Thu
Jun 23 2011 5:20pm
Fables Reread: Jack of Fables–-“The (Nearly) Great Escape” (V. 1)

The first volume of the Fables spinoff, Jack of Fables, is this one: “The (Nearly) Great Escape.” It contains issues #1-5 of the Jack of Fables single comics, starting right at the moment we last see Jack in Fables—hitchhiking with a briefcase full of money, having been kicked out of his own movie production business by Beast. We know from V. 13 (“The Great Fables Crossover”) that he runs into the Literals at some point, and a whole new cast of fables, but not how, until now! The volume also contains a series of sketches by the artist, Akins, at the end.

“The (Nearly) Great Escape” is created by Bill Willingham, co-written by Willingham and Matthew Sturges, penciled by Tony Akins, inked by Andrew Pepoy, colored by Daniel Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein. The covers are by another Fables regular, James Jean.

What Happens

The story picks up with Jack hitchhiking, his briefcase of money and the clothes on his back all he has. Unfortunately, the van that stops for him has an unpleasant surprise in the form of an armed woman and strange guards dressed all in black. The woman says she’s not on the side of Fabletown or the Adversary, and that the world is much stranger than Jack knows. He jumps out of the van, but gets hit by several cars and loses his briefcase of money. He heals up just fine, thanks to his story-strength. They take him to the Golden Boughs, a sort of prison for Fables, designed to make the outside world forget their stories. When Jack gets to his new cottage, he finds a surprise: Goldilocks, naked in his bed, and very much alive.

The next chapter opens with Humpty-Dumpty failing to escape and the Page sisters displaying some astounding levels of cruelty. Jack kicks Goldilocks out while she tells him how she came back to life, then drinks despite the fact that he’s supposed to go meet Mr. Revise. He then insults another fable, gets in a fight, and shows up at the meeting very late and worse for wear. Revise explains that he’s going to cut Jack to pieces, story-wise, until the only things that remain are sterile and forgettable. Revise also monsters-out when Jack tells him to screw off, which is interesting. Turns out, he’s been trying to rid the mundy of magic for centuries before the Fables poured in, and he had to start over.

Jack announces he’s going to stage a prison break and starts gathering accomplices. The Page sisters pick up on it and tell Revise, but he already knows, and yells at them for taking so long to figure it out. Jack then climbs a tree and falls onto a spiked fence, from which Gary/the Pathetic Fallacy rescues him and offers to assist their endeavors. Jack’s given the key to a prison-room for the fairies they’ve captured—who he once rescued but doesn’t remember rescuing—and they agree to help, too. Then he decides the jail-break will be that night, no dry runs first.

The fairies lure a ton of mundy birds into the airspace so the doubling crows will keep multiplying to eat them and obscure the skies. The fables make to escape, while the Page sisters let out the bagmen. They’re getting folks over fences and out one by one, but a few get eaten by tigers or trampled. Finally, a bagman comes up to Jack, and he decides to fight it. Not good. He and Sam together manage to take it out with a knife, releasing a Lovecraftian monster that scares them all to hell before it dissipates. Revise is pissed because Sam has joined Jack, and they’re actually defeating the defense systems of the Golden Boughs prison. Goldilocks leads Jack off to a well claiming it’s a way out, but he devises she’s been a spy the whole time. Incorrectly, sort of, because his evidence is just inane, but she really is a spy. She’s going to shoot him and put him down the well, but he gets one over on her and dumps her down it instead. Some of the escaping Fables are recaptured, and Revise finds Goldilocks down the well, but Jack’s back on the road again—free as he said he would be, having taken plenty of other Fables with him.

 

Thoughts

The Jack of Fables comics take some getting used to, for me, solely because I really can’t stand Jack. I don’t mean I think he’s a sympathetic cad, as I’m supposed to; I mean I genuinely dislike him. So, I have to put that aside as a reader to think about him from a writer’s point of view, or a critical one—he’s sort of like James Bond. I love the Bond stories, they’re fun, but I have to get past James Bond first, if that’s sensible.

They do have similar personalities, after all.

On the other hand, the stories are fun in a similar way, too. Lots of scheming, boasting, naked women, action and adventure; Jack gets himself into messes with alarming regularity, and manages to get himself out of them again in the craziest ways. It makes you wonder why his get-rich schemes never worked out—in Fables, it tends to be because his planning isn’t good enough or he’s trying the same-old, same-old tricks, but in his own books, Jack seems to be much better at plotting and planning.

