Fables: Legends in Exile

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham9781563899423

publication date: 2002
pages: 119
ISBN: 978-1-56389-942-3

In Fables, creator Bill Willingham presented, in comic book form, an alternate ending for all those stories we heard as children. What if, instead of “Happily ever after,” all the characters in the fairy tales were driven out of their idyllic homelands by a villain of pure evil and forced to spend eternity living in Manhattan? Volume One of Fables, titled Legends in Exile, collected the first five issues of the comic and introduced us to Fabletown, a Manhattan enclave where all the fairy tale fables lived. These included Snow White, deputy mayor of Fabletown and competent administrator; Bigby Wolf, the big, bad wolf in human form, who now uses his powers for good as Fabletown sheriff; and Prince Charming, a triple divorcee and unscrupulous womanizer. Legends in Exile also introduced The Adversary, the mysterious evil force who chased all the fables out of their kingdoms and into the New World centuries ago. The plot of Legends in Exile followed Sheriff Bigby Wolf as he attempted to solve the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s younger sister

This comic contained a lot of good things. I though it was especially effective when it showed the fables actually inhabiting New York City and surrounded by New Yorkers. For example, there was a scene where Prince Charming was walking his new conquest back to her apartment; as they were walking they were surrounded by very detailed background New Yorkers, including a door man with a soul patch and a woman wearing John Lennon glasses and carrying a baguette as she waited to cross the street.

Bigby Wolf’s character was also a lot of fun. His face was always drawn in partial darkness, giving him a sinister edge. And, in at least one panel, his shadow is drawn as the silhouette of a wolf, even as Bigby is in human form. In fact, most of the images throughout the volume were compelling and memorable. The faces were intricate and drawn with emotion. The panels included lots of great details. Also the color tones were really effective at showing emotions and feeling.

However, Legends in Exile definitely had some flaws. First of all, everyone was white. I noticed one black character, and he was in the background, without any place in the plot. Secondly, as is a problem with many comics, the boobs were ridiculous. Every female character, if she was seen from the front, had large, round, and floaty boobs displayed for all to see at least once in the comic. I guess not every female character: they didn’t show the elderly black forest witch’s cleavage.

Also, the dialogue was not always compelling. Facts about the characters or plot were often presented in a rote manner, and with unnecessary bluntness. For example, here is how we get introduced to the character of Rose Red, within a conversation between Bigby Wolf and Snow White:

[Bigby Wolf:] You need to prepare yourself for some bad news, Snow.
[Show White:] Don’t be so dramatic. I already know. My ex is back in town. . . .
[Wolf:] This isn’t about Prince Charming. It’s about your sister, Rose Red.
[Snow:] This may surprise you, Mister Wolf, but I’m not entirely an idiot. I actually know my sister’s name. So what’s she done this time?

Also, the plot came off the rails sometimes, although I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to introduce any spoilers.

Overall, this was a fun comic, which would probably be a good introduction for those who are looking to read more graphic fiction. I’ve continued to read subsequent issues of Fables, if that’s any indication.

4/6: worth reading

other reviews:

Pop Matters
The Literary Omnivore
PFS Publishing Book Club blog

Dark Rain

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story by Mat Johnson & Simon Gane9781401221607

publication date: 2010
pages: 160
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2160-7

In this brooding and bleak graphic novel, Johnson and Gane explored the condition of New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina. The book followed two men, Emmit and Dabny, as they were sucked into New Orleans right after the levees broke. Both men were looking for a second chance after getting caught in the legal system and meeting each other in a halfway house in Houston. After hearing about the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Emmit crafted a dubious plan to get into the city and get some extra cash. The book also introduced Sarah, a young woman who attempted to wait out the storm in her neighborhood and ended up needing rescue.

Although the book revolved around Emmit’s Robin Hood-esque scheme and Sarah’s attempt to escape the destruction of New Orleans, the real story was about what was happening in New Orleans after the hurricane. Johnson and Gane examined many aspects of the hurricane, often through a socio-political lens. 80% of the city was flooded. Over 1400 people died in the aftermath of the storm, many from drowning. Refugees were corralled into holding centers at the Super Dome and the Convention Center. People were stopped from moving around the region, either by other counties’ police forces or by the hundreds of private mercenaries throughout the city.

