“Fables Sucks Now!”

If you’ve been following the rumblings about the quality of Fables since issue #75, way back in September, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of the three word title of this article.  Issue #75 saw the end of the first epoch of Fables, and after some aftermath/cleanup issues, the second major phase of the book has started.

And people are not happy about it at all.

But why aren’t they happy?  Is Fables bad now?  After 75+ issues, and 7 years, did Bill Willingham just lose it?  Can he no longer write these characters he created (sort of) in a compelling way?  That doesn’t seem very likely.  Is it that he just lost interest, and is coasting?  That’s also a suspect notion.  My theory is that Fables just changed.  It was one thing, and accomplished what it set out to do, and now it’s another thing.

When something is ongoing, like a long running comic book series, or TV show, people come to have expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, even on a subconscious level, it feels like things aren’t right.  Yet, from the point of view of the creator, you can’t keep doing the same thing forever.  A story that lasts 7 years is a long time, and I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to explore the area to either side of the rut you’ve dug.  I think this is what’s happening in Fables.  People came to expect things a certain way, and at the end of the first chunk of issues, we’re almost starting over, and yes, it’s  definitely different.  But I’m not convinced that’s such a bad thing. 

Perhaps even more importantly, in starting things over, and starting out a new story, it’s going to take some time to get moving.  Fables is anything but a fast moving book.  This is a fact evidenced by how many people, myself included, weren’t incredibly taken with the first 20 or so issues of the regular series.  I regularly tell people who’ve read the first and second trades and come away with the feeling that it was “just OK,” that if they stick with it and read the third, fourth, and fifth trades, it’s worth it.  Now, I grant you, that’s a hell of a commitment, but that’s the way it works.  The first arc is OK, but there are a ton of characters, but I don’t think Willingham had perfected the tone of the book at that point. Then the second arc, which takes place at the Farm shifts to an entirely different cast of characters, and I’ve found a lot of people didn’t really like the story as much as other arcs.  Yet it’s all groundwork for what comes later, and I truly believe that it all pays itself off, spectacularly so.  But it takes a lot of time to properly build up a world like the one in Fables.  Perhaps the first couple of stories could have been better, and they’re not even bad, as much as they’re “just OK”.  Animal Farm, the second trade, ends with issue #10.  Currently, Fables is at issue #84, not even a year since the conclusion of the first major story.  History has taught me that it just takes longer than this, and I’m willing to be patient.

At the same time, I’m cognizant that a different story is being told, and in the current Great Fables Crossover, Willingham and Matt Sturges are pulling in Jack and the Literals, from the sister title, Jack of Fables, a title that’s consistently had a distinct tone from the main Fables title.  Personally I’ve very much enjoyed the crossover so far, but not for the same reasons I’d enjoyed most of the arcs previous.  Thus far the crossover has been a great deal of fun to me.  It’s a bit sillier than Fables has usually been, but it’s also making interesting, fun comments on the idea of stories, fiction, writing, and genres.  Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I’m very much appreciating that aspect of the story.  Maybe it’s not for everyone, but for my money, the idea of an adversary who is an all-powerful writer who just can’t come up with the right idea is incredibly intriguing.  Really, that’s the enemy of the book itself.  The writers need to come up with something, and if they don’t, the book is terrible.  Some seem to think that it already is, but I’m enjoying the ride.  Further, I imagine that the silly tone is going be some fierce counterpoint to how the story eventually ends.  It’s just a theory, but Fables has brought the emotional hammer down in the past, and I’m on the lookout.

Of course, if you’re not enjoying it, that’s OK too.  I completely acknowledge that we’re in different territory here than we’ve seen.  At the same time, I’m OK with that.  I don’t necessarily need something I like to run indefinitely.  There’s been some other talk on the subject recently, but if the story ended at 75 issues, or thereabouts, I’d be OK with that.  I was OK with it for Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Y: The Last Man, Lucifer, and even some non-Vertigo titles that I can’t remember right now.  In fact, if you’re going to continue on, a change of direction is a welcome thing in my book. 

But does Fables suck now?  No, not even a little bit.

Comments

  1. Nice thoughts here Josh.  I think you make an astute point about how series change and fan perception.  I have the first three trades of Fables and enjoyed them immensely.  I just haven’t had the money to get the remaining trades, but I hope to remedy that soon.  It’s a great series.

  2. =O intresting. If Josh can get Conor to read Fables i will give him all the money in my bank account!

  3. Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    I can’t speak for the current state of the series, since I’m reading it in trades, but this is only the third comic series that my wife has ever read.  After some prodding ("Honey, they’re already on the bookshelf so they might as well be used again"), she’s read "Y: The Last Man," "True Story, Swear to God," and now "Fables."

