Now, we move on to the last half of The Good Prince (the volume which collects issues #60-69): Ambrose’s kingdom and his war. In the first half, as we discussed last week, we begin to see Ambrose as more than just Flycatcher-the-janitor—he becomes a hero of the traditional type; royalty with a magic sword, magic armor, and magic powers, out to defeat an empire.
Except he’s not actually out to defeat an empire, as we find out in the second half of the story; he’s doing something totally different.
(Credits contained in the first post for The Good Prince.)
Fly’s journey through the Witching Well continues. The ghosts are fine, since they’re dead, but Fly’s suffering—he’s still alive and still human; only his armor is keeping him from dying without food and water. In Fabletown, Beast and Frau Totenkinder have a chat about how she’s been fighting her own war against Geppetto the whole time, using Fabletown to do so, and admits that she’s doing it because of the two girls who rescued her from an oven, long ago: Snow White and Rose Red. (Meanwhile, the Fables are training to shoot and Prince Charming is learning to speak Arabic.) Eventually, Ambrose and company pass through a gate into a verdant world—his original home, where the ruins of his castle still stand. He gives the orders for it to be rebuilt and the land cleared back to useful status, while Bluebeard and Shere Khan plot behind his back.
Lancelot’s ghost appears before the Emperor and announces Ambrose’s kingdom, “Haven.” Ambrose sends the bird Fables out to the other worlds to tell all those who wish to be free of the Empire to come to his world. They’re all building the kingdom. Shere Khan finally kills Bluebeard, but Fly turns the tiger back into a ghost as soon as he tries to attack him. Bluebeard becomes a ghost again, as well. As punishment for the attack, Fly banishes them to the Empire, which is all part of his plan. Boy Blue comes to visit and we find out that Ambrose is no longer truly part of Fabletown and refuses to take sides in their war—he’s providing an alternative. Blue also brings supplies and fliers to be distributed via Cloud Kingdom all over the Empire. Then, the Empire’s first army shows up.
Fly faces them alone with Trusty John, and with John’s permission, displays their unique might: he allows one of their soldiers to kill John, who becomes a ghost and is promptly reanimated to flesh. That will happen with all the ghosts; they’re a neverending army. Because the Empire’s army can’t flee without a fight at all, Ambrose agrees to battle their champion, a goblin whom he defeats with only the flat of his blade and then welcomes into his own ranks. The army attacks anyway, and Fly sends out the ghosts among them, forcing them to relive their worst moments. It scatters the army to the winds. He then welcomes them to stay in Haven, if they so desire. (The Emperor slaughters the rest who run.)
Meanwhile, Riding Hood is missing Ambrose. Totenkinder tells her to visit. In the Empire, soldiers are putting whole villages to the sword once they’ve seen the fliers and propaganda of Haven. The Emperor and Geppetto consult: Geppetto decides to summon the golden horde, also knows as all of the wooden soldiers, at once. The Emperor says it’s a bad idea, but Geppetto is his father and the true power, and he says he’s doing it anyway. Fly senses the army coming and tells his subjects to make preparations, because he has no visions of himself past this day. Fly’s own magic, among the wooden soldier horde, turns them back into the trees of a sacred grove—and that means the grove will never grow in Geppetto’s world again. Fly survives it, though. (He’s asked if he will make his own wooden soldiers and go out conquering, and he has a vision of himself and his army as monsters, and says absolutely not.) Boy Blue then brings along Riding Hood to Haven, where she’ll stay. Fly has Trusty John drop Excalibur in a lake, where it belongs for the next king who needs it.
All is happy in Fly’s kingdom at the end—with his sort-of queen, Riding Hood, who everyone else knows he’s going to marry (though he hasn’t quite figured it out yet) and with him occasionally visiting the Fabletown offices to do a little janitorial work with his old friends. (He “borrowed” the magic of the witching cloak for himself.)
The juxtaposition of Flycatcher’s method of building a kingdom and fighting a war with Fabletown’s methods for the same is really interesting—probably because they’re presented as equally viable strategies, which is not usually true in most stories. Either we get pacifism or war, not both. In “The Good Prince,” readers follow Fly’s journey to becoming King Ambrose, ruler of the kingdom of Haven, a pacifist middle alternative between the Empire and Fabletown.
The dialogue where Fly discusses this with Boy Blue is worth repeating. “As Fly I’ll always be a member of Fabletown, and my heart is thoroughly in your camp. But as king of Haven, I can’t formally take sides in your coming war. My duty is to be a third alternative—a giant monkey wrench thrown into the machinery of conquest.”
