The eighth volume of Fables is Wolves. It collects issues #48-51, and includes extras like maps of Fabletown and the complete script of issue #50 as written by Bill Willingham. There are two arcs and a short story in the volume: “Wolves,” followed by “Happily Ever After,” followed by the short story, “Big and Small.”
The entire volume is written by Bill Willingham. Wolves is penciled by Mark Buckingham, inked by Steve Leialoha, and colored by Daniel Vozzo. “Happily Ever After” is also penciled by Mark Buckingham, but the inks are by both Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy. The colorist for the arc was Lee Loughridge. “Big and Small” was illustrated by Shawn McManus and also colored by Lee Loughridge. The letterist, as usual, is Todd Klein. The covers are all by James Jean. The maps of the territories are actually drawn by Bill Willingham himself (also colored by Lee Loughridge).
Wolves tracks Mowgli’s hunt for Bigby through Russian travelers and traders, then the Russian wilderness through wolf packs and battles to the death, then to the Alaskan wilderness. He finds Bigby there, drinking heavily and living with another woman—who knows she’s a rebound and, while not necessarily “okay” with it, knew he was going to leave eventually. He convinces Bigby to return for a mission because it is the only way to earn Bagheera’s freedom, and he hints to Bigby as well that there’s something he needs to see about his kids and Snow.
Throughout this, on the Farm, Snow and the kids are moving through life: taking pictures for Bigby when he comes home, for example. She makes them a bet that if they can retain their human shapes for a whole month, and no flying, then they’ll be ready to leave the Farm. It proves harder than they expected, because of things like Rose scaring them by dressing up as Shere Khan the tiger, and everyone on the Farm keeping an eye on them to see if they cheat. They’re bored. Snow talks to Mr. North about not encouraging them to shapechange, and he says the winds are changing—which is odd. There are two brief asides at the end of the chapters: Geppetto in the dark with his lantern, saying he thought he heard something, but it must have been the wind. The other is Colin-the-Pig’s head visiting Snow for the last time to tell her that things should be getting better, and he thinks it’s time for him to move on.
“Happily Ever After” is the story of both Bigby’s mission and his return to the woman and kids he left behind when the laws of Fabletown separated them, for what he thought was their entire lives. The mission begins with Beast and Rose taking Bigby to Fabletown’s new big secret: a beanstalk, the inter-dimensional kind. (Turns out they had Jack’s old beans all along.) It goes to the Cloud Kingdoms, which are above all of the other worlds geographically. He meets Cinderella at the top of the beanstalk; she and her wizard-giant friend give him his orders. He parachutes down into a forest in a very familiar kingdom and starts wrecking guards, as silently as possible, with the help of his son—who he’s named Ghost. It’s Geppetto’s cabin. Pinocchio discovers him trying to rescue or kill the Blue Fairy, but there are too many spells protecting her. Geppetto shows up, and Bigby gives a speech about Israel and the tiny country that fights back and hurts the big ones twice as hard when they’re done wrong. Then he blows up the magical grove with a whole lot of plastic explosive, drags Geppetto and Pinocchio out of the fire, and tells them they should be nice from now on.
After the mission, he comes home to applause and hugs from everyone. Rose takes Snow up to a ridge outside the Farm, and there’s Bigby—with their son. He has a surprise for her, to explain how he’s on the Farm (though it turns out it’s past the very edge of the Farm’s land). The valley where the giants used to sleep is all theirs. Snow takes him to a cave she knows and shows him where she’s hidden all the letters and presents the kids were “sending” to their dad, as well as pictures of what he “sent” them. She tells him he better memorize it all before he meets them. Then, he proposes. She accepts. He meets his children. They get married and head off to their honeymoon while Boy Blue and co. build their house in the valley for them. When they return, the house is all ready.
“Big and Small” is a Cinderella short where she’s maneuvering to get the Cloud Kingdoms to sign an actual treaty with Fabletown, but the kingship keeps shifting because no one wants to be king, and the current one—who’s amenable to the treaty—won’t sign it because he’s abed with an ear infection and feels icky. So, she has to go through a variety of crazy things that end in her turning into a mouse and bringing along a Gulliver-size doctor to help treat the man’s ear with real medicine. In the end, it’s successful, and the treaty is signed, but she’s made enemies of the king’s old fraud of a doctor and another councilman.
The strongest part of this volume is without a doubt the scene between Bigby and Geppetto in his cabin. It’s a heart-stopper. The dialogue is spot-on, and Bigby gets to do a little of his favorite thing—dramatic unveiling!
The fact that this was Prince Charming’s plan (I assume) is pretty frigging awesome, too. He’s a military guy, as I’ve said before, and these decisive and destructive maneuvers prove it. He’s got his business down, and he knows what he’s doing. Kicking Geppetto back twice as hard as he kicked Fabletown is harsh but necessary for their survival. They must cow the vast force of the Emperor, not meet him in head-on battle, or they’ll lose.
