The fifteenth volume of Fables, Rose Red, is another one of those so big I have to split it into two to be able to cover it with any detail at all. As a whole, it covers issues #94-100, and for part 1 of the reread we’ll be going from issues #94-97, while part 2 will cover issues #98-100 (which was a super-sized special issue). With Mister Dark at large and the Farm in chaos, it’s more necessary than ever to have concrete leadership, which means Rose Red will have to make some decisions about herself and about her family.
The volume is written by Bill Willingham and lettered by Todd Klein, with covers by Joao Ruas. Rose Red is penciled by Mark Buckingham with inks by Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy and Dan Green, coloring by Lee Loughridge. “Dark City” has art by Inaki Miranda and colors by Eva de la Cruz. “After the Duel” part one is illustrated by Chrissie Zullo, part two by Joao Ruas. The short “Pinocchio’s Army” is written by Mark Buckingham and illustrated by Bill Willingham, for a change of pace. The “Celebrity Burning Questions” bit is illustrated by Dave Johnson, Adam Hughes, Kate McElroy and J. H. Williams III.
The volume opens with the continuing fight between the Blue Fairy, Geppetto, and Pinocchio. Eventually, Beast gets the Fairy to agree to listen to his reasoning before executing Geppetto. Back in the big house, Colin the Pig is still trying to talk Rose Red back to life—he tries first to take the form of Boy Blue, realizes that’s too cruel, and takes the form of her mother instead, who Rose reacts to instantly. Outside, King Cole tells Ozma never to pull a stunt like bringing in the Blue Fairy without consulting him ever again, because she doesn’t know how politics work. The Fairy makes a deal with Beast to wait to kill Geppetto, and if he doesn’t provide the old man for her after that time, he’ll be her slave. (Totenkinder, using her old name Bellflower, is with the boxer Dunster Happ at the time.) There are discussions about Rose’s suitability to lead the Farm, which Snow shoots down straight away.
Then, Rose’s mother begins the story of what really happened to Snow White. It involves dwarves and magical bears—then, at the end, thanks to Rose and Snow, the magical bear kills the evil dwarf and turns back into a prince, who promises to marry Snow. Rose thinks that’s when she lost Snow, to the first handsome prince to come her way, but her mother tells her that’s not how it went. In short, the prince’s father refused to let him marry a peasant and also didn’t want him to break his oath, so he ordered Snow killed. Snow is sent off by her mother to another queen—this is when the magic mirror incident happens, because she’s grown too beautiful, and the woodcutter sends her off to the forest instead of murdering her. The seven dwarves capture and enslave her. That’s when the wicked queen brings her the apple, and the dwarves, thinking her dead, toss her out in the wood where Prince Charming finds her. After she’s married him she sends for Rose, who thought she was dead all this time and has some misconceptions. Rose wreaks havoc on the court in revenge, toying with men’s reputations, costing lives, ruining treaties, and finally seducing Prince Charming away from Snow, all because she thought Snow had abandoned her. Story over, her mother tells her she can’t make up for what horrible things she’s done, but she can start acting better right then, and save the Farm. Rose knows by this point the speaker was never Colin or her mother, and she sees its true form, but we don’t.
Meanwhile, Beauty’s having pains and the baby’s giving her trouble. Geppetto is meeting with the Farm factions about who will be in charge while Rose finally gets up and showers; Snow agrees to send the cubs to their grandfather. The next day, Rose has a meeting for all the folks at the Farm called, where she puts them straight: she’s the boss, no questions. (Bellflower/Totenkinder is discussing killing Mister Dark with Happ at this point.) Geppetto resists, using his dryad bodyguards as leverage, but Rose says they back off and leave town or she’ll burn their grandfather tree to the ground with the dragon/bird, Clara. She then agrees to see each Fable who needs to speak to her one by one, including the old leaders of Fabletown—who aren’t going to be leaders anymore on the Farm. Bigby comes in, near the end, just to tell her they’re behind her all the way, which moves her. She finally ties on a blue scarf to show her love for Blue and tells the Farm Fables that he wouldn’t want them waiting around—they have to fight for themselves. She’ll take a war council of some of the faction leaders, but she’s still head honcho.
Then, Totenkinder/Bellflower returns, claiming she can help with Mister Dark. After that, ending Part 1 of the re-read, Snow and Rose have a reunion.
