“Fables: The Dark Ages” by Bill Willingham

A while back, I switched to buying graphic novel collections of most of my comics rather than buying them monthly. It was hard for me to follow the story with the lags, I was bothered by the intrusive ads, and I usually ended up re-reading them as a group anyway. The latest collection of Bill Willingham’s popular series, Fables, is The Dark Ages. The comic book series posits a secret neighborhood in New York City of storybook characters, or “Fables”–King Cole is the mayor, Beauty runs the office, her husband Beast is the sheriff, and more. They are living in exile, driven out of their homelands by the evil Emperor.

For those keeping up, the war between Fabletown and the Empire is over. While the Fables claim victory and their enemy is now living among them, the war had great costs. Heroes were injured or fell, and there’s chaos in the worlds formerly ruled by the Empire. In one of them, an evil is unleashed that has immediate and serious consequences for all the Fables. The first chapter is illustrated by Mike Allred, whose strong distinctive style is well-suited to characters like Snow White and Bigby Wolf. Pinocchio, Boy Blue, Rose Red, and Frau Totenkinder all feature prominently in the following chapters, while Mowgli gets his own back-up story.

Frau Totenkinder: So, if we’ve a special connection to our stories in this world, did we create the stories, and those who’ve written them? Or did the stories create us?…

Badger: Maybe there’s some sort of separate master storyteller. Y’know, one who created both us AND the tales about us.

Two new characters are introduced, Freddy and Mouse. Given their appearance and names, I think they’ve got to be an homage to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books, which my husband likes.

The Fables series seemed to have reached its climax with the war, but I’m pleased to see that the strength of the stories and the panoply of fascinating storybook characters only seems to be gaining momentum. This is a dark, complex fantasy tale that’s easy to fall into.

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