As in many graphic novels, the illustrations in Dark Rain were heavily stylized. Most of the book was black, gray, and blue, which made for flat and dispiriting pictures. I didn’t think the style was very good. The panels were sometimes confusing and the images were too cartoonish to show much emotion. There were a few great images though, including a two-page image when Sarah looked out over the flooding of the city for the first time. The characters and plot weren’t that great either. The characters were often cliché and the plot, when it wasn’t confusing, was predictable.

The main reason to read this book isn’t for the drawings, or the plot, or the characters. Instead, the book explored the real tragedies that occurred after the hurricane and the racially-motivated responses to the aftermath.

3/6: more good than bad

other reviews:

Crave
popmatters

Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

publication date: 1987
pages: 416
ISBN: 0-930289-23-4

I enjoyed Y:The Last Man so much, I decided to give another comic book a read. I chose a classic: Watchmen. I understand why it has attained classic status; it was excellent.

Watchmen consisted of twelve different comic serials released over 1986 and 1987. It took place in an alternate New York City, where superheroes existed, cars ran on electricity, and Richard Nixon was president well into the 1980s. The comics began with a murder and the mystery and suspense was so well-crafted, the reader spends the next twelve issues attempting to unravel the gradually disclosed plot.

One problem I sometimes have with any media presented in a serial format, especially TV shows, is a disconnect from one episode to the next or one season to the next. Watchmen did not have that problem at all. Themes, clues, and images were present from the first panel to the last with seemingly every important plot point decided before the first issue was published. That made for a dramatic and cogent read, even as I read all twelve issues in a short time.

The authors didn’t just convey a story; instead, they explored the strengths of the comic book form. Dialogue and thought bubbles were revealing and interesting. For example, one of the superhero characters reflected:

This city is dying of rabies. Is the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips?

Images and forms were used repetitively to create a sense of satisfying symmetry. Panels were detailed and always rewarded a closer look. Additionally, the coloring was fantastic. The comic was not a happy or escapist read and the dark and moody coloring reflected that.

I did have some problems with the book. For example, although the rest of the book was well-paced, the ending felt rushed and unconvincing. Also, the comics contained some pages in prose, which felt unnecessary, although they were interesting. The authors also included almost the entire text of another comic book that one of the characters in Watchmen reads. A comic within a comic; kind of an Inception-type thing. That interior comic went on for way too long.

It’s hard for me to accurately portray a comic book in these reviews because so much of the writing is contextual and I can’t really include images. But I will tell you that the writing was usually interesting and concise and the images were evocative and riveting.

5/6: seek this book out

other reviews:

Roobla
Ready Steady Book
IGN

Y: The Last Man – Unmanned

Y: The Last Man “Unmanned” by Brian K. Vaughan

publication date: 2003
pages: 127
ISBN: 1-56389-980-9

Y: The Last Man is a comic book series following Yorick Brown, a regular guy who just happens to be the last man on Earth. “Unmanned” is the first collection in the series and it encompasses issues 1 through 5. “Unmanned” begins with a normal day: Yorick talking with his girlfriend, war in the Middle East, a young woman in labor. However, after only a few pages, the scenes alter horrifically: all the men are suddenly and inexplicably dead. All the men except Yorick and his monkey Ampersand.

I’ve read only a few comic books and I’ve never finished a series. So I wouldn’t say I am familiar with the style. But “Unmanned” had me hooked from the very first grim and compelling page. The story was interesting and original, which Vaughan and his team took fully advantage of. “Unmanned” explored many issues and oddities concerning gender and power. For example, in one scene the wives of several politicians storm the White House with guns and armored vehicles. While this is happening, Yorick is saying what we’re all thinking: “Are you serious? After all the men died, I thought you guys would be holding hands down at the United Nations or something. When the hell did women get so petty and … and power-hungry?” Y: The Last Man suggests the answer to that question: maybe all humans have the capacity to be petty and power-hungry, just as all humans have the capacity to be gentle and mothering.

Aside from any message Vaughan was trying to send, Y: The Last Man was an exciting read with potent and emotive illustrations. There was a great panel when Yorick is told his father is, in fact, dead. The illustration conveyed the hope Yorick was feeling and how quickly it turned to despair.

The comic also contained humor and lightheartedness, including romance. The only area I thought the series faltered was fight scenes. None of those scenes had any action, movement, or thrill. However, that is not a large portion of “Unmanned” and the rest was compelling.

I would recommend Y: The Last Man to diehard comic readers (although, if you are a diehard, you’ve probably read it already) and to comic newbies.

4/6: worth reading

other reviews:

A.V. Club
Comic Vine
Pop Critics