Homelands is the sixth trade collection of Fables and contains issues #34-41. Those issues form a short arc, “Jack Be Nimble,” and the main Homelands story. They also contain the one-issue “Interlude: Meanwhile” that falls in between the two halves of “Homelands.”
The first battle of Fabletown was only the beginning of a conflict with the Adversary. Now that they’ve routed his wooden soldiers and earned his ire, there’s no going back. Preparations have to be made for war—and everybody goes about it a little differently, from Jack to Blue to Prince Charming himself (who may have more up his sleeve than we thought).
The volume is written by Bill Willingham. The pencils and inks for “Jack Be Nimble” are by David Hahn; “Interlude: Meanwhile” is penciled by Lan Medina and inked by Dan Green. The entire Homelands arc is penciled by Mark Buckingham and inked by Steve Leialoha. Todd Klein continues as letterer, ditto Daniel Vozzo as colorist. The covers are also by James Jean, as per usual.
As “Jack Be Nimble” opens, we find that Jack and the little-woman Jill are driving a semi full of loot across the country; eventually they end up in Hollywood, where Jack hires himself an attorney to get a production company started. He knows what he’s doing and how to play the game. For once, Jack is on top. The attorney brings in Moss Waterhouse to be the face of Nimble Pictures and Moss sets up a team. Jack announces that their first project is a trilogy of films about Jack of the tales to rival the Lord of the Rings movies. Jill isn’t happy being stuck in his office in doll houses; she feels like he’s not giving her a good shake. However, the films are wildly successful and so is the merchandising. Jack’s scheme actually works.
There are various Hollywood shenanigans until, unfortunately for Jack, Jill sells him out to Sherriff Beast. Beast arranges for Moss to take over the company with Fabletown (through various blinds) as the benefactor of Nimble Pictures—and tells Jack that he can fill one suitcase with cash and run. If he gets caught again or shows his face in Fabletown, he’ll be arrested or executed. He very nearly broke the unbreakable rule: never reveal your nature. Only his hiding from the press saved his life, and he planned it that way. The short ends with Jack on the road, hitchhiking. (And this is how we get Jack of Fables.)
Then, we get to the Homelands story. It opens on some goblins gossiping about their wives, one’s human mistress, and their tax-collecting job, as well as a story of a dark knight killing off soldiers throughout the land. Because they are very unlucky, this knight shows up at their camp (it’s Boy Blue) and demands information, but they won’t give it, so snicker-snack goes the Vorpal Blade. Blue eventually makes it to the governor general of the land’s palace and uses the Witching Cloak to take on his appearance. He passes through the gate to the next world with “official orders.” In that world, he kills a dragon to get to the next. (Meanwhile, in the Emperor’s kingdom, an official presents the evidence of one man cutting a swath through various worlds. His superior concludes that it must be an assassin on the way.) Blue next goes through the land of Rus, where he kills the three knights of Baba Yaga, who were supposed to be semi-immortal. In the Emperor’s kingdom, the Snow Queen is alerted of the danger.
The next chapter opens with a soldier getting his transfer orders and getting into the guard line for the Emperor during petition day. The Snow Queen announces to look for newcomers, etc., and the soldier is killed—but then Blue reveals himself as the peasant sweeping the floor. He beheads the body of the Emperor and goes to escape, but the Snow Queen freezes him as a bird. He’s been captured.
In the Interlude, Mowgli returns home, chats with Bagheera (who’s still imprisoned) and receives new marching orders from Prince Charming: find Bigby. They also have to deal with Trusty John, who had been spying, because his oath to his previous king superseded his Fabletown oath. The good news of that grim scenario is that he delivered his information in dead drops, so they can keep feeding incorrect information to the Emperor through them.
In the Emperor’s kingdom, Blue wakes to find himself in Geppetto’s hut. Turns out, he’s the one: the Adversary. The Emperor’s body was a wooden doll. Geppetto can’t figure out the Witching Cloak, though, and Blue has it set up to destroy itself if he doesn’t utter a password every so often. Inside it is Pinocchio’s body. So, if Geppetto wants his son back, he has to fulfill Blue’s requests: to hear the story of how Geppetto became the Adversary and to see the real Red Riding Hood.
As the story goes, Geppetto became the Emperor by accident. He started replacing bad rulers with his wooden puppets with the help of the Blue Fairy and it went on from there until he imprisoned her to siphon off her energy and began a full-scale takeover. He’s conquered over 100 worlds. (Oh, and the real Red Riding Hood never met Blue. The one at the castle at the end of the world was a fake, too.) In the end, he gives Pinocchio back and Geppetto says he must decide if he’ll execute Blue or not—at which point Blue says a word and witches the Witching Cloak right back onto his shoulders. He attempts to kill Geppetto, fails, and then whisks the real Red Riding Hood away, leaving Pinocchio with his father.
Back in Fabletown, he gets the third degree, but we find out at the very end that Prince Charming planned the whole thing. Blue says that if he’d been able to fully use the cloak in the last stand he made before, he could have won the day alone.
