Fables Reread

Fables Reread: Jack of FablesJack of Hearts (V. 2)

The second volume of Jack of Fables, Jack of Hearts, collects issues #6-11. It tells the story of Jack’s adventures in Las Vegas—winning spectacularly, but then… Well. There’s also some backstory, in the form of a tale told to his fellow escapees as they wait out the Page sisters’ capture-vans in the mountains, of how he and Lumi the Snow Queen ever went to bed together, and how his son came to be.

Jack of Hearts is written by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges. The lettering all the way through is by Todd Klein, the colors are done by Daniel Vozzo & Lee Loughridge, and the covers are all by James Jean. The first arc, “Jack Frost,” has art by Steve Leialoha. The main arc, “Jack of Hearts,” is penciled by Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy. Andrew Pepoy also does the inking.

 

What Happens

The first story in the volume is “Jack Frost,” which opens with Jack and three other Fables hiding out in snowy mountains to try to escape the capture-vans that Mr. Revise has sent out. To pass the time, he explains how he became Jack Frost, and how he lost the powers, too. Young Jack comes upon a snowy castle, where a younger, softer Lumi invites him in from the cold. He sings for his dinner that night, and she takes him on in the castle as staff, but the majordomo has a dislike for him and makes him do the worst jobs. Finally, Jack provokes the Snow Queen’s current bedmate into a fight with him, where he makes the man look like a total idiot. She invites him to take the man’s place. After some while, she takes ill and can’t travel to the next castle to bring the seasons on schedule, so she gives Jack her powers if he promises to give them right back when she’s well. He runs around screwing up seasons, trying to sleep with young women, killing peasants, et cetera — generally pissing off the people of the kingdom. It turns out that Lumi isn’t sick, she’s pregnant, and pissed off. Jack agrees to give the powers back — mostly because he was getting bored — if the four seasonal sisters let him go without a fuss, but his betrayal and insistence that the kid wasn’t his turn Lumi into the fierce, frozen Queen we see in Fables.

The next section opens with Jack waking in Vegas, married to a rich heiress. He tries to remember how he got there, and we get backstory: he was in a diner in the desert when Gary found him, sad and lonely. His credit card is declined and they have 85 cents between them, but Gary plays the slot machine in the diner and wins the jackpot. Turns out he’s good at that. Jack decides they should go to Vegas. Meanwhile, a pit boss is kidnapping a cheating gambler and leading him to a creepy altar in the middle of nowhere. Jack takes them to a store where they clean up in the bathroom and steal nice clothes, and Gary animates a mannequin to be his girlfriend. Later, they get thrown out of a casino and Jack hits the heiress’s car jaw-first. She recognizes him as John Trick, from his movie studio days. They get married pretty quickly, while the guy on the altar in the desert gets decapitated and has a verse-spouting crazy lady eat his brain.

Next, two young nerds show up in Vegas with a lucky horseshoe while Jack finagles family lawyers with his new wife. They’re attacked by some Belgians, who Jack dispatches neatly. The crazy woman — Lady Luck — has plans for Jack and co. Jack meets Holly’s father, who’s glad he took care of the Belgians. At the end of the meeting, a car bomb kills the father and Holly, so Jack inherits the estate. All of it. Jack, running the casino, finds out the pit boss is paying too much to the local mob, so he demands a meeting. Turns out it’s Lady Luck, who tries to kill them but they get away. The lucky nerd gets kidnapped and passes the horseshoe to his other friend. Gary calls the Page sisters in and says he wants to be picked up. Lady Luck makes Jack’s casino too lucky to run, so he has to shut it down while he gets information out of the pit boss.

They find her altar, rescue the nerd and place the mannequin where he was. When Lady Luck goes to eat his brains, he’s not there. Instead, the Literals come riding in with their vans to capture her, while Jack and Gary hide out nearby watching. So, it seems like Jack’s got it going now, but when he returns to the casino he finds the lawyer has framed him for murder so he himself can take the estate, and the lucky horseshoe falls into the back of the truck carrying Lady Luck. Oops. The volume ends with Jack and Gary back where they started: hitchhiking, without a dime to their names.

