Apr 7 2011 2:08pm

Fables Reread: Wolves, v. 8

Fables volume 8 WolvesThe eighth volume of Fables is Wolves. It collects issues #48-51, and includes extras like maps of Fabletown and the complete script of issue #50 as written by Bill Willingham. There are two arcs and a short story in the volume: “Wolves,” followed by “Happily Ever After,” followed by the short story, “Big and Small.”

The entire volume is written by Bill Willingham. Wolves is penciled by Mark Buckingham, inked by Steve Leialoha, and colored by Daniel Vozzo. “Happily Ever After” is also penciled by Mark Buckingham, but the inks are by both Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy. The colorist for the arc was Lee Loughridge. “Big and Small” was illustrated by Shawn McManus and also colored by Lee Loughridge. The letterist, as usual, is Todd Klein. The covers are all by James Jean. The maps of the territories are actually drawn by Bill Willingham himself (also colored by Lee Loughridge).


What Happened

Wolves tracks Mowgli’s hunt for Bigby through Russian travelers and traders, then the Russian wilderness through wolf packs and battles to the death, then to the Alaskan wilderness. He finds Bigby there, drinking heavily and living with another woman—who knows she’s a rebound and, while not necessarily “okay” with it, knew he was going to leave eventually. He convinces Bigby to return for a mission because it is the only way to earn Bagheera’s freedom, and he hints to Bigby as well that there’s something he needs to see about his kids and Snow.

Throughout this, on the Farm, Snow and the kids are moving through life: taking pictures for Bigby when he comes home, for example. She makes them a bet that if they can retain their human shapes for a whole month, and no flying, then they’ll be ready to leave the Farm. It proves harder than they expected, because of things like Rose scaring them by dressing up as Shere Khan the tiger, and everyone on the Farm keeping an eye on them to see if they cheat. They’re bored. Snow talks to Mr. North about not encouraging them to shapechange, and he says the winds are changing—which is odd. There are two brief asides at the end of the chapters: Geppetto in the dark with his lantern, saying he thought he heard something, but it must have been the wind. The other is Colin-the-Pig’s head visiting Snow for the last time to tell her that things should be getting better, and he thinks it’s time for him to move on.

“Happily Ever After” is the story of both Bigby’s mission and his return to the woman and kids he left behind when the laws of Fabletown separated them, for what he thought was their entire lives. The mission begins with Beast and Rose taking Bigby to Fabletown’s new big secret: a beanstalk, the inter-dimensional kind. (Turns out they had Jack’s old beans all along.) It goes to the Cloud Kingdoms, which are above all of the other worlds geographically. He meets Cinderella at the top of the beanstalk; she and her wizard-giant friend give him his orders. He parachutes down into a forest in a very familiar kingdom and starts wrecking guards, as silently as possible, with the help of his son—who he’s named Ghost. It’s Geppetto’s cabin. Pinocchio discovers him trying to rescue or kill the Blue Fairy, but there are too many spells protecting her. Geppetto shows up, and Bigby gives a speech about Israel and the tiny country that fights back and hurts the big ones twice as hard when they’re done wrong. Then he blows up the magical grove with a whole lot of plastic explosive, drags Geppetto and Pinocchio out of the fire, and tells them they should be nice from now on.

After the mission, he comes home to applause and hugs from everyone. Rose takes Snow up to a ridge outside the Farm, and there’s Bigby—with their son. He has a surprise for her, to explain how he’s on the Farm (though it turns out it’s past the very edge of the Farm’s land). The valley where the giants used to sleep is all theirs. Snow takes him to a cave she knows and shows him where she’s hidden all the letters and presents the kids were “sending” to their dad, as well as pictures of what he “sent” them. She tells him he better memorize it all before he meets them. Then, he proposes. She accepts. He meets his children. They get married and head off to their honeymoon while Boy Blue and co. build their house in the valley for them. When they return, the house is all ready.

“Big and Small” is a Cinderella short where she’s maneuvering to get the Cloud Kingdoms to sign an actual treaty with Fabletown, but the kingship keeps shifting because no one wants to be king, and the current one—who’s amenable to the treaty—won’t sign it because he’s abed with an ear infection and feels icky. So, she has to go through a variety of crazy things that end in her turning into a mouse and bringing along a Gulliver-size doctor to help treat the man’s ear with real medicine. In the end, it’s successful, and the treaty is signed, but she’s made enemies of the king’s old fraud of a doctor and another councilman.



The strongest part of this volume is without a doubt the scene between Bigby and Geppetto in his cabin. It’s a heart-stopper. The dialogue is spot-on, and Bigby gets to do a little of his favorite thing—dramatic unveiling!