Prince Charming made himself look like an ass in the last volume—missing campaign promises, cluelessness, irritation at the fact that his job was actually hard—but this time, we’re seeing another side of him. Prince Charming might be incompetent at doing King Cole’s job pacifying citizens and taking care of fundraising, but he’s good at something King Cole wasn’t: war. He’s ready for it, he’s maneuvering towards it, and he is not willing to lose. He knows how to use spies, he knows how to provoke responses, he knows how to marshal strengths. We’ll see more of this later, but it’s becoming clear by the end of this volume that he’s not a feckless idiot. He’s a military commander. That’s just a different skillset from conventional “mayor.” Despite his habits and his womanizing, Prince Charming is a favorite character of mine—maybe because at times he shows guilt for what he did to his wives, maybe because he’s aware of what a jerkoff he is, maybe because he’s so goddamn competent at strategy, or maybe because he has nightmares after he’s forced to execute Trusty John. He’s a real guy. He’s not a nice guy, or a good guy, but he’s real.
Boy Blue is far and above the best part of “Homelands,” though. He’s so… Well, he’s trying to be a secretary and a musician. But what he really is, though he tries to avoid it, is a hero and a warrior. His elegant game with Geppetto is breathtaking. His smirks, his dark expression, his full awareness of his own power and how much control he has over the situation—those are not things we’ve seen from him before. Even in his battles crossing the Homelands, he was generally humorous, except when he met Baba Yaga’s knights, and then he sort of lost his temper for a bit. Blue is one of the most complex, multi-faceted character in the entire series; he’s also one of the quintessentially good guys. Deep down, he has a heart of gold, as they say.
That goodness doesn’t exempt him from moments like those in Geppetto’s hut, while he’s facing down the deadliest person in all of the worlds. He’s staring into the face of the Adversary, the man who orchestrated the brutal slaughter of his friends and fellow soldiers in “The Last Castle.” He was also the man who sent both the first Red Riding Hood and the second—Baba Yaga—into Blue’s life. That resulted in heartbreak and torture for Blue, as well as the devastating battle in Fabletown. Blue’s anger is understandable; his creativity and his resourcefulness are great. He’s dealt a massive blow to the Emperor by the time he escapes, but he’s also provoked the man’s anger in a big way. War was inevitable already but Blue’s actions definitely sped it along. Geppetto is pissed. The thing is—so is Blue. So are the Fables. Things will come to a head soon because there’s no going back from this infiltration, assassination attempt, and escape.
At first, the Homelands story seems like solely a revenge quest, and that’s how we’re set up to read it. Then, in the end, it turns out it was all Prince Charming’s plot: Blue did it out of loyalty as much as desire for revenge. That adds a layer to the whole thing.
I’m also intrigued by Pinocchio in this arc. It’s a touching moment when he’s talking to Blue, who is his best friend, about his father. Blue says, “Tell me, Pinocchio, if I could get us out of here, would you go? Or are you content to stay here as junior-Adversary-in-training?” and Pinocchio answers, “Uhm… I’m not sure.” After all, this is his father, who he’s been trying to find for decades if not hundreds of years. He loves his dad. But, his dad is the Adversary. Obviously, this is a problem he doesn’t know how to deal with. In the end, he can’t decide to go or stay, so Blue leaves him with a promise to come back later.
The construction of the Emperor’s kingdom is a fascinating “accident,” though I doubt we can believe Geppetto about how accidental it really was. We’ve only seen it so far from the Fables’ point of view as refugees, driven forth on pain of death to the Mundy world. Hearing the story from Geppetto, who genuinely doesn’t see himself as a villain, is pretty interesting. The best bad guys, after all, are just as real as the heroes. No one is ever the villain in their own story. Geppetto sees himself as a sort of savior: he makes kingdoms function better and with more justice, in his opinion. Better him to rule than the mess of incompetent and often cruel kings, right? Or, that’s how he sees it. I’m not sure his citizens would agree, and we know the exiles of Fabletown don’t. Willingham does a good job of showing us the Adversary’s own idea of his rule. He clearly thinks he’s doing what’s best, even if that requires torture, cruelty, murder and avarice. (So do most dictators, I suspect.) Geppetto is a strange and intriguing character, and the more we see of him, the stranger he becomes. It’s hard to reconcile this old man fiddling with his magical forest and the crushing force of the Emperor’s armies, but we and the Fables will both have to in the continuing story.
The Jack arc didn’t do much for me, and so I haven’t really discussed it, but it is important as the lead-in for the spinoff series, Jack of Fables. You do feel a little teeny bit bad for Jack, since he finally pulled off a scheme and didn’t seriously hurt anybody while doing it, then lost it all. On the other hand, if he hadn’t treated Jill like crap she wouldn’t have turned him in, so it’s his own fault (again).
As I mentioned above, the scenes between Geppetto and Blue are freaking awesome. The use of shadows is phenomenal. Page 154, with the quick cuts from Blue’s face in lined shadows like a tiger to his glaring eye to the edge of his teeth as he says the magic word to arm the cloak—wow. Startlingly effective stuff, that. The emotion in his face, in his hands, in his posture; it’s all perfect. Buckingham & Leialoha are extremely talented, there’s no arguing that. These scenes prove it. The art is the scene, the scene is the art. It wouldn’t be so stunning and sharp if the illustrations weren’t perfect, but they are.
The cover for “Fakery, Betrayal and Lies” (aka, “Interlude: Meanwhile”) is the best of the bunch this time, though they’re all gorgeous. The red, grey and black colors are striking. The letters, some straight and some angled, are eye-catching. Very good job.
Homelands is a fast read, driven by action and danger. Blue really shines, and I can’t wait to see more of him later on, as well as Prince Charming’s battle plans.
Next week: Arabian Nights (and Days), volume 7 of Fables.