Blowing up the magical grove with plastic explosive? A good way to do that. No more new wooden soldiers from that grove until it grows back, which could take decades.
I find the speech about Israel to be interesting in a fraught way—I read it several times. Bigby’s value judgment interests me: he doesn’t seem to be actually commenting on the politics of Israel when he says he’s “a big fan of them.” The line immediately preceding it is “They have a lot of grit and iron.” Bigby’s value judgment seems to rest on the fact that he is exceedingly proud of a little guy, a small power, that defends its existence to the powers arrayed against it with extreme and decisive violence—and this is absolutely, absolutely Bigby’s deal. I don’t think he gives much of a shit about Mundy religion or politics. He’s the Big Bad Wolf; he’s a solitary fighter in most cases who—guess what?—uses decisive and extreme violence against his enemies to discourage the ones who survive from ever doing anything to him again.
There are a few parts I found interesting in Snow and Bigby’s reunion, like her reaction when Ghost reveals that his dad was seeing someone else in Alaska. A narrow-eyed look, and “Okay, that’s a conversation we need to have real soon. But first things first.” And then she puts it aside to instruct him on their children, and what he’s missed, with an unspoken undercurrent of “you have to make up for this.” It’s probably the best scene between the two of them; it’s the part where they’re feeling the sharp edges of their relationship again. It’s not easy. It wasn’t Bigby’s choice to abandon his kids, and he did raise his son Ghost—Snow knows that, but it’s hard for her to get past having to raise the children she had never planned for on her own, without his help. (Now, she had Rose and the whole Farm, so she wasn’t quite that kind of “single mom”—but she and the kids were all very aware of Bigby’s absence.)
The wedding is sweet and everyone’s reactions are heartwarming. It’s odd to remember where Snow and Bigby were at in the first volume: him tricking her into being his date to the dance just because he wanted to be around her for the night. Then there was her eventual agreement to date him slowly, and then the magical-date-rape-drug induced first time together that neither could remember, shattering that previous trust and interest in many ways, though it wasn’t their fault. Then the pregnancy. Then the laws of Fabletown forcing them apart.
There’s a lot of water under the bridge between those two, and they went through a whole hell of a lot to match their rough edges together well enough to cement a relationship. The marriage is that commitment to each other and the agreement to work past the rough spots, which there will be, and they know there will be. That’s what I so enjoy about their relationship (as I’ve said before, I know): it’s realistic. It’s hard. It’s messy. But, it’s the part of their lives they find most rewarding, and they need to be together to be happy—with their family. It’s a bit of happily ever after, as the arc’s title implies.
Of course, that’s interposed between two stories of war and espionage. It’s a brief spot of happiness sandwiched narratively between ultimate struggle for existence and survival against that vast power of the Empire. It’s a moment of happiness, yes, but the arrangement of the volume refuses to let us forget what’s happened and what’s coming: war.
There isn’t much for me to say about the Cinderella arc, I think; it’s much the same as her others. Adventure, violence and intrigue, plus sex jokes. I’m getting a little burnt on the Cindy sex-jokes and the objectification of her body even in situations where she’d supposed to be an action-adventure hero. Ha-ha, she turns back from being a mouse into a naked lady, ha-ha. That is not a new joke, and I’ve seen it a little too much in fanservice-themed manga to think it’s entertaining in a relatively serious story about a tough woman diplomat and spy. (End tiny rant.)
P.S. – The extras in this volume are super-cool; the map of Fabletown illustrated by Willingham and the plain script of issue #50 provide different sorts of insight—one into Fabletown, one into the act of writing a comic. The script is cool for writer-nerds, because we see how Willingham is envisioning the scenes with his artistic direction for Buckingham. Very nifty stuff; I wish more trade collections included extras like this!
Again with the beautiful cover for the collection! This one is all greys and light shades, but oh my word is it effective. The texture of fur and the eyes of the wolves, the way they flow into other wolves, all around the nearly-meeting mouths of Snow and Bigby as they lean in for a kiss. Gorgeous, really.
The first Mowgli cover is an eye-catcher, also; the blood on the snow, and the photo in the bottom corner—bright red on white-and-grey, Jean’s usual visual trick. It works, though.
The shadows in the scene with Geppetto and Bigby are used with stellar effects, also, and Geppetto’s nightgown and cap are a nice touch. They add to the whole scene; how safe he feels thanks to his spells and his imperial might, et cetera.
Wolves is both a war-story and a wedding-story, which makes it an interesting collection to read all at once—but, that’s sort of the essence of Fables. It’s about life, and life is both happy and sad, violent and gentle, often all at once.
Next week: “Sons of Empire,” volume 9 of Fables.