The fact that this was Prince Charming’s plan (I assume) is pretty frigging awesome, too. He’s a military guy, as I’ve said before, and these decisive and destructive maneuvers prove it. He’s got his business down, and he knows what he’s doing. Kicking Geppetto back twice as hard as he kicked Fabletown is harsh but necessary for their survival. They must cow the vast force of the Emperor, not meet him in head-on battle, or they’ll lose.

Blowing up the magical grove with plastic explosive? A good way to do that. No more new wooden soldiers from that grove until it grows back, which could take decades.

I find the speech about Israel to be interesting in a fraught way—I read it several times. Bigby’s value judgment interests me: he doesn’t seem to be actually commenting on the politics of Israel when he says he’s “a big fan of them.” The line immediately preceding it is “They have a lot of grit and iron.” Bigby’s value judgment seems to rest on the fact that he is exceedingly proud of a little guy, a small power, that defends its existence to the powers arrayed against it with extreme and decisive violence—and this is absolutely, absolutely Bigby’s deal. I don’t think he gives much of a shit about Mundy religion or politics. He’s the Big Bad Wolf; he’s a solitary fighter in most cases who—guess what?—uses decisive and extreme violence against his enemies to discourage the ones who survive from ever doing anything to him again.

There are a few parts I found interesting in Snow and Bigby’s reunion, like her reaction when Ghost reveals that his dad was seeing someone else in Alaska. A narrow-eyed look, and “Okay, that’s a conversation we need to have real soon. But first things first.” And then she puts it aside to instruct him on their children, and what he’s missed, with an unspoken undercurrent of “you have to make up for this.” It’s probably the best scene between the two of them; it’s the part where they’re feeling the sharp edges of their relationship again. It’s not easy. It wasn’t Bigby’s choice to abandon his kids, and he did raise his son Ghost—Snow knows that, but it’s hard for her to get past having to raise the children she had never planned for on her own, without his help. (Now, she had Rose and the whole Farm, so she wasn’t quite that kind of “single mom”—but she and the kids were all very aware of Bigby’s absence.)

The wedding is sweet and everyone’s reactions are heartwarming. It’s odd to remember where Snow and Bigby were at in the first volume: him tricking her into being his date to the dance just because he wanted to be around her for the night. Then there was her eventual agreement to date him slowly, and then the magical-date-rape-drug induced first time together that neither could remember, shattering that previous trust and interest in many ways, though it wasn’t their fault. Then the pregnancy. Then the laws of Fabletown forcing them apart.

There’s a lot of water under the bridge between those two, and they went through a whole hell of a lot to match their rough edges together well enough to cement a relationship. The marriage is that commitment to each other and the agreement to work past the rough spots, which there will be, and they know there will be. That’s what I so enjoy about their relationship (as I’ve said before, I know): it’s realistic. It’s hard. It’s messy. But, it’s the part of their lives they find most rewarding, and they need to be together to be happy—with their family. It’s a bit of happily ever after, as the arc’s title implies.

Of course, that’s interposed between two stories of war and espionage. It’s a brief spot of happiness sandwiched narratively between ultimate struggle for existence and survival against that vast power of the Empire. It’s a moment of happiness, yes, but the arrangement of the volume refuses to let us forget what’s happened and what’s coming: war.

There isn’t much for me to say about the Cinderella arc, I think; it’s much the same as her others. Adventure, violence and intrigue, plus sex jokes. I’m getting a little burnt on the Cindy sex-jokes and the objectification of her body even in situations where she’d supposed to be an action-adventure hero. Ha-ha, she turns back from being a mouse into a naked lady, ha-ha. That is not a new joke, and I’ve seen it a little too much in fanservice-themed manga to think it’s entertaining in a relatively serious story about a tough woman diplomat and spy. (End tiny rant.)

P.S. – The extras in this volume are super-cool; the map of Fabletown illustrated by Willingham and the plain script of issue #50 provide different sorts of insight—one into Fabletown, one into the act of writing a comic. The script is cool for writer-nerds, because we see how Willingham is envisioning the scenes with his artistic direction for Buckingham. Very nifty stuff; I wish more trade collections included extras like this!


The Art

Again with the beautiful cover for the collection! This one is all greys and light shades, but oh my word is it effective. The texture of fur and the eyes of the wolves, the way they flow into other wolves, all around the nearly-meeting mouths of Snow and Bigby as they lean in for a kiss. Gorgeous, really.

The first Mowgli cover is an eye-catcher, also; the blood on the snow, and the photo in the bottom corner—bright red on white-and-grey, Jean’s usual visual trick. It works, though.

