? We have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Fables will continue. It will outlast Sandman, Books of Magic, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Shade the Changing Man in terms of longevity. That is quite an accomplishment for any title, but especially good for a Vertigo one. Perhaps the series will be as immortal as its characters are. 

Also out this week:

Marvel Apes #1:

Welcome to one of the silliest concepts ever introduced to Marvel Comics.

The ape has a long a storied history in comics, mostly at DC. You had gorillas that could control your mind, play baseball, or even change places with a human being. Yes, the simian was a fundamental part of DC’s Silver Age. Now, Marvel has decided to do them one better and make all their heroes and villains apes—with the campy apeified names to go along with it.

I have to ask it, but what’s next? We already have seen Marvel Zombies. Could the next be Marvel Babies? Gender Reversed Marvel? Marvel Puppies? Marvel Pet Rocks? I shudder to think what they will think of next. What is probably next is Marvel Apes 2.

Karl Kesel (W), Ramon Bachs (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Secret Six #1:

I, like many comic fans out there, find a lot to complain about with the medium. This might lead some to believe that I secretly harbor a hatred of comic books or I am impossible to please. That just isn’t so. I appreciate a finely written or drawn book. I love a great character done right. And I think a lot of ideas from the comic companies are really ingenious.

But I have to say, nothing makes me happier than to see the Secret Six get an ongoing series. I loved them in Villains United and their first miniseries. Gail Simone was given a group of low level bad guys and she made it work. Each team member has a unique personality and redefine cool. Simone deserved an ongoing with this team for the massive salvage job she did. Thatkfully, DC was smart enough to give her one.

Gail Simone (W), Nicola Scott (A), DC Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Spooks: Omega Team #1:

A time-tested, yet not always used tactic in comics is starting a concept off in a miniseries first to gain an audience. If the fans respond positively to the idea, then bring out an ongoing (this week’s Secret Six is an example of this). If this happened more often, there might not be so many cancellations each month.

This is the tact Devil’s Due took with Spooks. It released a miniseries a few months ago which introduced the characters (a paramilitary team), the world they lived in (a world filled with vampires, werewolves and monsters), and established their modus operandi (protecting us from those creepy creatures). It must have made a splash because the Spooks are back in an ongoing this time. 

Larry Hama (W), Tim Seeley (A), Devil’s Due Publishing, $3.50. Ongoing Series.

Jonah Hex #35:

There has been quite a bit of talk on the Internet about this series. Namely, how this low-selling comic keeps from being cancelled and keeps getting high profile artists like Darwyn Cooke and this week’s J.H. Williams III. People think it might have something to do with Jimmy Palmiotti’s friendship with DC head honcho Dan DiDio. Some people think it has to do with the overall quality of the book.

Whatever it is, I hope it keeps up. And I hope Mr. Williams brings more people in. I consistently find Jonah Hex an entertaining read each month. Anything that can bring more readers to the title or keep it on the shelves a little longer is alright by me.

Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (W), J.H. Williams III (A), DC Comics, $2.99.  Ongoing Series.

Sub-Mariner: The Depths #1:

The Sub-Mariner is Marvel’s oldest superhero. He is also one of their characters no one seems to know what to do with. Like Silver Surfer, he has gone through several different miniseries in the last several years, each series with a slightly different view towards the character, but none seemed to stick.

Well, it’s now Peter Milligan and Esad Ribic’s turn to take a shot at the character. It seems that the take they’re offering is one where Subby is a mysterious force of nature, almost an urban legend of the high seas. This is certainly a unique look at the character, and Milligan matched with Ribic is a match made in heaven. Will this time be the lucky one for Namor?

Peter Milligan (W), Esad Ribic (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99.  Four-Issue Miniseries.

X-Men: Return of Magik:

I think the nostalgia trend in comics is soon coming to an end. When Marvel is making a big deal about bringing Magik back from the dead, they have pretty much run out of people to bring back. Yes, I’m sure the character has fans, but I seriously doubt Marvel was inundated with letters asking for her return.

But she is going to return nonetheless. If you are one of those who are interested in Illyana’s resurrection, then this one-shot is a must have. It reprints three pivotal issues leading up to her return—X-Men Unlimited #13, New X-Men #37, and X-Men: Divided We Stand #2. But, let’s be honest. If you’re that big of a Magik fan, wouldn’t you have these issues already?

C.B. Cebulski & Christopher Yost (W), David Aja, Niko Henrichon & David Yardin (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99.  One-Shot.

The Roberts #1:

The Zodiac Killer is responsible for the deaths of at least five people in Northern California between 1963 and 1970. He taunted authorities with cryptograms about his crime which he sent to local newspapers. He has never been caught.

The Boston Strangler was the name given to the culprit in 13 brutal killings in the Boston, Massachusetts area from 1962 to 1964. A man by the name of Albert DeSalvo confessed to the crimes, but there is some doubt that he acted alone, or was involved at all.  

This series takes inspiration from those horrific real events and spins a disturbing work of fiction from it. It postulates that the real culprits are now retired and fate has placed them in the same retirement home. What happens when two of America’s most notorious killers live in the same building? They find they have more in common than just the crimes they committed.

Wayne Chinsang (W), Erik Rose (A), Image Comics, $5.99. Two-Issue Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also is the comic review editor for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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