Category Archives: TPB Review

TPB Review – Fables Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland

Fables 18Fables – Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Gene Ha, Andrew Pepoy, & Dan Green
Colorists: Lee Loughridge & Art Lyon
Letterer: Todd Klein
Cover Art: Joao Ruas
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Previously in Fables, well, lots of stuff, huh?  I’ve been reading Fables, exclusively in trade, since the start of the series just over a decade ago.  (Has it really been that long?)  Willingham, the creator and writer of the series, has crafted one of the most well-thought out and detailed worlds in comics today.  For those not familiar with Fables, the basic premise is that characters from fairy tales, fiction, nursery rhymes and the like really exist, originally in their own world, called the Homelands.  Eventually, due to the machinations of the Adversary, they were driven out of their native lands and settled in our world.

Things are not completely as we know them to be, as Willingham has manipulated things (fairly excellently) to incorporate separate tales into one big, intertwined, twisted, beautiful, creepy, funny story.  If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am.  Here’s a “for example”.  Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf (who can transform to human form and goes by Bigby) are married.  Bigby is the same wolf that appeared in both The Three Little Pigs and alongside Little Red Riding Hood.  So, yes, he can blow a mean gale-force wind.  Well, that’s because he’s the son of the North Wind, doy!  And, don’t worry that you’re going crazy, Snow White and Prince Charming were married, just like Disney told you.  But don’t forget that Charming also was with both Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella — that all holds true — he’s a philanderer and has been married (and subsequently divorced) to them all.

The Charming Charming
The Charming Charming

It doesn’t just stop there, though; the layers upon layers are just fantastic to watch be built.  If you’ve got a favorite character, chances are he/she/it has been in here.   And not just as a cameo — Willingham has an uncanny ability to give these characters are voice, even when they’re around for just a bit, you want to know more.  It’s not even just the characters.  Concepts — Arthurian legend, Super-heroics, The Fisher King — are sneakily attached to characters and story arcs.  In the Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables (centered around Jack, who is the same guy in all “Jack” stories, — Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack Frost), we get the Literals, who are the embodiments of actual writing techniques — the Pathetic Fallacy, Deux ex Machina, the Genres — and somehow it all makes sense.  Fables is one of the consistent great books out there and if auteur theory is true, then Willingham fits the bill.

If you’ve been reading this and think, “Well, that sounds somewhat like that show Once Upon a Time!”, you’re not too far off.  Fables did at one point have a television pilot ordered, for which a script was written, at ABC.  Yup, that same studio that does Once Upon a Time.  Although Willingham has denied that there was any maliciousness, it’s hard to not see the inspiration.

This trade, collecting issues #114-123, encompasses two story arcs.  The titular story takes up the majority of the trade (#114-121) and is a bit of a character focused story, as compared with the big world evolving tales that happen every second to third arc.  These stories are probably more accessible and don’t require as much knowledge of the previous 100+ issues, but despite past successes, I always expect less excitement in these type of stories.  Add to that, this character arc deals with Snow and Bigby’s children who, despite some recent developments, have been more annoying than interesting.

Yep, I should have trusted in them.

It’s a great arc.  No, really great.  The main motivation here is to further expand upon the prophecy that was given to these “cubs” by Ozma (yeah, that one).

Fables SDCC09REVThe first part of the prophecy came true in the previous trade, as the eldest child, Winter, became the new North Wind.  This arc results in two more of the aforementioned prophecies occurring — I won’t spoil which ones (though there may be some debate as to which came true) — and they happen in a really touching way.  Therese, the shyest and most introverted of the cubs, starts out our journey after being given a boat as a gift at Christmas.  When she discovers that the boat can talk to her, they go off together on a trip to the far-away Toyland.

Cah-reepy...
Cah-reepy…

There, she encounters a broken-down world populated with broken-down toys, all proclaiming her as their new queen.  It’s slow moving, but for a purpose — Willingham is setting the mood for what starts off as a creepy, are-they-bad, type of story and changes into a redemption story.  It’s really well paced and, though the story takes place mostly in a place never seen before these issues, Willingham spends ample time developing the location and these new characters.

Okay, now a moment about Mark Buckingham’s art.  Just look at the one single page above.  He captures disgust and boredom in Therese’s face, details in the landscape, and horrific realism in these beat up, broken, discarded toys.  His work is also spectacular and complements the tone of this book.  Yes, it’s a story ultimately about fictional characters, people, animals, and otherwise, but his art is just the perfect amount of realism mixed with fantasy that this is all believable.  Buckingham also has been illustrating the side gutters since the start of the title, a little bonus in terms of the visuals, but it works to contain the setting and mood of the story.

I just love that text box in the bottom right -- a great example of Willingham's blunt approach.
I just love that text box in the bottom right — a great example of Willingham’s blunt approach.

The second arc of the trade, printed in issues #122 and 123, is titled The Destiny Game.  Right off the bat, the most striking difference is that the art is not by series regular Buckingham, but rather by Gene Ha of Top Ten fame.  It gives this story a completely different look, a bit darker (which is strange, given that The Destiny Game is not nearly as morbid as the Toyland story).  It’s a story told in the future, narrated by another one of the cubs, telling a bit more history about Bigby.  Not as interesting as the first part of the trade, but it works to add depth to the Fables framework.

An interesting note.  This trade was released last month.  Trade paperback sales for the month of January 2013 were up 22% from last month and up (a pretty striking) 38% from last January.  In the number one spot, above critically acclaimed titles as the first Saga TPB and extremely popular The Walking Dead and Justice League, sits Fables Volume 18.  Not siting cause and effect, but Fables is, without a doubt, a safe bet for an excellent story with fantastic art.  Go pick it up.  Go pick them all up.

