Thu
Jul 14 2011 4:01pm

Fables Reread: Jack of Fables—The Bad Prince (V. 3)

The third volume of Jack of Fables is “The Bad Prince,” collecting issues #12-16. This is the bit of Jack’s story that gets one panel in Fables, at the Christmas where Ghost puts the fake sword through the doll!Jack, and something happens in Jack’s actual world to mirror it. Wicked John is back, and there’s more trouble afoot—after all, Jack needs to try and get his fortunes back up again.

“The Bad Prince” is written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. The various chapters are all penciled by Tony Akins, with parts two and three also penciled by Russ Braun. The inking in “The Bad Prince” is done by Andrew Pepoy and the coloring is by Daniel Vozzo. The short at the end, “Jack O’Lantern,” has art by Andrew Robinson and coloring by Lee Loughridge. The overall lettering is by Todd Klein, and this time the covers are by Brian Bolland.

What Happens

The book opens with Jack and Gary, hitchhiking again, and Kevin Thorne starting to go all weird back in his apartment. They get kidnapped (again) by a Page sister, while back at the Golden Boughs, Mister Revise has gone into the “memory hole” himself to do some editing. The van carrying Jack and Gary crashes into the Grand Canyon; another Page sister is trying to get Paul Bunyan on her side for some scheme. Jack rescues everyone from the river, then a strange old man walks up and jams a sword through his middle. It doesn’t kill him, though; it seems that he’s become the stone that Excalibur is sheathed in. (Kevin Thorne has gone bonkers and shown his editor a bunch of books on fables that he says he collected, but it turns out he wrote them all in his own hand. He’s losing it. His dog uses the phone to call in the reinforcements once he bails out of the apartment to get his thoughts together.)

Gary theorizes—because he’s actually a damn genius, it turns out, but Revise stuck him down the memory hole so much he doesn’t know what he knows or how he knows it—that Jack’s made himself a story-magnet, where tales try to put him in the middle. Not the main character, just the middle. Then, Wicked John shows back up with the missing assistant, who he rescued, and gets in a fight with Jack. Gary then explains that not only are John and Jack mirrors of each other, John was the original!

Back at Thorne’s place, a small army enters and subdues him, then takes him back to Golden Boughs. In the canyon, Gary begins telling how the John/Jack thing happened, and where their stories diverged—after John died, and the stories needed a man to fill the gap. John was the one with the magic beans, it turns out, and the giant-killer. That was how he died. Gary’s losing his shit a little, so they decide to go to bed and continue in the morning. Also, there’s a rescuer trying to work his way down to them. Turns out that after John died, and the “writer” (possibly Thorne) decided to use a rogue character, he forgot John’s name and wrote Jack instead. So, Jack came into being, before John won himself back to life. Jack goes on to his Snow Queen adventures.

Jack’s opinion of it all turns around, though, when he realizes that this means that the real center of the stories must be John—so he sticks Excalibur in him and he gets left in the canyon, because a man with a sword sticking out of his guts won’t blend in. At Golden Boughs, Revise wakes up Kevin, who’s his father and Gary’s son, to get him to have his memory wiped again. The rescuer in the canyon is supposed to be a “faithful Indian compadre” (I know, oh my god; but the good news is that this is supposed to be a calling-out of a certain narrative stereotype, I think), but he abandons John when it turns out he was told he was supposed to befriend the copy, which is actually Jack. When they get back to town, they dump the Page sister and “borrow” a van, wherein Jack tells Gary a scary story. That last tale is a series of devils Jack sells his soul to, all different types for different bargains, and it turns out his deal is nearly up—he’s got to find one more devil to trade it off to.

 

Thoughts

The most interesting bit of this whole volume, for me, is Gary—and what we’re starting to find out about him, Revise, and Kevin Thorne. The meta, it’s rolling off the page. Priscilla reveals that Gary’s not actually a goof by nature; he’s brain-damaged from extensive abuse by Revise, who spent quite a lot of time cutting Gary’s memories and self-knowledge apart like confetti. He should, in his unaltered mental state, know almost everything about everything, like how the universe is put together—not what you expect from the “sidekick.” He’s probably, in his way, the most powerful character to show up in Jack of Fables. So far as we’ve seen, his urge is toward altruism and kindness (it was so cute when he didn’t want to make the sticks rub against each other to make fire, because it would hurt them), not domination or the alteration of the “storyline” like Revise and, later, Kevin.

I just plain like Gary. Also, his animated little friends are the cutest.

The twisty real-or-a-copy thing with Wicked John and Jack takes up most of the volume with exposition of a kind, but that’s not so bad. It’s interesting because of all the subtext and things the story has to say about the way the world works in Fables, but it is honestly a lot of exposition. I’m not too fond of John or Jack, so a story playing them off one another—which means a lot of yelling back and forth about how stupid and blind the other one is while the audience rolls eyes at them both—isn’t necessarily the most awesome thing for me as a reader. I still liked this bit, though, despite that. Maybe it’s because I’m a meta-fictional nerd, and I like stories about stories, but that’s what this is: how we need certain figures in stories, like a dashing rogue or a trickster, and how they pop up again and again. Plus, how stories evolve and change over time, like how Jack takes over John’s original stories by repeating that he was the one to do the deeds. I might not care for the characters it’s about, but the story was cool.

In this volume, by the way, Jack is clueless as ever—he’s so dumb at points it’s comical (like when Gary’s trying to delineate what this “story” stuff is really about). He’s also very irked about the possibility that his existence was a cosmic typo, and I think that’s fitting. The little side-story about how he keeps upselling his soul to further and further devils at the end is cool and very Halloween-y; I found that one more enjoyable than most of Jack’s tales. It had the appropriate touch of horror, plus his own not-really-regret at making the kind of crap decision that leads to having his soul on the market, and I also liked the multiple-devils thing.

 

The Art

The various devils in the last tale are pretty niftily drawn; I enjoyed that artist’s take on Jack, too, a smarmy-looking kind of guy with a lot of stubble. The dog-using-the-telephone panels in the Kevin Thorne story are weirdly hilarious, too, but that might just be me. It’s a lot of attention to detail on the posing of a dog.

On the other hand, Gary’s looks have been wobbly from volume to volume; he looks different in this one than in the past two, and his face is sometimes a bit lop-sided.

*

“The Bad Prince” is a survival-adventure in a canyon, but it’s also a story about stories and how stories might really work in this universe.

Next week: Jack of Fables—“Americana” (V. 4).


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
chrispin
1. chrispin
Thanks so much for writing these reviews, Brit! I keep hearing about the Fables franchise but have no desire to ever read them. Your cliffsnotes versions give me just enough background and highlights to be a more informed non-reader. Looking forward to reviews of other series.
Brit Mandelo
2. BritMandelo
@Chrispin

We did one for Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, also!
chrispin
3. Jenny C.
If you want to know more about Gary, it may help to look into "the pathetic fallacy" as a literary device. At least I wasn't familiar with it before Fables. TV Tropes describes him as "the anthropomorphic personification of anthropomorphic personification" which I found deliciously meta.

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