Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Vol. 3 Storybook Love and Vol. 4 March of the Wooden Soldiers

Storybook Love:  It didn't take me long to dive right back into the Fables series.  After I got my first taste back in early August, I was so hard up for more that I decided the only way to go about things would be to read 'em two at a time.  Well, I figured that since I was reading them two at a time, I might as well review them in a two for one package as well.

Up first is the third volume in this comic series, Storybook Love.  This volume picks up on events in Fabletown during the winter when a nosy "mundy" reporter, (Fables-speak for us regular folks), has noticed something fishy about the people living in Fabletown. Through research, and conjecture the reporter concludes that he has uncovered a secret vampire society.  Foolishly, he decides to confront the Fables before publishing his work, thus forcing Sheriff Bigby Wolf, and some other Fables to partake in a covert operation.  By utilizing sleeping Beauty's curse, the Fables put the mundy Reporter's entire building to sleep, then sneak in his apartment to conclude their covert act of sabotage.

The next story line of this volume sees Bluebeard, the richest guy in Fabletown, in cahoots with Goldilocks, a revolutionary responsible for some dirty deeds back in the previous Fables trade paperback. Together, these two try to make a move to have both Bigby Wolf and Snow White eliminated for good.  This story line is pretty awesome as we get to see a bit of a love story develop, and see a non-dickish, non-womanizing side to Prince Charming.

Best of all, these two stories that deal with the main Fables story line, are sandwiched by two great standalone one-shot stories.  The first deals with Jack of Fables and one of his adventures during the American Civil War.  This story is drawn by Brian Talbot, whose artwork is beautiful and textured...really nice to look at.

The second one-shot which closes out this third volume tells the story of how the Lilliputian Expeditionary Force, a group of thumb-sized soldiers, came to the mundane world and how they managed to keep their race alive despite being only men.  Linda Medley of Castle Waiting fame does the art for this one.  Medley has much more of a cartoonist style in comparison to Talbot and Buckingham, and at first I had a hard time adjusting to her style, but I quickly came to see how her style was a great match for the story.  Both of these one-shot stories were fun additions to Storybook Love and helped develop characters in addition to developing the world everything takes place in.

March of the Wooden Soldiers:  For centuries, the Fables have stood guard over the magical gateways that connect our mundane world to their lost magical homelands.  Despite a near crippling fear of invasion, the gateways have been quiet for decades.

Until now.

A long lost love of Boy Blue has escaped the adversary and made it to sanctuary, which is cause for huge celebration in the Fable community.  Though this new addition to the community is a great boost to morale, not everyone is thrilled about this new community member, and her story smells of trouble to a certain Fabletown Sheriff.  As it turns out, things might be even worse then the most cynical fable suspects, as this new arrival brings with her a healthy dose of trouble.

March of the Wooden Soldiers is one of the best Fables volumes yet, as it ratchets the drama and conflict up a few notches, raises the stakes of the series quite a bit, and continues to develop and flesh out both the characters and the massive world they populate.  Oh, and it also delivers some fantastic action.

Central to this fourth volume is the character development that writer Bill Willingham delivers for Boy Blue.  This volume starts out with a standalone story called The Last Castle which chronicles the Fables' final stand against The Adversary before the last refugees fled from their magical homelands and into our world.  Not only do you get an awesome siege battle filled with crazy beasts, knights, Robin Hood, and much more, but you also get the perfect set up to the March of the Wooden Soldiers story.  If not for this standalone, the main story line would have lacked some punch and wouldn't have been as emotionally powerful .  This is a testament to Willingham's ability to tell an engaging story that hits the reader at a number of levels.

Not only has Fables been incredibly entertaining to read, but it has great characters, whose depths are continuously being plumbed.  On top of that, Willingham has created a huge world to set his stories in, and he is certainly exploring all corners of the world, which leads to some great side-tales and one shots.  The scope and depth of this series is fantastic.  This is the first comic series I've read that I feel reaches the heights and depths of some of the great Epic Fantasy series I love so much.

As usual, March of the Wooden Soldiers features the art of Mark Buckingham, who delivers his usual consistent, and solid art.  He's not my favorite artist, as I feel like his faces and facial expressions leave a lot to be desired, but on the other hand, he can draw all the cool, magical, fantastical stuff that is required for this series.  So, in the end, I am generally pleased with his art, but not totally blown away.  One of my favorite things about Fables is that Willingham will bring in guest artists for the one-shot, standalone stories, and it is always fun to see who these artists are.  In The Last Castle, Craig Hamilton and P. Craig Russell share the art, and both do a great job.  Especially Hamilton during the battle scenes.

So, with four volumes under my belt, I gotta say, Fables is really good.  Not only do I find myself wanting to devour more of the series, but I find myself craving it over any of the multitudes of unread comics on my shelves.  Basically I've been feeding my cravings like an addict.  I highly recommend this series, to both comics readers and the non-comics reading fans of this blog, as it is basically an awesome epic fantasy series in comic format.  So what are you waiting for? Go read some Fables!

Story Book Love Grade: B+
March of the Wooden Soldiers Grade: A

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