War and Pieces is the eleventh collected volume of Fables, spanning issues #70-75. These issues cover a short, “Kingdom Come,” as well as two arcs: “Skulduggery” and the titular “War and Pieces.” The battle between the Empire and Fabletown is about to join, following on the heels of the relocation of the Sacred Grove in The Good Prince. It’s not going to be easy, though; the Empire didn’t make it this far by fighting fair.
The whole volume is written by Bill Willingham and lettered by Todd Klein. “Kingdome Come” has art by Niko Henrichon with colors also by Henrichon, as well as Lee Loughridge. “Skulduggery” is penciled by Mark Buckingham, inked by Steve Leialoha and Buckingham, and colored by Lee Loughridge. War and Pieces is also penciled by Mark Buckingham, but it’s inked by Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Buckingham (again), with colors once more by Lee Loughridge.
In “Kingdom Come,” we spend a little time on the Farm, where Blue extends Ambrose’s invitation for the animal Fables to go to Haven to live—and confesses his feelings for Rose Red, who tells him he’s in the friend-zone, and embarrasses the hell out of him. From there he goes to the war-meeting at Snow and Bigby’s house, where he gets his marching orders: transporting Cinderella for a mission for Totenkinder first, then Baghdad, then Bigby’s team. In between that, transporting Farm Fables to Haven. Oh, and Beauty gets fired (for two or three days, or so Prince Charming says).
“Skulduggery” begins with Cinderella in Tierra Del Fuego, trying to make a deal for a “package” with some bad guys, except the dealers try to kidnap her. She takes care of it rather smoothly. (While at the same time in Fabletown, Prince Charming makes King Cole the Mayor again, who reappoints Beauty and appoints Charming as the war director.) Once the sole bad-guy left wakes up, she forces him at gunpoint to take her to the “package,” which it turns out is Pinocchio. She fakes being taken by them and gives up two guns—but she has a third hidden on her person, and she blasts her way out, while keeping Pinocchio safe. The cell she had to contact Boy Blue is broken and she can’t make unsecured contact, so they have to rough it back on their own. Pinocchio gets caught by Hansel, who demands from Cindy to know when Fabletown plans to strike, and she cracks up laughing—then tells him it started nineteen hours ago. He orders his men to kill her fifteen minutes after he leaves with Pinocchio. She’s unarmed, but she still manages to kill the guard. Then she steals a dump track, crashes Hansel’s car, executes the driver and kneecaps Hansel.
Even once they get close to Fabletown, it’s not over—Rodney and June are “activated” to intercept Pinocchio before he arrives. They shoot up the cab, and almost kill Cindy, but Pinocchio convinces them that the best thing for Geppetto—and therefore in his interest—is to stop him from being the Adversary. So, they go to the business office and turn themselves in with Pinocchio. All is well.
The next arc, “War and Pieces,” deals with the war that’s been mentioned throughout the rest of the volume. It’s told mostly by Blue from his post: the traveler between the fronts, delivering news, weapons, ammunition and other supplies. Those fronts are, respectively, the Glory of Baghdad (the flying airship), Bigby’s Fort Bravo (around the final beanstalk and the only escape route out of the empire), and the Empire’s homeworld city (where Briar Rose is positioned to put everyone to sleep).
The war rages on—the Glory of Baghdad, manned by Western & Arabian fables, is under the control of Sinbad and Prince Charming. Their job is to bomb all of the gates out of the Empire so the head is cut off from the body, figuratively speaking. Fort Bravo is there to allow them an escape route after the bombing is done—they must hold their ground against all the Empire’s forces. Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) just has to wait for the right moment. Pinnochio, back in Fabletown, bargains the locations of secret gates for a deal for his father Geppetto.
The war is going well until it doesn’t. Briar Rose puts herself and the whole Imperial City to sleep, including the Snow Queen and all of their sorcerers, but the Emperor is wood and it doesn’t work on him, so he escapes. At Fort Bravo, a magic arrow goes through Blue’s arm and nicks Bigby, nearly killing them both and incapacitating them while the Emperor rages on the field outside—finally ended with a swing of the Vorpal Blade. And on the Glory of Baghdad, one last dragon sets the ship ablaze and the men abandon it. Prince Charming is burned badly, but there’s one bomb left, and the mission is all for nothing if every last gate isn’t destroyed, so he and Sinbad travel it on foot, fight their way through to the gate, and Prince Charming sacrifices himself to set off the bomb.
But, the war is over. Pinocchio gets his deal: Geppetto is allowed to sign the Fabletown compact and become a citizen absolved of prior wrong-doing—and the loss of all his wooden children has obviously done him some emotional damage. He’s still going to be on tight watch, though. Everyone else parties to wish well the dead and to celebrate victory, but the story’s still unfinished, as Willingham says in his letter at the end of the volume.
This is a powerful volume, the culmination of the entire Fables storyline so far: the end of the war with the Empire and the toppling of the Adversary. The “War and Pieces” arc overshadows the Cinderella story and the opening short easily, but I’d like to pay some attention to those stories, also.