    I cut my ‘adult’ comics teeth on "Sandman," which brought me a love of stories about stories.  I’m looking forward to these newer issues of "Fables" to be traded.

  4. For a newcomer to truly enjoy Fables, it seems like you have to make a major financial investment. I’ve never read Fables at this point but do have an interest to, but with all the back stuff I havta buy, it seems like its really going to pound my wallet hard. Maybe at the next con I can hopefully get the issues for super cheap, and so I’ll see what all the fuss is over.

  5. @Neb – have you tried your local library? Also in the ifanboy forum in revision3 there is a thread for people that exchange trades. Try it.

  6. I remember way back when Ron and Conor surprised Josh by reading the first Fables trade and discussed it on air…ah memories…

  7. I’ve literally (ha! pun) been reading this series since the first issue and have always enjoyed it. I thought the Adversary reveal was a little weak (a bit of writing someone else’s story in my own head), but the stories that have spun out of it have been very well done. I am really enjoying the crossover, with the last two issues being exceptional – a 9-year-old female Bigby = awesome! If you were put off by the big change, give this crossover a try.

    Also, Jack is just as well done, but a completely different book – I’m stunned that this spin-off hasn’t fallen in quality.

  8. I have a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to Fables ’09, but I think I am more skeptical and less open than you are. The new evil forces at work in the book are very effectively creepy, but I dislike the Great Fables Crossover quite a lot. Kevin Thorn and the Literals are an interesting addition to the mythos, but… Jack of Fables: I would not, could not in a box. I would not, could not with a fox. Etc. The more I’m subjected to him blithely walking through the story with his disaffected glibness, calling out the fact that he’s in a comic, the more I expect him to just put on Deadpool’s mask and be done with it.

  9. I agree for the most part. I remember after Fables #75, most of the Fables fanbase at my LCS started telling me how bad it was, and I just couldn’t get down with that. I didn’t really enjoy those ‘clean-up" issues, but after such a long, sprawling story, I thought it deserved more than 2 or 3 issues before we started judging the second "arc".

    Ever since #75, the only issues I haven’t really enjoyed is the Great Fables Crossover, and even then I think most of the sub-par story has taken in place in Jack of Fables and The Literals. I’m also very excited about the idea of a writer being the antagonist, but so far it just hasn’t worked for me. Well, I guess it’s worked to an extent because I’m still reading all 3 books with no plans to drop them anytime soon, ha.

    Great article, Josh.

  10. While I’ve never been convinced by Jack and his own title, I am still absolutely loving the Fables main title.  THe crossover has had hits and misses, but I will keep reading Fables itself as long as Willingham is writing it.  Josh is right on the nail that the book has just changed, and in a good way.  It was nice to have a sense of closure to the Adversary storyline and it had got to the point where the reveals had been played out and it needed to be wrapped up.  Willingham has moved on by giving the established characters plenty of new storylines to follow, while at the same time introducing new problems and evils to face.  It’s still a must read month in month out.

  11. @Aquaman: You better start writing chacks, I’ve read the first two FABLES trades.

  12. @jimski – while it’s valid, and certainly somewhat common, to not dig Jack as much as Fables, or at all, there’s a critical difference between that title and the Deadpool shtick you don’t like.  For one thing, the 4th wall stuff only ever happens at the beginning and end of issues, and only in narration.  Also, since the character is actually (literally) a part of story, and that’s a conceit of the book, it falls in line naturally that acknowledgement of that would exist.  As far as the tone of the book, or not liking the disaffected glibness (magnificent descriptor!), that’s certainly a reason why the book isn’t for you.

    I must say, I’m somewhat surprised that so many people don’t like Jack of Fables.  To each their own.  LIke @Dan said, it’s a completely different, but well done book.  But hey, not everything is for everyone.

  13. For what it’s worth, I’m still adoring Fables — and I think a lot more is happening now than in some of the slower arcs before the end of the war.  The crossover is completely knocking my socks off, and the contemplations of writing and genre have been absolutely fascinating.

  14. @Josh Every month I read Jack of Fables, and every month I’m bewildered by how I can like it so much when I absolutely hate the protagonist and everything he does.  I chalk it up to Willingham and Sturges’ brilliant writing, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t contemplate dropping the book every so often.  It’s a very fine line for me — I tend to hate literature in which the main character is so reprehensible.

  15. Despite loving Fables, I haven’t like Jack of Fables, but have read all of the trades thanks to the library. Only the last trade of Jack of Fables was one that I enjoyed.

