Thu
May 5 2011 2:17pm

Fables Reread: War and Pieces (V. 11)

Fables volume 11 War and PiecesWar and Pieces is the eleventh collected volume of Fables, spanning issues #70-75. These issues cover a short, “Kingdom Come,” as well as two arcs: “Skulduggery” and the titular “War and Pieces.” The battle between the Empire and Fabletown is about to join, following on the heels of the relocation of the Sacred Grove in The Good Prince. It’s not going to be easy, though; the Empire didn’t make it this far by fighting fair.

The whole volume is written by Bill Willingham and lettered by Todd Klein. “Kingdome Come” has art by Niko Henrichon with colors also by Henrichon, as well as Lee Loughridge. “Skulduggery” is penciled by Mark Buckingham, inked by Steve Leialoha and Buckingham, and colored by Lee Loughridge. War and Pieces is also penciled by Mark Buckingham, but it’s inked by Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Buckingham (again), with colors once more by Lee Loughridge.

 

What Happens

In “Kingdom Come,” we spend a little time on the Farm, where Blue extends Ambrose’s invitation for the animal Fables to go to Haven to live—and confesses his feelings for Rose Red, who tells him he’s in the friend-zone, and embarrasses the hell out of him. From there he goes to the war-meeting at Snow and Bigby’s house, where he gets his marching orders: transporting Cinderella for a mission for Totenkinder first, then Baghdad, then Bigby’s team. In between that, transporting Farm Fables to Haven. Oh, and Beauty gets fired (for two or three days, or so Prince Charming says).

“Skulduggery” begins with Cinderella in Tierra Del Fuego, trying to make a deal for a “package” with some bad guys, except the dealers try to kidnap her. She takes care of it rather smoothly. (While at the same time in Fabletown, Prince Charming makes King Cole the Mayor again, who reappoints Beauty and appoints Charming as the war director.) Once the sole bad-guy left wakes up, she forces him at gunpoint to take her to the “package,” which it turns out is Pinocchio. She fakes being taken by them and gives up two guns—but she has a third hidden on her person, and she blasts her way out, while keeping Pinocchio safe. The cell she had to contact Boy Blue is broken and she can’t make unsecured contact, so they have to rough it back on their own. Pinocchio gets caught by Hansel, who demands from Cindy to know when Fabletown plans to strike, and she cracks up laughing—then tells him it started nineteen hours ago. He orders his men to kill her fifteen minutes after he leaves with Pinocchio. She’s unarmed, but she still manages to kill the guard. Then she steals a dump track, crashes Hansel’s car, executes the driver and kneecaps Hansel.

Even once they get close to Fabletown, it’s not over—Rodney and June are “activated” to intercept Pinocchio before he arrives. They shoot up the cab, and almost kill Cindy, but Pinocchio convinces them that the best thing for Geppetto—and therefore in his interest—is to stop him from being the Adversary. So, they go to the business office and turn themselves in with Pinocchio. All is well.

The next arc, “War and Pieces,” deals with the war that’s been mentioned throughout the rest of the volume. It’s told mostly by Blue from his post: the traveler between the fronts, delivering news, weapons, ammunition and other supplies. Those fronts are, respectively, the Glory of Baghdad (the flying airship), Bigby’s Fort Bravo (around the final beanstalk and the only escape route out of the empire), and the Empire’s homeworld city (where Briar Rose is positioned to put everyone to sleep).

The war rages on—the Glory of Baghdad, manned by Western & Arabian fables, is under the control of Sinbad and Prince Charming. Their job is to bomb all of the gates out of the Empire so the head is cut off from the body, figuratively speaking. Fort Bravo is there to allow them an escape route after the bombing is done—they must hold their ground against all the Empire’s forces. Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) just has to wait for the right moment. Pinnochio, back in Fabletown, bargains the locations of secret gates for a deal for his father Geppetto.

The war is going well until it doesn’t. Briar Rose puts herself and the whole Imperial City to sleep, including the Snow Queen and all of their sorcerers, but the Emperor is wood and it doesn’t work on him, so he escapes. At Fort Bravo, a magic arrow goes through Blue’s arm and nicks Bigby, nearly killing them both and incapacitating them while the Emperor rages on the field outside—finally ended with a swing of the Vorpal Blade. And on the Glory of Baghdad, one last dragon sets the ship ablaze and the men abandon it. Prince Charming is burned badly, but there’s one bomb left, and the mission is all for nothing if every last gate isn’t destroyed, so he and Sinbad travel it on foot, fight their way through to the gate, and Prince Charming sacrifices himself to set off the bomb.

