You know, there are times when I seriously wonder whether, if I had infinite amounts of money and time, and if I were capable of dropping my literary pride for a cotton-pickin’ minute, I would ever read anything besides comic books. There just aren’t a lot of other media that reliably deliver that kind of mainline tasp-like pleasure.
I just got done reading Jack of Fables Vol. 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape. I’ve been keeping up with the Fables series–from which this is spun off–for a few years now; it’s one of those series that is consistently great and always bubbling under but never gets the kind of mainstream critical hype that, say, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Y: The Last Man get. (The former richly deserved, the latter…YMMV.) The premise is that all the people and creatures in nursery rhymes and fairy tales are real — Cinderella, Little Boy Blue, Humpty Dumpty, Prince Charming, whoever you can think of. They’ve been exiled from their native lands and forced to live undercover in New York City and in a farm in upstate New York (for the non-humanoids who can’t ‘pass.’)
It’s not a slam-dunk premise, by any means. But what makes the series work is the loving but also very unsanitized treatment the Fables get: there’s a lot of humor and a lot of blood and a lot of sex (for some reason the human fables tend to be unreasonably good-looking). Example: in one issue, set during the civil war, Jack (as in ‘and the Beanstalk’) successfully traps Death in a magic sack, to save a busty-but-dying southern belle he wants to seduce, thus depriving all creatures of the power to die. The land rapidly becomes overrun with gorey, disfigured, horribly mutilated people and animals begging for release. While in some ways Fables deliberately travesties fairy tales, in a lot of ways it’s closer in spirit to the original Grimm-era stories than the Disneyfied, infantilized versions we generally get today: they’re violent, funny, bawdy, and amoral, and at the same time weirdly wise.
If this stumbling description doesn’t give you a feel for it, you can get a taste online: DC has made the first issue available as a free .pdf. (I note via Wikipedia that FAbles’ creator, Bill Willingham, did some of the art for the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. Now that’s some cred right there.) (And thanks to mc chris for the subject line.)