TPB Review – The Sixth Gun

SixthGunCover

The Sixth Gun – Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers
Written By: Cullen Bunn
Illustrated and Lettered By: Brian Hurtt
Published by: Oni Press

In this modern day of comic books as fodder for movie and television development deals, major networks seem to constantly be scooping up rights for existing properties.  I’ve read some Cullen Bunn on Wolverine and I’ve thought he’s had some good stuff, if not very consistent.  The Sixth Gun was picked up for development by NBC, I believe, and it’s supposed to be headed up by Lost-developer, Carlton Cuse.  God knows I’ll be interested in TV show that’s both a comic adaptation and run by a Lost-alum, so I figured I’d check it out.

What is The Sixth Gun?  It’s a pretty decent mashup of a western and a supernatural story.  I’ve never been a huge fan of either theme by itself, but Bunn does a nice job of balancing the two.  The story follows a set of six weapons, possibly forged by the devil/Hell/the Yankees or some other evil empire in the ancient days, each with otherworldly powers.  So whereas in caveman days these weapons were clubs, now in the wild wild west (sorry, no large mechanical spiders), they are six shooters.  These guns shoot, yes, but they each shoot special stuff — cannonfire, hellfire, dissintegration — and have powers — healing (a strange power for a gun), raising the dead, and seeing the future.  Out to get all the weapons are our heroes — Drake Sinclair, the dashing man with a lascivious past, Billjohn O’Henry, his chubby Han Solo, and Becky Montcrief, the damsel in occassional distress — and the villains — General Hume, his wife Widow Hume, and their band of menacing evil-dude stereotypes.  The characters all feel very familiar, which is not a terrible thing, but there’s not much (at least in this first arc of six issues) that makes any of them overly interesting.

Sixth Gun HealThe dialogue is strong and the characters, while not the most fresh, do let their personalities come through.  The bad guys are bad and the good guys are good (and, in the case of Sinclair, mysteriously bad-ish); Bunn has a good grasp on what he’s doing here.

As for the art, it’s slightly cartoonish, but the inking (which I’m presuming was also done by Hurtt) really is excellent.  All in all, the visuals are really quite good.  The lines are clean and the shadows, which there are PLENTY in this type of story, really permeate and set the tone.  Hurtt really does some nice stuff in showing off the guns’ powers too.  The hellfire is striking and the different types of reanimated beings (zombies and golums, to be specific) look very good.

All told, it was a fun read.  Again, this isn’t really my wheelhouse in terms of themes, plus the characters are very standard fare, but it’s well done.  Bunn and Hurtt certainly have put together a solid story with great art.  It’ll be interesting to see in on television; there will need to be some degree of makeup and special effects, more than The Walking Dead, for example.  I don’t know if I’m into this enough to pick up the next trade, but if the show ends up getting made, I’ll without a doubt be tuning in.

Sixth Gun Hanging Tree

TPB Review – Marvel Zombies Supreme

Marvel Zombies Supreme
Writer: Frank Marraffino
Penciller: Fernando Blanco
Inkers: Jason Paz, Fernando Blanco
Colorist: Chris Chuckry
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artist: Michael Komark
Publisher: Marvel Comics

When I read Marvel Zombies, I thought it was a very creative, cool story with a good hook and great art.  When I read Marvel Zombies 2, I thought Marvel was trying to tap the same well again as their typically do and the fun took a definite dive.  When I read Marvel Zombies 3, I thought Van Lente did a good job with a new character set.  When I read Marvel Zombies 4, I cursed myself for needing to be a zombie myself and read all the series.  Now, this, which is effectively Marvel Zombies 5?  I’m a stupid asshole.

In short, this story is just terrible.  At length?  This story is TEEEERRRRRIBBBBLLLLE.

The characters from the original 2 stories are not here.  The characters from volumes 3 & 4 are not here.  If you’re looking at this story for anything familiar from the previous stories, you ain’t gonna find it here.  Instead, we’ve got “zombie” versions of the Squadron Supreme.  If you’re not familiar with the Squadron, here’s the lowdown.  We first met the Squadron Sinister, a group of villains obviously based on the Justice League of America, in Avengers #69 in 1969.  They fought the Avengers and later on, the Defenders.  In an early retcon, the Squadron Supreme was introduced in 1971 as a heroic team from an alternate universe that the Squadron Sinister was based on.  (Confused?  Don’t worry, so was Marvel themselves at the time — they messed up their covers and called the good team by the bad team’s name twice.)  The “bible” of the Squadron is Mark Gruenwald’s excellent 12 issue miniseries, easily titled and reprinted in TPB form as “Squadron Supreme”, which is a superhero deconstuction story about the superheroes creating a utopia-type society for the world (hint: doesn’t go so well).  Eventually, surviving members make their way to the regular 616 Marvel universe.

To go even further, the Squadron Supreme characters in this trade are not those characters.  They’re CLONES.  Zombie clones.

Even moreso, the Clone-dron Supreme are not the main focus of this book.  Instead, we’ve got the most cliche named military team since some of the ’80s G.I. Joes.  Communications – Soapbox!  Tech Specialist – Mainframe!  Heavy Support – Two-Ton!  Medic – Doc!  Yuck.

The big thing to come out of this book, if I can find one, was the return of Jack of Hearts, a low-tier Avenger who is most recently notable for being resurrected as a zombie and re-killed by the Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Disassembled.  Now he’s back too.  I’m sure there are plenty of Jack Hart fans out there; I’m not one of them.

Overall, the story is terrible, the art is just passable, the characters are lousy, the science doesn’t make sense, and Marvel Zombies should really just be put to bed.  Don’t waste your time or your money.