In the thirteenth collected trade of Fables, The Great Fables Crossover, the storylines of Jack of Fables, Fables, and a new series The Literals all cross over. It contains Fables issues #83-85, Jack of Fables issues #33-35, and The Literals mini-series issues #1-3. The volume takes a step back from the ongoing plot to deal with Kevin Thorn, who somehow has the ability to create and recreate, well, the universe. By writing it. Including things like the Fables, and possibly the Mundy world as well. Oh, and he’s gotten grumpy lately.
This is the first co-authored volume, written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. The lettering is still done by Todd Klein and the colors by Daniel Vozzo and Lee Loughridge, but the covers are by different artists (also for the first time): Brian Bolland, Joao Ruas, and Mark Buckingham. This is where the credits get a bit confusing; I’ll list them by series/issue # in the order they’re arranged in the volume, below the cut for convenience.
Fables #83 was penciled by Mark Buckingham and inked by Andrew Pepoy. Jack of Fables #33 was penciled by Russ Braun and inked by Jose Marzan Jr. The Literals #1 was penciled by Mark Buckingham and inked by Andrew Pepoy. Fables #84 was penciled by Tony Akins and inked by Andrew Pepoy. Jack of Fables #34 was penciled by Russ Braun and inked by Jose Marzan Jr. The Literals #2 was penciled by Mark Buckingham and inked by Andrew Pepoy. Fables #85 is, again, penciled by Tony Akins and inked by Andrew Pepoy. Jack of Fables #35 is penciled by Russ Braun and inked by Jose Marzan Jr. Finally, The Literals #3 is penciled by Mark Buckingham and inked by Andrew Pepoy.
The story opens with a “new religion” spreading about the magic return of Boy Blue and some stirring rebellious feeling, as well as a fight between Bigby and Beast. Jack calls for Rose and gets Snow instead—saying there’s a potential end of the world coming. Snow and Bigby are off to investigate. Jack meets them at a diner full up with Fables and “Literals,” who we’ll be introduced to shortly. And, somewhere in the old Empire, Jack Frost wakes up.
The Literals, known as the Page sisters and Jack, have been spending plenty of time together, until he found out they were his half-sisters, which isn’t a nice thing to find out. Kevin Thorn is actually someone with the power to rewrite reality, and he apparently survives for centuries. We see a brief panel of him writing people into horrible situations—tumors, car wrecks, murder, affairs—in “practice” for his big rewrites. He’s apparently got a case of writer’s block, which is all for the better for the world. Meanwhile, Jack and Bigby are fighting, and for some reason Bigby hasn’t just laid him out. Then there’s some argument, some discussion of revising people’s memories, and some meta about Jack and artists.
The meta doesn’t really stop after that. Kevin has writer’s block and is trying to circumvent it in all the usual ways—and then the genres show up to give their stereotyped input on the problem. It doesn’t work, so he summons up his two favorite ideas—one of which is apparently Hansel—to help him out. They don’t remember he created them, so he rewrites it so they do. He starts writing Bigby into new shapes, like a chimpanzee and a donkey.
Jack ends up pretending to be Blue for the Farm Fables and taking over, Rose has hit a fatalistic streak, and back out at the diner the Literals decide to follow after Bigby, Snow, and company. Thorn has realized that his writer’s block is his dead brother, and that he/it is going to kill him again. He’s freaking out because “his stories” have become autonomous and started doing things like Geppetto becoming the Adversary and Bigby becoming a sheriff in New York. A gun battle ensues between the genres and the Literals/Fables, with a lot of nasty things said about genre fiction in the process. (Oh, and Jack and his son by the Snow Queen meet and argue about how Jack treats women. Eventually he sends him off on a quest—kill Thorn.)
Rose and Jack get ousted to Wolf Manor amid clamor from the Farm Fables who’ve been told about the deception. Bigby, as a little girl, murders all the genres with her bare hands then turns back into a wolf/Bigby. They burst into the manor and Jack Frost freezes Thorn in place before he can retroactively stop the world from existing. Then, the Deus ex Machina provides an egg containing a fresh new universe for all the Literals to live in, including Thorn. So it’s a big blank nothing for him to write on, and the magic of the Literals is gone from the Fables universe for good.
To be totally honest, this is my least favorite volume of Fables. It has plenty of things that I should love—metafictional riffs on writing, genre shout-outs, commentary on revision and creation, all that sort of stuff—but in the end, the bunch of interesting bits didn’t add up to a volume I enjoyed.
I see what they were trying to do, and hey, crossovers can be great, but I don’t think this was what could be called a successful attempt. The narrative choice of bouncing back and forth between three separate series, including a brand new mini-series (which seems more concerned with setting itself up as a possible ongoing than telling a story), is not a good one. It leaves the story limping and jerky. The multiverse thing, and the sudden appearance of the Literals as if they had always existed, and then getting rid of them… Well, it could have been interesting, but it never successfully grabbed me.
Also, I was disappointed in the use of Kevin Thorn—I had expected, way back when we first met him, something more believable. Maybe that’s my other issue; this was a rabbit pulled out of a hat, storywise. There was never a single indication in the main Fables story of Thorn having any kind of power over anything originally. The explanation for that is hand-wavy at best. The plot continuity of Fables pretty much goes out the window for this volume and then resets after it’s finished, making this volume seem like a weird outtake.
On top of those grumps, a whole volume full of comic relief in the middle of a storyline about devastation and loss? Not working for me. I don’t mind humor mixed in to lighten the load, but not a derailing of the current story into another comedic story for an entire, rather large, volume. Following on the heels of the end of the war with the Empire and Willingham’s setting up a new villain and a new story arc entirely—in effect, the new arc is a sort of “Book 2” of the Fables adventure—it throws the story out of whack. This probably would have fit better in between the two storylines, as a buffer, rather than after the second arc had already begun.
Oh, well. Every long-running series is going to have bits that don’t work for a given reader; me, in this case. Now that I’ve got the complaining out of the way, there are some good bits in this volume.
Seeing Snow back in action, even in a minor way, is great. I was recently complaining about her being sidelined, so having her back is nice. And, while it’s not “nice” or “good,” Rose’s current behavior is just so painfully believable. She thinks Jack is what she deserves, and to be overthrown as the leader of the Farm is what she deserves, and she’s so far into a black depression that she’s not even showering. Jack is clueless and emotionally abusive as usual, but Rose is punishing herself, thoroughly. I want to see her get her shit back together, but I believe the painful depths she’s sunk to after Blue’s death.
One interesting thing is the egg at the end—a callback to Willingham’s 2001 middle-grade novel (being re-released by Tor later this year!), Down the Mysterly River. In it, some of the seeds for what would become Fables are sewn, but this is the most obvious tie-in: an egg in the old business office—which is inaccessible to all but the Deus ex Machina—that holds a new universe for the creator who receives it. So, that’s kind of nifty; more multiverses.
Overall, I’m looking forward to getting back to the new main storyline again in the next volume. The Great Fables Crossover had some fun bits and some laughs, but wasn’t quite up my alley.
I missed having James Jean’s covers on every issue this time, but the Buckingham covers were comedic and in that way good. Otherwise, Kevin Thorn’s script was a much better handling of handwriting than we’ve seen in earlier volumes, like the nigh-on-unreadable “Rodney and June” story some long way back. It’s well-done. Noticing the lettering is something I often fail at, but this time I wanted to pay attention to it. Good job.
The Great Fables Crossover is a sort of comedic outtake story layered with meta that weaves together three separate comics.
Next week: Witches, volume 14 of Fables.