Thu
Jul 28 2011 2:46pm
Fables Reread: Jack of Fables—Turning Pages (V. 5)

Jack of Fables volume 5The fifth collected volume of Jack of Fables is Turning Pages, which compiles issues #22-27. This volume tells a story from Jack’s past, titled “1883,” and then continues the current storyline in the titular Turning Pages arc, which fills the second half of the volume. “1883” also stars Bigby Wolf, who we haven’t seen much of in Jack of Fables so far.

The whole volume is written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, with colors by Daniel Vozzo, letters by Todd Klein, and covers by Brian Bolland. “1883” is penciled by Tony Akins (with Russ Braun in the third chapter) and colored by Andrew Pepoy and Jose Marzan Jr. Turning Pages is penciled by Russ Braun and inked by Jose Marzan Jr. (with Steve Leialoha in the first chapter).

 

What Happens

“1883” is told mostly through narration in text-boxes, not by Jack this time, and gives a much darker angle on him as a person. It opens by saying a series of bad things and deaths that happened in 1883, followed by the Jack Candle Gang’s murders and robberies. Jack’s a bandit and no-good man who escapes from a murder conviction to become a gang leader, and back in Fabletown, Snow White tells Bigby she’s sure that Jack is actually Jack Horner. So, Bigby heads out to find him with a Fable-horse and no guns at all. He does find Jack, and calls him out as who he is, so Jack and company fill him full of lead and leave him. Jack knows he has to ride hard to get away.

Jack holes up in one town to get silver bullets, but someone buys out his order and heads away from town, so he gives chase — and is also running from Bigby, who shows up shortly after and gets in a bar fight. Then, he gets thrown in jail, and let out by the (bought and paid for) sheriff. Jack practically owns the town. Bigby leaves his horse behind and shapeshifts to track Jack faster, running up to Wyoming. Jack and company are cornered by Pinkertons in a hideout, shoot their way free, and run off — minus one member, who’s injured. He settles in the woods to meet up with them later, but Bigby finds him first, and gets Jack’s location out of him. Meanwhile, Jack returns to the town and threatens the horse, who passes the message on to Bigby, but Bigby rides back into town anyway. He beats Jack down, and Jack says that what he did wasn’t wrong because Mundies aren’t real people — they kill each other by the thousands anyway, and they don’t live long. Bigby rounds him up and takes him back to New York, where he’s sentenced to labor at the farm but escapes after a year. Their enmity has lasted since then.

“Turning Pages” is next, and a Literal called Eliza Wall tells us about the Page sisters. Robin is sleeping with Jack and on the run, Priscilla is stuck at Golden Boughs trying to do her job while she’s gone — Revise suspends her for subpar performance, which Kevin tells her isn’t her fault — and Hillary is still missing in the Mundy. Meanwhile, Bookburner is heading there with his army, with Humpty Dumpty and Hillary captive, but Hillary manages to call Robin and warn her, in a diner with Jack and co. Robin gets Jack to agree to save Golden Boughs, because if Bookburner gets to Revise’s library, they’re all going to bite it. Then the story skips to Priscilla, who’s always been the odd one out, and tells about her transformation into hot, popular girl — though she still doesn’t like herself, and Revise is a total asshole to her. Robin and co. are on their way to Golden Boughs, and so is Bookburner, who sees their van coming. Kevin and Pris get to talking, and it turns out Hillary is Revise’s kid, but Pris is Bookburner’s. Someone flips Robin’s van, and it turns out it’s evil!Humpty-Dumpty. Hillary, turns out, always wanted to be a Fable too, and thought Revise was a good guy helping Fables — ditto Bookburner, when she found his letters to her mom. She was wrong. Meanwhile, Pris breaks Kevin out of Golden Boughs and Goldilocks foments a revolution to ally themselves with Bookburner.

Hillary escapes Bookburner and runs into the evil!Humpty Dumpty and her sister in the woods, with knifejohns on her tail. They’re surrounded. Then, Dex (Deus ex Machina) shows up with Eliza Wall and another man and makes all the knifejohns drop dead, but Robin’s already been stabbed. Now, everyone is converging on Golden Boughs, while Pris and Kevin run for New York — and Sam is watching from the hills, with a plan.

