Thu
Jul 21 2011 2:30pm

Fables Reread: Jack of Fables—Americana (V. 4)

Jack of Fables volume 4 Americana

The fourth collected volume of Jack of Fables, Americana, collects issues #17-21. It follows another attempt of Jack’s to get rich quick, this time in the “nearly forgotten lands of Americana” (as the flap copy says), facing new and strange dangers while still trying to dodge Mr. Revise and his minions. The major part of the story is the titular arc, “Americana,” and there’s also a short at the end called “Gary Does Denmark.”

The whole volume is written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Daniel Vozzo. “Americana” is penciled by Russ Braun and inked by both Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy. The covers are done by Brian Bolland. “Gary Does Denmark” has illustrations by Tony Akins and a cover by Zachary Baldus.

 

What Happens

“Americana” opens with Jack, Raven and Gary in a hotel room, and Jack doing something with a lot of glue and somebody yelling their lungs out (Humpty Dumpty). Meanwhile, in Idaho, Hillary Page, Bunyan and the ox Babe are shopping for supplies, having slipped out of Golden Boughs. Jack has put Humpty Dumpty back together again on the promise that he’ll lead them to some amazing treasure. Turns out this place is called Americana, and that’s exactly what Hillary is trying to find too, using Paul as a dowsing rod of sorts. The two groups both jump the same Great Train apparently at the same moment in different places, and end up jumbled into one boxcar with two American Fables. Jack tosses Paul, Hillary and Raven out of the train, then, and the two men on board ask if he’s Wicked John, and he explains John has a case of sword-in-the-gut. (Those two men, by the way, are Tom Sawyer and Jim.)

They all jump the train at a town called Steamboat, find a hotel, and Humpty Dumpty reveals that he has the map to the treasure tattooed on his ass, but he’s missing a piece — then Hillary bursts in and says she has it, and she’s not going anywhere. She takes Jack and Gary on a train journey to a town called Idyll, which is coincidentally full of zombies, while the others wait for them back in Steamboat so the treasure hunt can begin. Hillary has an errand in Idyll, though, and needs bodyguards. They make their way through the mumbly 50s zombies to the library, where there’s a normal man who goes by the name “Burner,” and Hillary tells him she’s his daughter. He doesn’t think that’s likely. He invites them into the library, where there’s a giant magical fire being fed books, and does the mad-scientist “isn’t my project grand” thing.

Turns out, Revise is Burner’s enemy, and he stole Hillary’s mother from him before they ever had a chance to have kids. Burner sets the zombies on them to stop them from leaving, but Gary animates the burning books to attack the zombies in return. They escape back to Steamboat worse for wear, but Burner has set Natty Bumpo and Sluefoot Sue on them, who they escape the first time. They spend some time in Gangland, get found by zombies, wander around some more, and end up finally finding the right place for the treasure. Meanwhile, Burner throws Paul’s book on the magic fire, and all the color goes out of him. The group finds the treasure, Hillary sleeps with Jack, who of course immediately offends her by informing her he slept with her sisters, too. She kicks him in the junk. As they’re about to leave, Hillary and Raven push Jack and Gary into a giant hole and leave without them. Raven goes back for them, though, and when Jack and Gary climb out he reveals he stuffed most of the gold into his magic briefcase.

Then, Burner and his army of colorless story characters — plus hostages Hillary and Humpty Dumpty — move to march on Revise.

“Gary Does Denmark” is about a play Gary tried to put on back in Golden Boughs that was a sort of Shakespeare mashup, and how it went badly wrong and Gary animated everything in a fit of temper. John saves the day, and doesn’t get the girl or get to escape.

 

Thoughts

We’re doing a bit better in this volume in regards to the women — even though that’s really just Hillary, and she’s still depicted as doing things like hiding a shard of Humpty Dumpty in her cleavage (not bloody likely, as any woman would tell you) and sleeping with Jack, she at least does smart things and kicks Jack in the junk eventually. She’s resourceful, she makes good plans, and she manages to give not only Golden Boughs the slip but also the new bad guy, the Book Burner. She’s starting to tread close to a fully realized person and not just a walking pair of breasts for Jack to ogle. (Still want to bang my head on a table at the Gangland line, though: “It’s pretty swell to be treated like a classy dame for once in my life. Even if it is, you know, totally sexist.” The implicit commentary there is not unfamiliar to any woman who has ever protested things like a man forcing you to wait while he pulls a chair out or gets a door for you — why complain about the sexism when really it’s actually nice, isn’t it? Isn’t it? This is the kind of thing men wish women would say, without understanding why it’s problematic.)

Anyway.

The complex familial relationships at play between all the Literals here are pretty fascinating; Gary’s actually Hillary’s great-grandfather, since she’s actually Revise’s daughter? Burner himself is pissed off about the fact that the original Miss Page ended up with Revise, and has unnamed Plans for Hillary, Jack and co. Their decision to escape doesn’t seem really well-founded, since it would make a lot more sense for them to have any idea what the book-burning dude had to tell them first before running away, but whatever. It’s a necessary plot point to move the story along. Then there’s a tour through various chunks of Americana, chased by the hilarious “zombies” who are actually grammatically challenged undead things manipulated by Burner. I really like these zombies, and I hate zombies. “Do not make us come in or we will be sad!” indeed, cop-zombie. I admit it, I laughed.

Though this story is from Jack’s point of view, this volume is finally starting to do what I wished the last three would: there’s some implicit commentary from the actual writers that gleams through Jack’s version of the story. For example, with Raven, who Jack treats with perhaps as much racist aplomb as is humanly possible — the story has Raven constantly fucking around with him in response, as if to show us that Jack Is An Asshole, as we already knew, but also that his views are not necessarily acceptable in the narrative. Ditto the development of Hillary into a real person, at least mostly. The bit about Jack having slept with all three sisters, and then not getting why everyone is horrified with him for not only doing it but telling them, is another moment of implicit commentary. Gary sums it up pretty nicely: that it’s just sleazy and terrible and unkind. No one approves, and not only that, while he’s still naked and post-coital Hillary kicks him full-on in the crotch. At least he gets some payback. (Also, Humpty Dumpty’s related “I don’t have a penis” line and later penis-related commentary is honestly also damn funny.)

The really interesting part of this volume is, of course, the Book Burner and his relation to Revise — apparently, very contentious. Also, his methods and his magic book-burning fire are interesting, plus that army of washed-out storybook characters at his back at the end of the arc. There are only hints given so far, but they’re nicely juicy, and finally introduce what could be a real arc to Jack of Fables instead of just the volume-to-volume stuff we’ve had so far. Plus, now we have two antagonists, and we all know where that usually heads — the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Later, at least.

 

The Art

Humpty-Dumpty, in lopsided glued together bits as he is, is remarkably well-illustrated: he’s got understandable expressions, despite being a giant cracked egg, and an expressive range of motion. If there’s one thing we see less of in Jack than the regular Fables line, it’s non-human characters, and I like having a longer exposure to one. It’s a good way to explore the art.

Jack’s expressions, too, remain a finer point — especially when he’s being a smarmy jerk; the leers and whatnot are well done. They make you genuinely want to throttle him on occasion. Good work.

*

“Americana” opens up a new storyline for Jack of Fables, introducing Burner and the American Fables land, previously unreachable and unheard of by the escapee Fables.

Next week: Turning Pages, the fifth volume of Jack of Fables


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

 

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