The shadows in the scene with Geppetto and Bigby are used with stellar effects, also, and Geppetto’s nightgown and cap are a nice touch. They add to the whole scene; how safe he feels thanks to his spells and his imperial might, et cetera.


Wolves is both a war-story and a wedding-story, which makes it an interesting collection to read all at once—but, that’s sort of the essence of Fables. It’s about life, and life is both happy and sad, violent and gentle, often all at once.

Next week: “Sons of Empire,” volume 9 of Fables.

Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

Amal El-Mohtar
1. amalmohtar
The Israel speech stands out for me because it was a) utterly, completely incongruous, and b) made no SENSE, because surely the model of Fabletown as a tiny, self-managing community of refugees fighting hard against the immense power that claimed their homes and drove them out has more in common with Palestine?

Also, I could be misremembering, but does that section also indicate that Bigby fought FOR Israel at some point? Because, wow. Just, wow. Between that, the treatment of the "Eastern Fables," and shamelessly making the figure of Scheherezade a blank slate who's indebted to Snow White for the idea of telling stories, I would like very much for Willingham to just back the hell away from anything to do with the Middle-East about which he clearly has no interest in learning.
Brit Mandelo
2. BritMandelo

Bigby doesn't seem to have anything to actually do with Isreal, but I had forgotten about that bit from "1001 Nights of Snowfall" with Snow & Scheherezade. That's problematic, you're very right.

I've read some recent interviews with Willingham since I wrote this that throw a wrench into how I was reading that scene--because he flat-out says he's anti-Palestine. Erk. I was hoping it was just his construction of Bigby's character, because that made sense to me, given what else we've seen of him. Apparently, no, it's just Willingham's personal politics showing up in his characters.

How do you feel about the portrayal of the "Arabian Fables" in the rest of the series? Do you think the later volumes redeem this one, or is it just a mess?
Amal El-Mohtar
3. amalmohtar
It's been a couple of years since I've read a new volume, so I don't feel I can comment with as much accuracy as I'd like -- but having just read your re-read, it's basically everything you touched on. The fact that they're stereotypes; the fact that there are no women; the fact that the concept of "harem" isn't unpacked at all, but allowed to stand as an Orientalist term indicating hundreds of wives, when the word "harem" in Arabic means all female relatives, sisters, mother, aunts, etc. I hated the fact that, yeah, Sindbad needs a flattering Western hand to explain to him how slavery's bad and wrong.

Also, the way Fables uses time has always perplexed me. We're to understand that the refugee Fables fled from their timeless pseudo-feudal world into, not our present, but our HISTORY, and have been alive for hundreds of years alongside the Mundies, learning what the Mundies do... But the Eastern Fables have no clue? And don't care that Fable!Baghdad connects to Mundy!Baghdad, which is being occupied and destroyed? I felt it was a poorly executed attempt to bring some much-needed colour into the series, and missed several opportunities.

I realise I'm quite hard on Willingham and this series. It's the hardness of disappointed love. I adored the first volume so MUCH. And then throughout the series I felt that Snow's character was gutted and the mechanics of the world weren't well-thought-out and it was so painfully, not even Euro-centric, but DISNEY-centric, America-centric, and I haven't read beyond the bit where Flycatcher turns out to be Jesus because seriously, come on. /endrant.
Amal El-Mohtar
4. amalmohtar
It occurs to me that there's probably a paper to be written on politics of immigration as represented in Fables: the New York Fables who represent the ideal, immigrating into America hundreds of years ago such that they are now nothing but "American," and the Eastern Fables who are characterised as exotic, other, needing to be interpreted and understood and for whom Fabletown East is to be created. *takes note for Wiscon panel*
Brit Mandelo
5. BritMandelo

Ooh, that is quite the paper topic.

Also, huh, I hadn't thought of the Flycatcher arc as Jesus allegory because it's missing too many of your typical bits. Pacifist savior story, certainly, which I guess could always be the Jesus allegory, but. Hmmm. (I actually liked the Flycatcher arc; his break from Fabletown was a nice touch, I thought.)
Jenny C.
6. Jenny C.
Oh yes, the Israel speech. Israel, such spunky little underdogs, a tiny little country unquestioningly backed by the world's one military and political superpower, relying only on a technological advantage that brings to mind samurais and gatling guns, and unfaltering media support, to fight a war against a people who doesn't even have the resources to claim a recognized country. The six day war showed beyond doubt that Israel has absolutely nothing to fear from their enemies, and in the forty-four years since nothing has changed. I can totally see why Bigby likes them.

Had to blow off some steam there. Sorry about going tangential. Interesting read as always.
Jenny C.
7. Captn_Boxers
@ everyone
Wow everybody sure knows how to jump on the 'hate Israel' bandwagon here. Seriously, you all support a group of people who regularly bomb cilivians and children?

