Author: Bill Willingham
Illustrators: Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Linda Medley (artist)
The third trade paperback volume of Fables collects issues 11-18 of the comic book series. Within are four separate story arcs: Bag O’ Bones, A two-part caper, Storybook Love (the feature story), and Barleycorn Brides.
Bag O’ Bones tells a Civil War era story of Jack Horner. who lies to be granted an early muster from the war when it was evident the South would lose. On his journey through the bayou, he comes across a rugged-looking man who wants to play poker with him. After Jack loses his shirt (literally) against who he believes to be the devil, they play one final hand for Jack’s soul. Jack cheats his way to win and obtains a magic bag. Knowing Jack, this just leads to more trouble.
This one-issue story was a delight to read. Jack is not my favorite character, but this tale is pure escapist fun. It is cleverly written and Jack’s encounter with the Grim Reaper was morbidly humorous.
The two-part caper (“A Sharp Operation” and “Dirty Business”) concerns the story of a mundy (a mundane human) reporter who is about to unveil a massive story about the fables living in New York. Worse yet, he has pictures to prove their immortality. Bluebeard wants to kill the guy, while Bigby has a more civil and tactful approach to handling the reporter. An elaborate caper is developed where Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) puts the reporter’s apartment building to sleep and the rest of the Fables move in to carry on their plot.
This story features most of the main players, including Flycatcher (the Frog Prince), a scruffy, fly-breathed prince who must come to the rescue when Prince Charming cannot. This particular story arc was interesting, but is more of a setup for the feature story, Storybook Love.
Storybook Love tells of the romantic connection between Bluebeard and Goldilocks, which is discovered by a toy soldier and his trusted mouse. News of their shacking up together reaches the rest of Fabletown and Bluebeard attempts to head the investigation off by applying a magic potion that makes Snow and Bigby abruptly decide to take a vacation together in the middle of the woods. Here, the guerrilla leader, Goldilocks is waiting to finish them off. Can Prince Charming, who has begun to amend his womanizing ways, help save Fabletown in their stead?
This story was very enjoyable and it has many consequences that change the lives of the fables in the end. Snow and Bigby develop a romantic relationship, which has a curious twist in the end. We also learn that popular fables die hard and defeating Goldilocks is not an easy task, even with the strength of Bigby Wolf (in his beastly form). It was really cool to watch Snow mount her trusted lupine friend and run for shelter.
The final story, Barleycorn Brides, was the weakest of the bunch. Bigby Wolf tells Flycatcher a story of the Lilliputians and their quest to find brides in a male-only town. The story itself is a diversion from the overall story arc and the artwork, while similar in style to Buckingham and Leialoha, is as inspiring as a coloring book. That’s not to say that the characters were badly drawn, but their faces are simple with canned expressions. I think this volume would have been much better leaving this story out. Or perhaps it would have been better served as a story in 1001 Nights of Snowfall.
Overall, the stories in this collection were good, but fell a little short of the previous two volumes. Prince Charming’s abrupt change in character was not believable and makes him much less interesting than in the first volume. Perhaps there’s a nihilistic tendency I have as a reader to wish for him to be a destructive antihero, but alas, he saves the day by foiling (no pun intended) Bluebeard in a sword fight. Or maybe I am being a little harsh on the volume, for the Fables series is truly one of the most enjoyable comic series out there today.