But, the war is over. Pinocchio gets his deal: Geppetto is allowed to sign the Fabletown compact and become a citizen absolved of prior wrong-doing—and the loss of all his wooden children has obviously done him some emotional damage. He’s still going to be on tight watch, though. Everyone else parties to wish well the dead and to celebrate victory, but the story’s still unfinished, as Willingham says in his letter at the end of the volume.

 

Thoughts

This is a powerful volume, the culmination of the entire Fables storyline so far: the end of the war with the Empire and the toppling of the Adversary. The “War and Pieces” arc overshadows the Cinderella story and the opening short easily, but I’d like to pay some attention to those stories, also.

The short at the beginning is forgettable with the exception of how interesting it is to see the Farm Fables, who’ve grown so accustomed to modernity, consider what they’ll lose if they go to Haven. While it’s presented as goofy and hilarious—who worries about losing TV?—there are hints of other concerns, like the fact that Ambrose has created a for-real feudal kingdom with all the problems that implies.

The Cinderella story pleases me more than her other storylines have, because it focuses on her prowess as a spy and not just her sex appeal. (There is that one moment where she wriggles around and claims to be trying to distract the young man about to shoot her, but she’s doing it to toe her shoe off, so I’ll give it a pass.) There are some excellent lines in her narration:

“If they’d thought it through, though, they might have realized I’m the best secret agent who’s ever lived. No, I’m not bragging; it’s the cold, rational truth… I’m better than any mundy spy, because the best spy they’ve ever produced has only had less than a single human lifetime to perfect his tradecraft. But I’ve been perfecting mine for most of two centuries.”

She goes on to talk about her combat skill and makes a similar comment:

“Think of the greatest martial arts sensei in human history and realize once again that he’s only had a single human lifetime to perfect his arts.”

Those are some of the best lines about Cinderella in the whole of Fables, and they explain so much about her—she took to this work like nothing else, and she’s the best at what she does. The fact that no one listens to her or recognizes it galls her a little, it’s obvious—see the comment she makes about the boys never listening to her about naming military operations even though she knows better than them—but she does know she’s the best, and no one can take that away from her. She enjoys what she does, and without her, Fabletown would have been pretty doomed from the start. I appreciate that, despite most of her storylines involving sex or her sexualized body, the narrative at the very least relies heavily on her prowess and skills in physical combat. (I’m not entirely sure that Willingham did this on purpose, as it’s never talked about, but I can certainly see all the places in the story that show this war never would have gone off without Cinderella, even if the men don’t notice.)

However, that’s a little balanced by the fact that Snow disappeared from her major role in the story to become a housewife and mom a few volumes back while Bigby gets to continue exactly as before. Yeah, I’m not so happy about that. We see her a little again in this volume, but in reduced capacity: she’s organizing fronts but with no title, no recognition, and no real respect from anybody but Blue, who recognizes how integral she is to the whole deal. But—it’s a female role. She’s a caretaker and an organizer, now, instead of the head of the fight like she was in the original assault on Fabletown. That moment I didn’t mind back in March of the Wooden Soldiers, where Bigby steps in and takes over, does bother me a bit now, because it was the moment when Snow drops out of her role in the story and becomes a housewife. I have trouble believing that having kids would magically change her personality so much, but not change Bigby’s. Hrmph.

Then, we have the war. It’s a gripping arc, weaving in between the fronts easily and through the tense, emotional narration of Boy Blue, who really wishes he never had to be a hero ever again. But, here he is. I love his narration, to be honest; Blue is one of my favorite characters, which makes this a hard arc to read. (As soon as that arrow hits, oh, no. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, yet, but it will be.) He has some great lines where he looks back on what happens, such as after he leaves the Glory of Baghdad for the last time:

“I wish I’d stayed for dinner. I wish to god I’d stayed just ten minutes longer, before flitting away to my next appointment. Then I would have been there to help mitigate the disaster.”

Blue has some issues with survivor’s guilt.

Prince Charming shines in this volume, and Willingham treats Sinbad and his crew pretty well, narratively, though Blue’s mouth—balancing references to Christianity and Islam, for example. There are still some uncomfortable moments, but overall, it’s a better treatment and more equal than that of the Arabian Nights (and Days) volume. The final sacrifice Prince Charming makes, hauling the bomb the whole way to the gate and going in with it to die, is pretty intense. (I highly doubt he actually believed he could escape; I think he just tells Sinbad that so he doesn’t feel guilty about letting Charming go in alone. Sinbad is an honorable guy, after all.)