 

Thoughts

Turning Pages is probably my favorite volume of Jack of Fables so far. For one thing, it’s not narrated by Jack. For another, it delves deeper into the tangled relationships between the Literals. And, last but not least, it ends with a rather climactic confrontation about to occur between Revise and Bookburner that could potentially destroy all of Fable-kind if it gets out of control. It’s a much more well-paced and believable volume than some of the previous ones, with building tension and backstory woven together in such a way that both remain interesting.

Plus, I really enjoyed “1883.” The style of narrative is interesting — the collection of awful things happening on each day that the story takes place, and other awful things going on in the world, like the U.S. government deciding that the Native Americans weren’t citizens, or the rash of lynchings in the south, or train collisions and bank robberies. It’s a litany of disaster and suffering, which Jack’s gang only adds to. If Jack was narrating this story, we’d have never seen nor heard the half of it; not his dishonesty, his lack of honor, or his weakness. Instead, it shows Jack as he is to other people: a bit of a monster.

There’s one particular section in “1883,” where Jack is telling Bigby about why he thinks it’s okay to kill people indiscriminately, that finally shows us more than a little of how much of a sociopath he is. “So what? They weren’t real people — not Fables!...Killing Mundys ain’t no crime any more than stomping on bugs! How can it be?”

There we have it, an actual confirmation that Jack lacks any sense of empathy. It’s hinted at and implied throughout the rest of this series and Fables, but here it comes from his own mouth, and he doesn’t even see what’s so wrong with saying it. Other people — Mundy or Fable — aren’t anything but pieces to be moved around a board to Jack; he lacks the capability to understand that his actions hurt others, and/or the inclination to even care that it does. There are other Fables who have done worse things—Bigby actually being one of them, but he at least seems to understand the suffering of others and has mostly repented of his ways — but Jack is a special case in that he’s just missing some integral psychological wiring. He doesn’t get what’s so bad about his behavior or his inability to feel empathy.

Yipe. Sometimes, Jack’s not just an asshole — he’s kind of scary, and not in the way he wants to be.

The “Turning Pages” arc is fun, too, for what we get to see of the Page sisters, who Jack never quite sees as real people in his versions of the story. This time, the story is narrated by another Literal — Eliza Wall — and tells the reader everything they need to know about Robin, Priscilla, and Hillary. Robin’s story is the least believable, mostly because of her awful, out-of-character dialogue. I can believe that she’s suddenly out of control and Being Bad and loving it, but I can’t believe that would turn her into a simpering idiot who constantly spews endearments and marriage proposals. This is the woman who threatened to castrate Jack of he told anyone they slept together in a prior volume, mind. This stuff is simply not believable. However, the Pris and Hillary arcs are much more fascinating, leading up as they do to the major confrontation at the end, with Pris and Kevin speeding away to New York to try and save everyone’s bacon.

Of course, knowing what we know from Fables, Kevin is not really a nice person, and he’s not to be trusted. So, seeing where that goes will be fun, right?

 

The Art

Evil!Humpty-Dumpty is at once hilarious and creepy, which makes him one of my favorite bits of the illustration in this volume — it’s hard to balance goofy with scary, but Braun pulls it off.

Otherwise, as for the covers, the one of Bigby punching out Jack is probably the best of the volume — it’s certainly the most kinetic, and the most visually arresting. I don’t mind the last cover, either; little Hillary reading fable-stories while a goblin looms over her is just a bit creepy, but also interesting.

*

Turning Pages is one of the better Jack volumes, following other characters in other places instead of the titular lead. Plus, it ends at a climactic moment, leaving the reader hanging for what happens next.

Next week: Jack of Fables, volume 6—The Big Book of War.


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

3 comments
Jenny C.
1. Jenny C.
It's easy to feel bad for Jack here, since his blubbering seems to reveal he's traumatized by what he's seen in the war and has been lashing out in a cry for help. But when you think about it he's been a lot like that since long before he came to the mundy world. I wonder if he's acting to gain Bigby's sympathy?
Dru O'Higgins
2. bellman
The interesting thing about the Jack books is how much I loathe the main character while still reading the books. From the library, I won't buy them like I do the Fables books. I wonder if the character was intended to be a lovable rogue and got away from the writer?
Brit Mandelo
3. BritMandelo
@Jenny C.

I get the feeling that he's just trying to get Bigby off his case, but it so doesn't work the way he thinks it will. He doesn't seem to grasp what's wrong with what he's saying.

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