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Graphic Novel Review: Fables Four — March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham

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Finally! War and battle and plenty of action await in the fourth volume of Fables alongside satisfying amounts of tragic love, betrayal, and several sorts of witchery. Also In this excellent volume, the mysterious Adversary (we still don’t know who he is) extends his malevolent reach to the mundane world (that would be our world), where the Fables (they would be the immortal characters of legendary tales) have found safe haven for the last passing centuries.

The first short story of the volume — “The Last Castle” – serves as prologue to the longer arc that follows. We’re back in Manhattan on an early summer’s day, and Boy Blue’s trumpeting echoes melancholically throughout the plushy -antique offices of Fabletown. Every year, exactly on the same day, Blue gets too depressed to work. He spends the night drinking at a closed-circle gathering (to which Snow white — his boss — is never invited), and is too hung over to show to work the next day.

Fables 4: March of the Wooden SoldiersIt’s the Ides of May which puts Blue in such a distracted mood. It’s a private Remembrance-day, marked solely by the group of Fables who were the last to escape the Homelands. Snow White, having arrived to the mundane world centuries before Blue, was never let in on the actual details of this last exodus. It’s time Blue shared his own personal tale, a tale which also happens to chronicle the final and heroic battle of the free Fables. 

As Blue narrates his own story, we shift into the magical homelands again. This time we’re at the far keep on the edge of the worlds, where fugitive Fables from all corners of the magical realms, had assembled under Colonel Bearskin’s command, to make one last stand against the Adversary’s legions. 

We encounter new Fables (well, new to the series, but already of some renown in mundane myth) such as Robin Hood and his Miry Men, Britomart Lady-Knight and many others. All these Fables did not make it into the mundane world; instead they chose to stay behind and fight a doomed battle, thus securing the safe passage (through the magical portal) for the few others.

The art of this short story is by guest artists Craig Hamilton and Craig Russell. It’s imaginative and colorful (thin-inked sketch-like drawings), and efficiently gives you the sense of a far far away land, long long time ago.

All the elements of a good story are there: tragic heroes, witty dialogs, bitter-sweet ending. Similar to any decent tale, it also encapsulates “truths” (much like morals, only without the appalling flavor of “educational”). I reckon this certain story concerns freedom — everyone should have it, but it’s hardly ever given for free. We have to fight for it, or die for it, or just eternally owe it to others who did.

Fables 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers

The main arc of the volume is called the “Wooden Soldiers” and it spans all eight chapters of the volume. Many interesting developments take place in this pivotal arc. Firstly, Colin the slain piggy from volume two (murdered by his own brothers for the sake of Goldilocks violent revolution) makes his reappearance in Snow’s Dream —  or better said —  Collin’s bleeding head on a spike makes its reappearance.

Collin reveals to Snow that when her baby is born, she will have to leave with him to the upstate farm. It can only mean that the baby is not human (Snow had this one night thing with Bigby Wolf in the previous volume, where they slept together while under a spell). Collin also warns Snow of great danger approaching Fabletown, though Snow is more worried that Collin’s going to bleed all over her carpet and soon forgets her dream by the time she wakes up.

Secondly, a new Fable refugee arrives to Fabletown to seek sanctuary. She’s the first refugee to appear in two centuries, since all the portals were closed by the Adversary. Red Riding Hood – Blue’s short-lived love who was assumed dead — had somehow found her way to the mundane world. Not everyone is pleased with her arrival though, as Bigby suspects her to be Adversary’s spy.

Meanwhile, Prince Charming stirs commotion in Fabletown’s tranquil political arena, as he campaigns to dethrone the current Mayor of Fabletown — King Cole. Having slain evil Bluebeard in the previous volume, Prince Charming is now assisted by the green goblin butler Hobbes, who quickly changed loyalties from dead master to Dashing Prince.

Fables 4: March of the Wooden SoldiersLast but not least, the danger that Collin (the pig-on-a-stick) tried to warn Snow about, has finally arrived to the mundane world and specifically to Fabletown. The agents of the Adversary resemble the men in black crossed with Agent Smith, crossed again with a taller version of Pinocchio. Indeed these wooden soldiers were carved by Gepetto, much in the same way Pinocchio once had been.

These wooden soldiers share an innate hatred towards all living creatures because clearly wood is so much superior to flesh. Their goal is to seize Fabletown, and they will pursue their goal with the relentlessness of a Terminator robot. 

All Fables large and small, human and other kinds — are drafted to battle the wooden troops. All Fables report to duty willingly, since nobody wants to fall into the enslaving hands of the Adversary. Fabletown defenders are led by beautiful, pregnant, and strategically inclined Snow White. Bigby Wolf also arrives last moment in his real wolf form to save the day.

The witches of the thirteenth floor of Fabletown will also play a crucial part in the battle for Fabletown. They will conjure a powerful spell to obscure the whole street battle from the regular mundane people of Manhattan. 

The art of Mark Buckingham is lovely as always. It’s detailed and accurate, and I just love how he draws the buildings and urban scapes of Manhattan. The traditional-style drawings, successfully render the story with a touch of old film-noir (especially when Bigby Wolf conducts his investigations or dashing Prince Charming goes about attending to his affairs).

I already liked “Fables” beforehand – some arcs better (or less), but this volume was just right. Writer Bill Willingham has created an enjoyable fantasy which is witty and intriguing, tangent to modern reality, yet always captivating like a properly vintaged tale.

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