Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fables: March of the Wooden Soldiers

This, the 4th of the Fables collections, covers one of the most epic story arcs I've read in any form of graphic novel or comic book.

It begins with Snow White's PA; Little Boy Blue telling her the story about how he escaped from the Homelands. Blue was on the last boat out and was present almost right to the end.

Some of the greatest Fable warriors of all time had gathered at the Far Keep located East of the Sun and West of the Moon, in a last ditch attempt to either hold back the forces of the Adversary or to give those of their people that they could a chance to escape the Homelands and join the other Fables who were setting up in Fabletown in the Mundane world. Robin Hood and his Miry Men were there, along with the warrior woman Britomart. St George the Dragonslayer had come to defend the keep. Tam Lin and old Sir Pellinore were prepared to fight for their home or die in the attempt.

On the no mans land just beyond the keep's walls a pumpkin coach came to grief, a flame haired lass mounted a horse and rode for the keep. Boy Blue helped rescue her and fell instantly in love. Her name was Red Riding Hood and she had only just managed to escape from enforced slavery at the hands of the Adversary's forces. She and Blue spent a night together and intended to rendevous in Fabletown. Unfortunately Red Riding Hood never made it and Blue never forgave himself.

Fabletown is concerned with the upcoming mayoral elections and the two candidates; the incumbent Old King Cole, and Prince Charming are furiously campaigning. Snow White is too concerned with her pregnancy to give the elections a lot of thought. She's carrying Bigby's child or as Doctor Swineheart insists, children and more disconcerting is the fact that Bigby keeps referring to the baby as a cub.

That night something that hasn't happened for over a century occurs. A Fable arrives in town requesting sanctuary. A pretty red haired girl who goes by the name of Red Riding Hood.

When she sees Blue the new arrival bursts into tears and flees the room, accusing him of abandoing her to her fate and saving his own skin. Bigby hasn't had a chance to question Ride as she prefers to be known, but he's suspicious, for him it's all too perfect and he's also sure that the gate she claims she entered our world through in Canada is closed and has been for some time. He explains that he believes she's a plant. To allay Snow's scepticism he tells her that it's a common ploy used by warring forces and he has personal experiences from it when he served in both World War 1 and 2. That's an interesting nugget of information about Bigby, that he cared enough about his adopted home to fight for it. Meanwhile 3 unusual, almost robotic characters have entered Fabletown and are behaving very oddly.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts to sell fake magic beans off, Jack leaves a bar and is waylayed by the 3 newcomers. They offer to buy the beans from him and refuse to believe him when he tells them that it's a scam. They attack him, but hadn't reckoned on him being able to fight back. He takes a beating, but manages to fight them off and take evidence that they're not what they appear to be. One of them lost his wooden leg during the struggle. Jack takes that and himself to Bigby.

Jack has pulled so many scams in his day that it's hard not to believe this is another one, although he's not likely to have had himself beaten up so severely. While Jack is trying to convince Snow and Bigby that something rotten is going on in Fabletown the 3 black suited wooden men have armed themselves with enough firepower to start a small war.

Blue is with his two best friends; Pinocchio (who is to his chagrin forever stuck in the body of a pre adolescent child) and Flycatcher (better known as the Frog Prince), pining for his lost love in Ride, when she comes to see him. She apologizes for her earlier behaviour and asks him to come with her to somewhere private so that they can 'talk'. Both the former puppet and the former frog are concerned for their friend and also think Ride is trouble. After talking things through Ride and Blue spend the night together again. Once he's slept with her Blue knows that Ride is not who she's claiming to be, unfortunately he's come to this realisation too late. The woman professing to be Ride disables him and has her servants, who look like the 3 wooden men take him into custody.