And while I’ve called Fly’s plan pacifist—which it is for the most part—it does still result in death and mayhem among the Emperor’s troops (though, that’s really on the Emperor’s hands), and in his original threat to the first army that appears, he says that they’ll fight the soldiers to the last man, no matter how long it takes. He is ready to fight if he must, and sending the ghosts out to terrify and torment the Emperor’s troops is definitely fighting. But, it’s not the kind of full-on destructive assault Fabletown is gearing up for, as we see in the few cuts over to their world during this story arc.
Speaking of which: oh, Frau Totenkinder.
She is one of the most enigmatic, morally questionable characters in Fables, and as such, she’s a continued source of interest for me. This volume packs a huge revelation into a small section; it’s just a conversation between Beast and Totenkinder in private, but it’s hugely important. While she watches Fly—and she knows exactly what he’s going to do, she seems to potentially even have a hand in it, from the way she talks about the plans—she’s moving her chess pieces on the board, so to speak. “Do you honestly imagine this is a war between Fabletown and the Empire? It isn’t. At best you’re merely pieces in a greater game… Ever since I knew of a mysterious conqueror, this has always been a private duel between Geppetto and me. Though I didn’t originally know who he was, and he doesn’t yet know who his true opponent is.”
Yowza. Totenkinder is a scary, scary lady—and now we know why she’s been the maneuvering force and the font of information about the Empire from the beginning. Her further confessions throw this into a strange light: she admits that she has affection for Fabletown and a fondness for the members of the community, and that she doesn’t plan on being another puppetmaster after the war. However, she’s doing this because she owes a debt—and then we find out that, on their way to the mundy world, Snow White and Rose Red rescued her reanimating body from the oven Hansel had pushed her into and nursed her back to health. (Oh, and we also get the first glimpse of young, long-ago Totenkinder—and she ain’t German. It’s just a flash of a panel, but we find out more, later.)
Have I mentioned that she’s scary, yet? How about this:
“It was then that I vowed to make their enemy my enemy and destroy the Adversary, wiping all his works from the face of the earth.”
Geppetto has no idea what he’s up against. He think he’s the big bad—judging by his willfulness, the way he ignores his “son” the Emperor’s advice, and his surety that his wooden army will crush Fabeltown—but he’s not. He just doesn’t know it yet. Totenkinder makes even Bigby look like a puppydog. It’s all the more interesting that she spends so little time on the page in Fables. She has very little “screen time,” so to speak, but every time she appears she’s doing something huge and important while often disguising it as something inoffensive or minuscule.
Regarding “big bad”-ness, I like that Willingham includes the vision Ambrose has of his full negative potential—he could be king of many worlds, leaving scorched earth and bodies in his wake, with his powers. While he speaks throughout this arc as if it’s all pre-settled for him to be this pacifist savior figure, when we see that flash in his eyes of his vision, we know there were other, less wholesome possibilities. It kind of makes looking back on the scenes where his eyes are aglow with power and he’s wielding this massive forces a little less cool and a little more potentially frightening. It’s a good thing Fly’s the genuinely decent person out of all the Fables; I have a feeling that those powers in any other hands wouldn’t have turned out the same way.
I also like the (slightly hokey, but whatever) final panels of him returning to the business offices to clean at night, so he can be who he used to be for awhile.
The, ah, relocation of the Sacred Grove to Haven also removes a vital piece of the Empire’s forces, in addition to the armies Ambrose scattered with his ghosts. Fabletown has never had a better opportunity: the Empire is weakened, the wooden-soldier leadership are now trees in Haven, and Geppetto has had his proverbial legs kicked out from under him. Which is what leads us into the next volume and the boots-on-the-ground war between Fabletown and the Empire. So, while Fly’s strategy was mostly pacifist, the end result is still a decimated Empire, ripe for Fabletown’s attack.
I love the bird-Fables in this volume. Fly spends so much time talking to them, lazing about with them, being talkative with them—there are owls, and sparrows, and finches, and ducks, and geese, and oh my! The birds! (Disclosure: I am a birdwatcher. And a big bird fan.) They’re all fairly well drawn, too, which is a skill not all artists have.
Part two of “The Good Prince” culminates in the weakening of the Empire and the settlement of a new world in the Homelands.
Next week: “War and Pieces,” the eleventh volume of Fables.