Prince Charming’s death is definitely unexpected, and I think it was handled well. We’re still left wondering which parts of his personality are real, which are mask, and which are real but exaggerated—for example, he makes a joke about winning the war the way he wins women, but that seems like a masking of his real reason: honor and glory. He is, at heart, the ultimate Prince, isn’t he? I enjoyed the fact that in the end, those flashes of honor and goodness we’ve seen in him throughout the story come to a stunning conclusion. Even burned and in terrible pain, he manages to win the war for Fabletown. He completes his mission. Bravo, Prince Charming.

I do like Willingham’s endnote in this volume, about the Fairytale Road in Germany and the way people can travel it for months or only for a day. It’s a nice extended metaphor.

 

The Art

The covers are actually not that great for this volume, surprise of surprises. They’re beautiful, make no mistake, but rather plain.

Instead, I think my favorite bits of the art are the illustrations of the battles joined and the aftereffects. Prince Charming’s burned face, for example, or the goblin hordes—Buckingham does an excellent job illustrating large vistas and huge fields of combat without losing a bit of detail.

*

War and Pieces is the climax of the whole Fables story so far, and it’s appropriately explosive. Prince Charming is the star of the ending, and his death will be remembered, but there are other things afoot, too—like that cursed arrow in Blue’s arm.

Next week: Fables volume 12, The Dark Ages.


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

14 comments
Jenny Thrash
1. Sihaya
I'm going to admit to watching the show Friends here in order to illustrate a point:

There's an episode of Friends where Joey and Rachel make each other read their favorite books. Whenever Joey gets to the scary parts of books, he puts them in the freezer. Problem solved, and The Shining is a happy vacation memoir to him. So Rachel gets Joey to read Little Women, and being the macho guy that he is, he figures he'll breeze through this supposedly girly little tea-and-crumpets book. Then one day Joey knocks on Rachels' door and says, "Beth is really, really sick." After asking, Rachel gently takes the book from his hands and pops it in her own freezer.

Please dear reader, if you are of a delicate disposition, put the upcoming Volume 12 in your freezer. Keep it on ice until you feel strong.
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
Uh oh. I still have to catch up to everything that came out after the Dark Ages, so I may be hitting the point where I'll have to stop following along soon.
Chris Long
3. radynski
This is also where Willingham originally intended to END the Fables series. This comic was originally conceived and pitched with a definite ending to the book. I'm not sure exactly when, but there was a decision made to continue the comic past the original end-point, so after this point, we'll start to lose a little bit of cohesion.
Rowanmdm
4. Rowanmdm
@3 While the series does loose a little cohesion, I like that they deal with "what happens next?"

Brit, I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed Snow's change and wished it was handled better. It's unfortunate that woman in fiction, no matter how strong the personality, usually get their personal/political power reduced once married. I wish this was the exception rather the rule.
David Thomson
5. ZetaStriker
To be fair, she wouldn't have been a very good mother if she did put herself in her former station. That job ruled her life beforehand, and if she couldn't pitch in only part-time given the state of affairs in Fabletown. She really had to choose between doing nothing, taking a supporting role, or abandoned her children to daycare hell while resuming her former position. Parents who have children, especially those that have that many children, have to make sacrifices.

Of course, that's not to say it was necessarily handled in the best way either, so take me worth a grain of salt.
Jenny Thrash
6. Sihaya
Okay, Rowanmdm, find me another housewife in the superhero comics. Sue Storm? Nope. Pepper Potts? Nuh-uh. Mary Jane - oh, she's still a working actress. Black Canary's status hasn't changed, though that doesn't mean much since she's taken so much crap from Green Arrow through the years. Perhaps one SAHM in the comics would actually be a *good* thing, since she'd be dealing with things that alot of women deal with, but in a superheroic or supernatural setting. It would allow some plot creativity. When she does inevitably chafe (and I'm sure she will), then there will be something new to talk about. Snow White's been both challenged and stressed by her job for centuries, and now she's dealing with a new life. Take out the trappings, and alot of women are like her. Snow White's plot may turn descriptive rather than proscriptive.
Jenny Thrash
7. Sihaya
Oh yeah, and I entirely forgot that Beauty, married to the Beast, has stepped into Snow's old post. She's just as powerful as Snow White used to be; she's just figuring that out in the early stages of her career.
Brit Mandelo
8. BritMandelo
@Sihaya

Oh, yeah, volume 12 is tough. Very tough.