The short at the beginning is forgettable with the exception of how interesting it is to see the Farm Fables, who’ve grown so accustomed to modernity, consider what they’ll lose if they go to Haven. While it’s presented as goofy and hilarious—who worries about losing TV?—there are hints of other concerns, like the fact that Ambrose has created a for-real feudal kingdom with all the problems that implies.
The Cinderella story pleases me more than her other storylines have, because it focuses on her prowess as a spy and not just her sex appeal. (There is that one moment where she wriggles around and claims to be trying to distract the young man about to shoot her, but she’s doing it to toe her shoe off, so I’ll give it a pass.) There are some excellent lines in her narration:
“If they’d thought it through, though, they might have realized I’m the best secret agent who’s ever lived. No, I’m not bragging; it’s the cold, rational truth… I’m better than any mundy spy, because the best spy they’ve ever produced has only had less than a single human lifetime to perfect his tradecraft. But I’ve been perfecting mine for most of two centuries.”
She goes on to talk about her combat skill and makes a similar comment:
“Think of the greatest martial arts sensei in human history and realize once again that he’s only had a single human lifetime to perfect his arts.”
Those are some of the best lines about Cinderella in the whole of Fables, and they explain so much about her—she took to this work like nothing else, and she’s the best at what she does. The fact that no one listens to her or recognizes it galls her a little, it’s obvious—see the comment she makes about the boys never listening to her about naming military operations even though she knows better than them—but she does know she’s the best, and no one can take that away from her. She enjoys what she does, and without her, Fabletown would have been pretty doomed from the start. I appreciate that, despite most of her storylines involving sex or her sexualized body, the narrative at the very least relies heavily on her prowess and skills in physical combat. (I’m not entirely sure that Willingham did this on purpose, as it’s never talked about, but I can certainly see all the places in the story that show this war never would have gone off without Cinderella, even if the men don’t notice.)
However, that’s a little balanced by the fact that Snow disappeared from her major role in the story to become a housewife and mom a few volumes back while Bigby gets to continue exactly as before. Yeah, I’m not so happy about that. We see her a little again in this volume, but in reduced capacity: she’s organizing fronts but with no title, no recognition, and no real respect from anybody but Blue, who recognizes how integral she is to the whole deal. But—it’s a female role. She’s a caretaker and an organizer, now, instead of the head of the fight like she was in the original assault on Fabletown. That moment I didn’t mind back in March of the Wooden Soldiers, where Bigby steps in and takes over, does bother me a bit now, because it was the moment when Snow drops out of her role in the story and becomes a housewife. I have trouble believing that having kids would magically change her personality so much, but not change Bigby’s. Hrmph.
Then, we have the war. It’s a gripping arc, weaving in between the fronts easily and through the tense, emotional narration of Boy Blue, who really wishes he never had to be a hero ever again. But, here he is. I love his narration, to be honest; Blue is one of my favorite characters, which makes this a hard arc to read. (As soon as that arrow hits, oh, no. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, yet, but it will be.) He has some great lines where he looks back on what happens, such as after he leaves the Glory of Baghdad for the last time:
“I wish I’d stayed for dinner. I wish to god I’d stayed just ten minutes longer, before flitting away to my next appointment. Then I would have been there to help mitigate the disaster.”
Blue has some issues with survivor’s guilt.
Prince Charming shines in this volume, and Willingham treats Sinbad and his crew pretty well, narratively, though Blue’s mouth—balancing references to Christianity and Islam, for example. There are still some uncomfortable moments, but overall, it’s a better treatment and more equal than that of the Arabian Nights (and Days) volume. The final sacrifice Prince Charming makes, hauling the bomb the whole way to the gate and going in with it to die, is pretty intense. (I highly doubt he actually believed he could escape; I think he just tells Sinbad that so he doesn’t feel guilty about letting Charming go in alone. Sinbad is an honorable guy, after all.)
Prince Charming’s death is definitely unexpected, and I think it was handled well. We’re still left wondering which parts of his personality are real, which are mask, and which are real but exaggerated—for example, he makes a joke about winning the war the way he wins women, but that seems like a masking of his real reason: honor and glory. He is, at heart, the ultimate Prince, isn’t he? I enjoyed the fact that in the end, those flashes of honor and goodness we’ve seen in him throughout the story come to a stunning conclusion. Even burned and in terrible pain, he manages to win the war for Fabletown. He completes his mission. Bravo, Prince Charming.
I do like Willingham’s endnote in this volume, about the Fairytale Road in Germany and the way people can travel it for months or only for a day. It’s a nice extended metaphor.
The covers are actually not that great for this volume, surprise of surprises. They’re beautiful, make no mistake, but rather plain.
Instead, I think my favorite bits of the art are the illustrations of the battles joined and the aftereffects. Prince Charming’s burned face, for example, or the goblin hordes—Buckingham does an excellent job illustrating large vistas and huge fields of combat without losing a bit of detail.
War and Pieces is the climax of the whole Fables story so far, and it’s appropriately explosive. Prince Charming is the star of the ending, and his death will be remembered, but there are other things afoot, too—like that cursed arrow in Blue’s arm.
Next week: Fables volume 12, The Dark Ages.