Things are quieter on the Farm, at least until Baba Yaga's chicken footed house goes crazy and tries to escape. The more effective Farm inhabitants do manage to rope it down. Fabletown is wondering what happened to Blue. The musician in question is being tortured by 'Ride' and her henchmen. Bigby calls Snow from the gate in Canada and informs her that the Fable garrison there is dead and the gate has been opened from the other side. The Fables know that they're in a dangerous situation and without Bigby they need someone to take control and make plans for defence. Before anything can be decided 3 of the wooden men dump a bloody and battered Blue in the foyer of the control centre. They deliver a message from the Adversary that if they do not surrender they can expect the reprisals to be swift and deadly.

Snow, Charming, Cole and Jack swing into action. The foul mouthed, obnoxious child that is Pinocchio becomes important. The Adversary's soldiers are wooden puppets like him, this means he knows their strengths and weaknesses, it also means to him that his father the puppet maker Gepetto is alive and the Adversary's slave.

Rose is on her way with the advanced weaponry they keep at the Farm and she's brought some of the Farm's heavy hitters; Weyland Smith and the Three Bears with her. Charming is preparing defences to guard Fabletown's perimeters and using his natural talents to fob off the Mundy authorities. The wooden men are mobilising for battle and Snow has enlisted the witches and wizards of Fabletown to put their not inconsiderable powers to use protecting their home. Against Snow's wishes Blue has had himself patched up and is going into battle, despite most of his fingers being broken. Pinocchio is being guarded by Jack, but he believes he can be of use as the soldiers won't attack him, he's effectively their prototype.

The soldiers march and the battle is joined. As the first wave of defenders falls back luring the soldiers into a trap Fabletown's aerial brigade fly over dropping grenades on the invaders. That's when Fabletown's big boys go into action: the goblin Hobbes and the troll Grimble along with the Beast, on another front Weyland Smith and the Three Bears rip into the wooden men. The Fables retreat and the wooden soldiers give chase, only to run into a wall of high powered weapons manned by the Fables.

The losses are heavy on both sides, but the wooden men don't care about their 'dead' and the Fables do. They can't put themselves back together the way the Adversary's soldiers can. Snow unleashes her ultimate weapon; fire. Pinocchio goes into hysterics, the soldiers are hardwood like him, they'll burn, but slowly and they'll take a lot of the Fables with them. The former puppet slips Jack and runs out to try and put a stop to his 'brothers' rampage. It doesn't end well. Snow orders the witches and wizards to rain on the soldiers. One of the witches; Frau Totenkinder (the Black Forest Witch who used to live in a gingerbread house) takes exception at how Snow speaks to her and goes to teach an insolent woman a lesson that's been too long in coming. Just when things look impossible a hurricane blows in and behind it comes a huge grey wolf, he's not at all happy. The battle of Fabletown is over, but what happened to 'Ride'?

She's floating above the battle, gleefully watching her plans take place when she's upset by Frau Totenkinder. The wily old witch has put 2 and 2 together and come up with the answer of Baba Yaga. While Bigby cleans up at street level Frau Totenkinder does her job on top of the roof.

The Fables bury their dead and it's a time of sadness in Fabletown. Just as things are at their darkest a glimmer of light shines through when Snow tells Bigby that her waters just broke.

What a ride this was! Mark Buckingham provided the art and it was truly deserving of the story Bill Willingham provided. There are a lot of visual gags in most of the Fables stories and you have to wonder how much of this is off Buckingham's own boot without input from Bill. I felt the Fables pain and rage as they fought and died for their independence against an emotionless unkillable enemy.

This is going to be hard to top.

1 comment:

  1. Aaarghh!! And it's ended on antother cliff with Snow's waters breaking (she's so having puppies... *laugh*)
    The main story was just extraordinary, so sad in parts, and the writer's not afraid to kill of characters we've come to know at any point.
    I can see i'm going to have to read up on some more obscure fables/fairy tales to get more of the jokes (although I did get the reference to Kay in the Mundy bar, so was rahter pleased about that!)

    Annonymouse on the couch