There is one interesting line in this that may have something to do with why Jack so often fails. The Pathetic Fallacy (Gary) explains after Jack’s been impaled on a fence: “It’s the universe. It likes balance. Requires it, actually. Just like nature abhors a vacuum. She also abhors imbalance. You make these things happen to you, you see. You’re a walking bastion of strength and invulnerability. It creates a need in the universe. A need to give that strength a reason for existing.” While there are some potentially hinky interpretations of those lines if applied to real life, this is a story about stories, where the strength of a tale is one’s own strength. Jack, after his movies, is so strong that it creates an imbalance—and his boasting and insistence that he’s So Awesome don’t help. His brashness and his power bring bad things on him; if he was sitting at home reading books, the shit probably wouldn’t hit the fan. But, he wouldn’t be Jack if he did that.

I don’t know if it’s meant to be taken as Truth in the Fables universe, but it’s definitely interesting to think about. I can’t think of any other characters it applies to, powerful or not, but it might just be Jack’s unique combination of popularity, power and attitude.

The other really important world-building bit is Mr. Revise’s speech about how he, on purpose, cut all of the magic out of the mundane world—he’s the one who made it mundane. This makes the things that King Cole just said about the mundy world in Fables V. 15 even more interesting—he senses something terribly important about the world, even if its magic isn’t obvious. So, I think Revise thought he’d cut the magic out by destroying and imprisoning all the Fables he could, but in reality it was just driven to something else, something more ephemeral and invasive. Just a theory, but still.

As for things that struck me as particularly bizarre and cool, the bagmen are one of those things. So, imprisoning Lovecraftian horrors to use as guards? Probably not a good idea, Revise-and-co. I expected that they were just magically animated in some boring way, based on how everyone kept saying they were unbeatable, but I was not expecting the nightmare-inducing spirit that was released when Jack and Sam defeated the bagman. Interesting! How did the Literals manage to corral those things into duffel bags, I wonder? Hmmm.

I’m also rather fond of Gary/the Pathetic Fallacy. His powers are so cute, and he seems so very goodhearted. We’ll see, but still.

 

The Art

Tony Akins’ art is reminiscent of Mark Buckingham’s; the character looks similar, the lines are strong and clean, and the scenes are well-set with good motion. I was particularly amused by the chart of the Golden Boughs’ staff and the scribbly portraits of all of them; it showed a goofy side to Akins’ art.

I’m also glad to have more James Jean covers to discuss. They’re, as usual, gorgeous. The one featuring Jack through a fence, running from the doubling crows and bagmen, is particularly lovely—kinetic, gripping, and also beautiful.

*

“The (Nearly) Great Escape” introduces the world of the Golden Boughs community, the Literals, and a pretty nasty scheme to neuter magic out of the mundy world—“for it’s own good.”

Next week: Jack of Fables v. 2, “Jack of Hearts.”


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

7 comments
psyhicscubadiver
1. psyhicscubadiver
I read about the first 3 of the Jack series and I couldn't get past him as the main charcter. The stories are fun, no denying it, but I couldn't take that big a dose of Jack. Otherwise though I actually ignored any implications that the Jack series (or the crossover) had on the main Fables universe. I saw them as two seperate interpretations on the same place.
Brit Mandelo
2. BritMandelo
@psychicscubadiver

That's an interesting way of looking at it--certainly, the Crossover stuff didn't make much sense in the Fables universe.
psyhicscubadiver
5. Jenny C.
If you have trouble liking Jack already, you're not going to enjoy finding out the true depths of his disdain for mundy people, if not everyone he considers beneath him. He's a badly damaged person, really. Abusive, callous and selfish, sure, but at his core he's just completely broken.

And without giving away too much, but just to help you keep reading, he's not going to be the leading character of the book forever.
Brit Mandelo
6. BritMandelo
@Jenny C.

I wonder sometimes if I'm supposed to think he's a sociopath, or if I'm just reading into it too much.
psyhicscubadiver
7. Berimon
Also, it will help to keep in mind that it's Jack relating all these stories, so they're all slanted to make him look good.

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