 

Thoughts

This volume, like the first, is relatively self-contained (though obviously the “horseshoe falls into Lady Luck’s transport truck and she grins out the back window” thing at the very end is a setup for something later). The story is set up, worked through, and finished in the course of the major arc — leaving Jack exactly where he started. This seems to be a theme for Jack’s stories; things are going swell, but his arrogance and blindness end up getting him screwed out of whatever good he had going for him. One would think, after enough repetitions of this, he would learn some kind of lesson from it, but, well. He’s Jack. Learning a lesson would require admitting something was his fault in the first place, and that’s not going to happen.

I continue to find Gary the better character, or at least the more interesting one, in “Jack of Hearts.” He’s a bit silly, but he’s guileless and makes a nice counterpoint to Jack’s generally horrible behavior — wanting to do good things when he can, and make people happy, instead of wanting it all to be about him. His hunger to belong, to matter, is probably the only authentic emotion anyone’s shown so far in these comics; he’s directionless and wants to have direction. Falling in with Jack makes certain that there’s never a dull moment. He still strikes me as a good person/Literal despite the company he keeps — for example, when he wants to break it off with his mannequin girlfriend, he doesn’t just de-animate her. He gives her her own life and lets her go. (Sure, the writers use this as an excuse to hook the nerd-boys up with her in a kind of creepy scene, but at least Gary’s intent was good.)

Speaking of women — and I probably shouldn’t, because this complaint in this particular comic is going to start sounding like a broken record — I understand that Jack doesn’t see women as people, not really. (It’s questionable if he sees anyone as another person with feelings, but especially not women.) But, there’s a difference between having the protagonist espouse a certain view and having the story espouse it. It is possible to write a story about a misogynist asshole and have the story undermine his attitudes about women; here, nobody bothers. The women are all stage props or psychotic, sexual objects or enemies or both. There are no real-people women so far in Jack of Fables. The Page sisters show a little promise, but they’re still predominantly (incompetent) enemies under the rule and direction of a male lead-enemy. They’re Revise’s “Charlie’s Angels,” if you will, and the story presents them that way, so far.

Possibly, that’s why I have to work so hard to enjoy the Jack stories. It’s not just because of his attitude; it’s because the story often makes no effort to contradict his attitude.

The first story in this volume, about Lumi, I’m not necessarily going to take as fact — for one thing, Jack is telling a tale to entertain; there’s bound to be some exaggeration and dishonesty in there. The other reason is, people don’t turn into sociopaths overnight because they got dumped, even when there’s a child involved. If they did, we’d have a lot more serial killers running amok. I cannot believe that Lumi goes from sweet, innocent Snow Queen to the murderous, war-ready woman we see in Fables because Jack betrayed her — it doesn’t make reasonable sense. Also, the few Fables about the Snow Queen that I recall don’t make her out to be a nice person ever. I think Jack is giving himself too much credit, and Lumi was never that kind of woman. Either way, the story doesn’t add up, so I’m just going to assume Jack is lying about the details.

I am kind of amused by the ending of the volume, though — in some ways, the story does imply that Jack needs to be a better person, because he always loses the things he gains through deception and betrayal, usually in a way that has a lot of poetic justice. He always gets kicked back to where he started to try again, and he doesn’t give up, which is a sort of admirable characteristic. (If only he wasn’t not-giving-up on his method.)

 

The Art

The issue #9 cover is probably my absolute favorite; the woman’s silhouette through her dress and her haughty expression, card held aloft, with Jack lying at her feet—it’s simply gorgeous, and it has a lot of feeling to it, even though it’s a static image.

*

Jack of Hearts is another galloping adventure, full of explosions and chases and deadly scrapes, with Jack acting like a cad as usual.

Next week: Jack of Fables, volume 3—The Bad Prince.


 

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

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