@ZetaStriker @Rowanmdm

Perhaps I should have been more clear about part of what my problem really *is* with Snow's new role: why is it that Bigby is perpetually away from home, continuing his job completely as before, instead of making even an ounce of concession to help Snow balance children and professional life? I know that's the model of many families (and the drastic unhappiness of many women in those situations), but the unfairness and inequality of it rankles me. Plus, it really isn't handled well. Also, I'd say there's no "day care hell" for Snow's kids--the fables are all family, in some ways, and she literally has family to watch and take care of them.

@Sihaya

I think my other problem is that we *don't* see Snow in her family setting much once Bigby's back and they're married, because it's "not interesting" compared to the war. We're not getting a story of a superhero SAHM. She's just... Not really there, anymore, in the comic. She becomes disposable in a lot of ways, narratively, because her home life isn't as cool as war and stuff. That, also, rankles me. If we got to see a lot of Snow's new role and her chaffing at it and adapting to it, that would maybe be different for me, but as it stands she's just half dropped out of the comic where she was a lead character before, just because she had babies. Argh.

@all

Awesome discussion, keep it coming! *g*
Rowanmdm
9. BrentDG91
Mind you these aren't normal babies there shapeshifting wolf babies who I would think take much more time than normal babies would. Also Bigby, IIRC, was first pushed away by Fabletown laws, then went on mission so his family could indeed live together. After that was preparing for the war which Snow, while awesome at it, didn't really enjoy it (say like Prince). Personally I think a couple hundred years for service earns her the right to take a few years off. After all the stuff she been through I think it would somewhat cruel to put her through another event in which she would rather not do.
Jenny Thrash
10. Sihaya
Well, by the time Bigby is back the war is on. We only see stories that relate to the arc, and they're all competing for space. It's true that Snow is the power behind the throne, not the center of the many action sequences that make up this particular volume. She's at the beginning in the meeting that sets up multiple missions, including Cinderella's. By the middle of the book, it's revealed that she's not merely the hostess. I'll pull this quote from Boy Blue on pp.97-98:

Wolf Manor has become the nerve center of our war operations. The official word is that Prince Charming's running the war, but no one out on the front lines can really run the whole show. Snow White is really keeping all of the disparate parts together. Even without an official title, she's Commander-in-Chief. I have to confess I like working with her again.

This quote narrates a scene in which Snow runs multiple ops in the War Room (her house!) while Red watches the kids. Alot of people are answering to her. We see Snow again in 106. She gets to reunite Blue and Pinocchio before running the plan for Gepetto, negotiating his amnesty, and hustling him back to the business office to fix his signature to the treaty ASAP. You might complain that Snow isn't actually sitting on the throne, but she's never done that. Nothing's actually changed. She's always been the planner and the facilitator, but her distance from the front line, once set right at her front door, expands to a quantum value in Book 12. In the first pages of the next book Fabletown's problems walk right up to her again, and it's clear that Snow's identity - both her sense of self and others' perception of her - is quite healthy.
Rowanmdm
11. psychicscubadiver
@sihaya
Well said.

@britmandelo
Cinderella does use sex (and sexiness) to her advantage. It's a psychological weapon as old as intimidation, and a good spy uses everything they have to get the mission done. I think you object to it because you see it as an insult to her abilities, that she uses sex to get something, whereas to her it's just another tool.
Brit Mandelo
12. BritMandelo
@psychicscubadiver

No, not at all--it's that until the rescue-Pinocchio story arc, we never once see her really use much else except sex. Also, there are about one too many puns about how hot she is/involving her naked body.

I liked seeing her get violent and explain that she's the best spy ever, because there hadn't been a lot of evidence for that beforehand. Sexuality can be part of that aresenal, but I don't like it when the female spy is presented as having only one "weapon," while Mowgli is perpetually presented as having to rely on his physical prowess.
gwern branwen
13. gwern0@gmail.com
> Pinocchio gets caught by Hansel, who demands from Cindy to know when Fabletown plans to strike, and she cracks up laughing—then tells him it started nineteen hours ago.

At that point, I couldn't help but be reminded of _Watchmen_:

> Do it? Dan, I'm not a Republic Serial villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.
Brit Mandelo
14. BritMandelo
@gwerno@gmail.com

Hah, good comparison! I like that.

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