@ amalmohtar
The Eastern Fables don't know this world because until they felt the pressures of the Adversary, they ignored it. The same way the European Fables did until they needed a place of refuge. Those refugees have had centuries to learn about the mundane world since forced from their homes while the Eastern Fables have only recently shown any interest in it.
Also, you deride Flycatcher apparently just for being the only good-hearted Fable. Someone who is Christ-like. Bitter much?
Brit Mandelo
8. BritMandelo

For one thing, "regularly bomb civilians and children" applies equally to both sides in that particular fight. Basic history makes it difficult to have a lot of sympathy for Isreal and their behavior over the past half a century.

For another, this has been a fairly reasonable and non-insulting discussion insofar, on a tough topic, so I'd appreciate it if you could keep it that way.
Amal El-Mohtar
9. amalmohtar
@Jenny C.

Just want to sign my name beneath what you said.


You've basically characterised "pointing out facts" as "jumping on the Hate Israel bandwagon," which perplexes me. If you'd care to explain how an enclave of Fable refugees is more like Israel than Palestine, I'll be fascinated to listen, since that was the point I contested. Willingham's welcome to grind the axe of his politics as loudly as he wants in his work, of course, but if I'm going to be jarred out of a book by it I would at least like it to make some narrative sense.

As to the Eastern Fables -- I understand that that's how it's presented in the books. But I guess what I don't buy is the idea that it's taken hundreds of years for them to feel it. This is what I mean about Willingham's worldbuilding; we're supposed to buy that the Empire is aggressive, expansionist, and inexorable, yet in those hundreds of years they're still conquering bits of European Fable territory? I mean, maybe immortality makes people lackadaisical in their approaches to conquering the world, but if so, I suppose I'd like the books to take that into account somehow. WHY are the Eastern Fables only feeling the expansion now? Was there some reason that made the Adversary strike out that way only just now after being at peace for hundreds of years? I think that would make for more interesting reading than handwavery OH LOOK SOME BROWN PEOPLE THEY SURE ARE BACKWARD.

And, no, I'm not deriding Flycatcher for being the only good-hearted Fable (a point which I'd dispute, anyway); I'm deriding the turning of Flycatcher into an explicitly messianic figure who harrows hell, builds a Kingdom of Heaven, and has power that's divine rather than fairy-tale magical. It's another instance of narrative incongruity to me that indicates a jumping of the proverbial shark.
Jenny C.
10. Captn_Boxers
You're right, I shouldn't have insulted anyone.
As to the Israel topic, read the Criticism section of the Hamas wiki article and you might realize why I side with Israel.

@ amalmohtar
See above and realize that your 'facts' are disputable. Also, Fabletown is a bad fit for Palestine because
a) They aren't located in (or next) to the empire (Israel, Gaza Strip etc)
b) They don't mix religion with their agenda (I know Hamas denies it but that doesn't mean it's not there)
c) They target military and political figures only, not civialins (like Israel in the six day or Yom Kippur War rather than Hamas currently)

The other issue, you claim that the aggressive Empire conquered all the Europen Fables and then sat around for 'hundreds of years' before moving on the Arabian Fables, thus that is very unlikely. It would be if that were true. However, these direct quotes from volume six prove you wrong. While Boy Blue is caged, after Pinocchio is revived, Boy Blue, Pinocchio and Gepetto are talking. Gepetto says he has conquered "a few hundred give or take" at minium that is three hundred (if two then a couple hundred would have been used) and "we go through about 50 year cycles of expansion and consolidation. We've just started another push of exspansion. Having finally absorbed the last of the European Fable Worlds we've just started our conquest of the Arabian Worlds."
So, the agressive Empire didn't have your "hundreds of years of peace"
only recently have they begun to move against the Arabians after conquering everything around them. And yes given the number of worlds it is no suprise it took centuries to conquer them. At three hundred worlds even at Gepetto's claimed life span (12 centuries) that is one world conquered every four years on average. You call that speed 'lackadaisical'?
And besides, the Arabian Fables aren't backwards they just don't understand the mundane world because they haven't paid any previous attention to it.
True Fly-catcher isn't the only good Fable (though I consider him the best), but the legends of King Arthur (which he is clearly echoing) always had divinity mixed into them. Also, if you've read vol 14 you would know that he is hardly the messiah and his kingdom hardly heaven. He faces a dilimea that shows he is still very human.
Jenny C.
11. psychicscubadiver
Can we have a political discussion elsewhere? I hardly think a Tor blog is the place for it.

You're forgetting Kay, Boy Blue, Snow White and Beast (in my opinion) in your list of good Fables.

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