Before I get into the meat of this discussion, I’d just like to say how ridiculous and hilarious it is that Pinocchio regales the Blue Fairy with tales of his sexual nearly-exploits and bitches her out for turning him into a little boy for life. It ends up being pretty serious, as Beast could be her slave for nearly a thousand years if he doesn’t either dissuade her or provide her Geppetto to kill within a time limit, but the argument that precedes that is just… flat-out funny.
Seeing King Cole take Ozma down a notch and tell her she only thinks she knows how politics work is pretty intriguing; as he says, “If you’re going to indulge in the messy world of real-politics, Ozma, you’ve an important lesson to learn—forgiveness only accompanies success. Failure is still and always a crime.” And he knows that better than anyone.
Otherwise, the first half of Rose Red is almost entirely backstory, until Rose takes the Farm back over, but it’s some very revealing backstory. The source of Rose’s depression is her own self-hatred—she’s grown up enough to realize, with that little nudge from Boy Blue back in V. 12, that she’s been a nasty, cruel person for a large part of her life, and it’s weighing her down. All of her ill deeds have started to haunt her, though she still harbors a kernel of blame for Snow for abandoning her long, long ago when they were children.
So, Colin the Pig—who isn’t really Colin, as I’ve suspected for a while now—has to give her all the information. It’s a risky choice, I think, because while the truth might have been the only thing that could provoke her out of her catatonic depression, it could also have made her feel worse and sink further into it. On the other hand, telling her the Farm was going to fall apart without her didn’t work for months, so I suppose the power-that-is decided it was time to do something drastic. That “something drastic” is to tell her (and us) what really happened; the bargains their mother made, where Snow went, and her life without Rose—which Rose thought was spent gallivanting around with princes and being happy without her sister in tow.
But oh, no.
Snow’s life wasn’t easy. We’ve had hints of that before, in 1001 Nights of Snowfall (not yet discussed), when it was revealed that those 7 dwarves from the stories were actually her rapists and torturers for a long while, and that she went back and killed them after marrying Prince Charming. This time, we see the rest of it, and so does Rose: betrayed countless times by people she was given over to trust, Snow has taken more blows from fate than nearly anyone else in Fables, and she came out the other side of it. She is a strong woman—and a faithful one, at that, considering that the first vow she fulfills when she reaches safety and recovers her memories is to send for her sister.
By the way, it’s pretty horrifying to see Rose at court; she throws away people’s lives and dignities like toys and enjoys it. It’s also interesting to note that Prince Charming wasn’t the instigator of his tryst with Rose (which he always insisted, but I don’t think anyone ever believed him)—she planned seducing him and executed it like a war, all to punish her sister for an imagined crime. She ruined Snow’s life on purpose, not realizing that it was the first taste of goodness her sister had had since they were children together.
So, yeah. Rose has a whole hell of a lot to feel guilty over, but the figure of her mother talking to her walks her through that: the only way she can make up for what she’s done is to be a good person now, and to grow, and to be a damn adult. So she does.
I said when Rose got the Farm, way back, that she was starting to come into her own. This is the culmination of that. Watching her gird herself for battle, so to speak, showering and dressing and finally donning a blue scarf in her announcements—she’s powerful and capable. The leadership of the Fables crew has passed through many hands, from Snow and Bigby to Prince Charming to a little of Beauty and Best—and now, it’s Rose’s, with the biggest threat they’ve ever faced on the horizon. She has to stand up and lead, and I really think she’s ready to do so, as proven by her ruthless dismissal of Geppetto’s bodyguards and her refusal to give anyone special treatment based on their rank in the old Fabletown.
The end of this part 1 is really heartwarming, too; I love Rose’s lines, “I’ve been such a complete shit for so many—well, ages—and I want to—! I need to—! I mean fuck all, but can we try to be sister again? Like we used to be?” It’s so emotional. Also, I love that Rose is the only one of them who curses fluently and regularly; it just fits her character so well.
Totenkinder/Bellflower’s return to the field at the end of this first half is a good lead into the next part—the battle with Mister Dark, to be joined between him and one solitary witch. (Sort of.)
Pinocchio’s expressions in his weird fistfight with the Blue Fairy are absolutely hilarious, just so you know. The two-page spread of Rose’s first meeting with the Farm after her depression is also pretty great—seeing all the various and sundry Fables packed together, like a snail holding a parasol (somehow), is cool.
The covers are all fairly simple, but the one of Rose with her bright red hair on a pale cream background is still pretty.
Rose Red, part 1, has a lot of important backstory and the return of Rose to her rightful place as head of the Farm, ready to make up for past wrongs and do the world some good.
Next week: Rose Red, part 2, the rest of volume 15 of Fables.