Thu
Aug 18 2011 3:41pm

Fables Reread: Jack of Fables—The Fulminate Blade (V. 8)

Jack of Fables volume 8The eighth collected volume of Jack of Fables is The Fulminate Blade, gathering issues #41-45 of the storyline. It’s more or less entirely about young Jack Frost embarking on science fiction adventures on alien planets with some very recognizable tropes. The whole volume collects one large story arc, “Kings of Earth and Sky,” tales about Jack (F) which are noted to be of uncertain timeline by a Jack-scholar who’s providing the narrative bubbles.

The story is written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. The pencillers are Tony Akin and Jim Fern, with inks by Andrew Pepoy and Joe Rubinstein. Regulars Daniel Vozzo (colors) and Todd Klein (lettering) continue their work, and the covers are done by Brian Bolland.

 

What Happens

The volume opens with Jack riding a giant centipede in a science-fictional world with rayguns and sky-Emperors and whatnot, protecting a family as they travel to pay the tithe — gold and a virgin daughter — in the capitol. Jack decides he’ll kill the evil giant Empyrean, offers his services to the king, and is brushed off by him. After that, he meets a witch ’o the woods who tells him where he can find a “magic” sword, the Fulminate Blade. He hacks his way through the mechanical guards outside and uses his knowledge from the mundy — wires are required to make electrical devices work — to defeat the big, final guardian. The sword is a lightning blade. The witch takes him back to the capitol and announces that he’s a hero of prophecy, since he holds the sword, and the king offers to feast and house him.

The king takes the sword from him and ends up being duplicitous. (Oh, and we find out Jack’s a virgin.) As Jack sleeps, the king captures MacDuff and tries to kill Jack. Jack doesn’t get it until it’s too late that the king’s the bad guy — meanwhile, MacDuff’s being tortured by the vizier — and the king attempts to behead him with the Fulminate Blade, which will not hurt its owner. The witch helps Jack, they rescue MacDuff, and the witch disappears them to her woods.

In her place, the witch trains him to fight, and in matters of sexuality, while her homunculi fixes MacDuff up again. Then, Jack goes to stop the transport of the young girls. He defeats the Empyrean’s minions and rescues the girls publically, so the king calls him a hero and offers him a place in the palace again: this time, the use of an airship to go kill the Empyrean. Once they’re on board, the king’s men try to kill Jack again, and he defeats them but explodes the airship. The trio end up climbing the “beanstalk” (hah) to a space-elevator, which Jack also sort of knows how to work because of his time in the mundy, and the witch gets to drop the “sufficiently indistinguishable from magic” line. When they get to the top to challenge the Empyrean, it turns out he’s got no clue what’s afoot, and just lives in his space station all alone. Oh, and the witch is his ex-lover, and that’s why she wanted Jack to kill him. He does end up killing the giant because he’s trying to attack the witch, who Jack still cares a little about and all.

Back on the surface, Jack accuses the king of running the racket, and the king confesses. Jack kills off his minions, who attack yet again, and the vizier says that he put a bomb in MacDuff’s head. MacDuff is thrilled, and when he sets if off he flies at the guy and kills him. The people execute the king, Jack gets offered the princess’s hand in marriage, and refuses so he can go to another world. He collects all the pieces of MacDuff and puts him back together, rather clumsily. All he can do is hoot and fly crookedly. But, that’s where the volume ends — with them back on the road.

 

Thoughts

“The Fulminate Blade”/“King of Earth and Sky” (which is a much better title; not sure why it isn’t used for the volume) is hands-down my favorite volume in the entirety of Jack of Fables, because it’s just amazingly ridiculous, cheesy, science fiction. It follows patterns familiar to most readers of science fiction, especially old pulp classics; there’s lots of swooping in with raygun and electric sword to defeat mechanical monsters, ride-able giant bugs, androids, “sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic,” etc.

What it implies about the Fables universe is actually worth noting, too: there was once a world with intense enough scientific development to build a “beanstalk” and a space-station, and it wasn’t the mundy. Of course, it’s collapsed now, but it’s certainly interesting. Is it perhaps a world without a gateway, that only Jack can travel to with his universe-transcending powers? The prior implications have been that only the Mundy has technology, but clearly, that’s not true. It’s Jack’s brief experience in the mundane world that makes him able to succeed on this one, too, so the tech is sufficiently similar to what people have on contemporary earth now. Hmm.

Or, it’s just a throw-away fun world to play with retelling the classic Jack-and-the-beanstalk story with science fiction flair and a new Jack, while also telling the coming-of-age story for the innocent hero. I kind of hope it’s actually significant in some way, but I doubt it. Still, fun to read.

My enjoyment also comes from how pleasant this Jack is to read — he’s the real deal, in a way that his father never was or could be. For one thing, he feels guilty about killing when it’s not necessary or if he feels like it’s overkill; lives do matter to him. For another, he’s emotionally and sexually naïve; he’s not trying to bed everything that moves, and in fact accidentally refuses the advances of the princess by being so flustered when she pops up naked in his bed. He does, in this volume, sleep with the witch, but he doesn’t let it change his attitude toward her — if he had been his father, the moment he got in her bed he would have started treating her dismissively. This Jack respects and cares for her all the more. (A little misplaced, as she’s just using him to kill her ex, which he doesn’t appreciate very much. Also, clearly she’s been around since that tech was originally made, because she and the Empyrean both are old enough to remember it.)

MacDuff continues to be a treat, also — I was heartbroken at his awkwardly put together, scrap-wood body at the end of the volume, and his querying hoots. Oh, dear. (The good news is, that’s fixed straight away in the next volume, which takes place after a giant time jump.) His dialogue is fun, he’s a great companion, and he sees through some things that Jack’s naïveté render him unable to understand.  

There’s a part of me that wishes the series found a way to end here, or not the way it actually does — we’ll get to that next week — but at least this volume is a high point. It’s fun, it’s sweet, it’s got a space-ladder and giants and an electrical sword. Plus, rayguns and evil androids. Fables precludes science-fictional worlds in the regular storyline, so I really enjoyed seeing one in Jack of Fables.

 

The Art

Still, MacDuff is my very favorite bit of the art — he’s so lifelike and cute! — but the science fiction illustrations in this volume were obviously fun for the pencillers; they get to play quite a bit with the big bugs and the monsters and the machines. It’s lovely and well-balanced.

The best cover is probably the one with Jack and the witch — not because she’s a cheesecake focus, but because of her expression. Sort of long-suffering and amused, with a hand to her forehead. Seems just about right.

*

The Fulminate Blade is a fun, adventurous story that explores some of how Jack grows up and learns about the world.

Next week: Rhe final volume of Jack of Fables — “The End.” (V. 9)


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

2 comments
lanyo lanyo
1. lanyo
I haven't even been able to read this article, as the cover for this book is so phallic I had to stop and figure out what I was actually looking at. Now I have to worry about creepy crawly penis-shaped things in my nightmares.

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