The Comic Book Club: “Fables” and “Thor: The Mighty Avenger”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan, Douglas Wolk and Evan Narcisse talk about Fables #100 and the first paperback collection of Thor: The Mighty Avenger.

GRAEME: I know it’s $9.99, but Fables #100 is how anniversary issues should be done, as far as I’m concerned. This is, what, 100 pages of all-new material, including a regular length story, another short, a new installment of the “FAQs” about the series, a prose tale, puppet theater AND board game. In terms of format, I really, really liked it – and the fact that it was a cardstock cover (with lovely, lovely art by Joao Ruas that’s James Jean-esque without being a slavish reproduction of his style) and squarebound was just a plus.

(More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: Batman: The Return and Batman Inc.)

To the content itself… I’m a Fables fan, and so most of this went down just nicely, thanks very much. That said, the main story – the final (?) chapter of the series’ current storyline – felt pretty slight. It’s essentially just one long fight sequence that (spoilers!) doesn’t even really come to a conclusion as much as pauses and then kinda-sorta starts up again in an understated and fairly unsatisfactory way. Is it just me, or did anyone else wish that the fight seemed pretty lackluster by the time it was nearing its conclusion?

DOUGLAS: No, I’m with you there. This seemed like a 20- or 30-page story that suddenly got expanded to 62 pages–the pacing seemed off, the dialogue in need of sharpening, which is pretty unusual for Willingham. I like the way Buckingham’s artwork is congealing into fewer and bolder lines, and maybe that was a result of rushing this one (telltale sign: two inkers alternating small groups of pages), but it really didn’t seem like he and Willingham had figured out how to make the big changes to the series that happen in here seem like more significant events than the very small things that also happen.

EVAN: I’ll be the dissenter, then. I liked the drawn-out pace of the main story because it gave the “camera” a chance to fly around the world and check in on the other characters. It seemed like spreading things out also created room for some great dialogue, and I was very happy for that. The line about “working with sweets” was great. The false ending grated a little bit, but it served a larger beat for Totenkinder/Bellflower that felt interesting.

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GRAEME: The extra material was much more enjoyable, in part because it seemed much more throwaway and playful, if that isn’t counterintuitive. I love the idea of the boardgame and the puppet theater, and the FAQs continue to be self-aware quasi-parody that works for me. Mark Buckingham’s story is… I don’t know. A continuity plug, maybe? Again, I think I enjoyed it more because I know the series and its mythology than others would, so maybe I’m biased.

Basically, I liked this issue well enough, and think it’s a good indicator of what Fables is and what its sensibilities are, but I’m also a little uneasy about whether or not it was aimed too much at its existing audience or reaching out to anyone new. Do you guys normally read it?

DOUGLAS: I normally read Fables (and Jack of Fables) in trades, and I confess I’m a few trades behind in both. But I wished that this issue had acclimated me more. I kind of got what was going on, and I got a sense of the current aesthetic of the series, but it still wasn’t terribly inviting. On the other hand, the format is indeed a beautiful thing–I wish more anniversary issues of periodicals were this handsome. And the backup features are just a delight: I love that they took advantage of the anniversary to do odd, cool little things that wouldn’t fit into a normal issue, instead of the usual “big story and a couple of pin-ups” route.

I’m also very happy to see Bill Willingham drawing again: he’s hit his stride on this series in a way I don’t think he ever quite did on Elementals or Coventry (or, for that matter, his superhero titles, and by the way does anybody else think Oglaf has Ironwood’s chin?), but I’ve missed seeing his artwork.

EVAN: I’m in much the same boat as Douglas. I’m pretty far back; I’d just finished up the storyline that introduced Mister Dark. To be dropped right into such a clearly significant fight was jarring for an anniversary issue. It’s a still a great milestone issue, though. You get a glimpse at most of the different corners of the Fables-verse (excepting Jack of Fables, which mostly happens in the Mundy anyway) and extra material that nods at the folkloric conceit of the series. Oral tradition gets handled in the celeb questions, the board game is reminiscent of “Candy Land” (might just be that way for me, though), and the illustrated story feels a bit like a children’s book. It’s a great package, one that reminds me of how anniversary issues used to be.

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