    I realized that the reason I like the last trade was because Jack wasn’t the primary character that we were following in any of the stories. I like Jack as a complimentary character, but as the main character, he bores me and drives me slightly insane.

    I haven’t read anything past 75 yet (trades) so I’m anxious to see what the next trade and this crossover turn out like.  

  16. I almost wonder if we would even be having this discussion if the book had re-booted with a new #1. "All New, All Different Fables Vol. 2!!" I think for a lot of us proper labeling gets in the way of our critical thinking skills. A great example of this is how bent out of shape people ended getting over Final Crisis simply because it had the word "Crisis" in the title and the book itself didn’t fit itself into the mental box that that word invokes.

    For myself I’m still very much loving both Fables and Jack and am looking forward to reading the current crossover (I’ve been hoarding them so as to swallow them all in one gulp).

     

  17. @Josh, @Jimski, @ThroughTheBrush – those are exactly the reasons I like Jack of Fables – it’s a story about stories, but instead of Sandman, you get the main protagonist addressing the reader instead of just the more passive ‘here’s what’s happening to these people.’ I can certainly see where the fourth-wall thing would get annoying, but for me, it’s something I’m not getting in Spider-Man or Batman or Superman.  And the fact that Jack is such a dick is just the icing on the cake.

  18. I’ve read every issue of Fables in trade up to about issue 60. From there I started on issues and while you make some good points, and I hear what you were saying on the podcast this week, I’m just not enjoying it. And when it comes to whether or not I think a book is good, I go by whether or not I enjoy reading it. I just don’t like reading it right now so I have to say, for me, it’s no longer good.

  19. A good story writer allows ebbs and flows, you can’t keep the speaker turned upto 11 or people get acclimated to it. Kirkman demonstrates this very well in Walking Dead, with long build ups followed by vast destruction.

     Willingham allows for several stories between main events, moves his pieces to and fro, builds his characters, lays some anticipation and when the tension in the story is right, he pulls a string and allows for all the events to impact each other and snowball to ultimate destruction and then victory, we’re not seeing the relevance of this ebb yet, but I’m confident that when all is said and done it will be a matter pieces. I hope he ends up with a tryptych of over arching stories before he calls it a day, he’s just begun the second story.

    Oh and I hate Jack too.

  20. I’m reading the trades and the latest one only goes through 75. It will be interesting to see where it goes next.

  21. My kingdom for an edit button. The gist is there. Just change Matter Pieces, with Masterpiece. Not sure how I did that.

  22. I think a part of it is that many readers themselves sort of wanted to be done with the series at #75. They couldn’t help but feel that that was a good place to stop. So the fact that the story keeps going kind of frustrates them. Imagine if the last Lord of the Rings movie went on for another hour or two with a totally different story–most people would have walked out of the movie or else sat there and complained. The story was long enough as it was. I think the same sort of thing is going on with Fables. Personally, I haven’t read the book since issue 78 or 79. The first arc after 75 did little for me, and like I say, personally I just wanted to be done with the series, or I wanted a good long break or whatever. I’m sure I’ll come back to it. In six months or a year I might sit down with the 20 issues I’ve missed and have a good time reading them all over a weekend or something.

    I gotta tell you, though, that the fact that the series is going through a crossover now makes it really difficult for me to want to come back to it anytime soon. I’ve never read Jack of Fables. "Is that series good?" I ask rhetorically. Yeah, probably. "Is Fables still a good series, even though the people who still like it admit that the first arc after#75 was a downer?" Yeah, it’s probably still pretty good. But the thing is that each reader has his/her own threshold for now much "Fables" we need in our lives, in toto. So while it’s unfair and probably untrue to say "Fables sucks now!", you can’t really blame the readers who don’t want to follow the series and the characters endlessly, when they’ve had enough of them. Even people who still like the series…you guys probably wouldn’t buy four more ongoing Fables series no matter how good people insisted they were. Everyone has their limits. As much as I love Buckingham’s art, I’m glad I’m not looking at those same framing borders every month.

  23. FABLES F’n ROCKS

  24. You know, I’ve only read up to issue #75 (My first all trade series, which is working out well, as I don’t think I would have cared for the book in single issues) and I have to tell you I was shocked to see the "main" storyline end there. It didn’t seem that it had reached that point, to me. Still, it was well told. But my thoughts since October or so have been "Where the hell can this series possibly go?" Now I’ll probably pick up the first trade and most likely will like what I read. I’d probably give any new direction a decent chance. I thought I’d hate Jack of Fables, but ended up loving it. (THough, when you thematically quote both my favorite TV show and one of my favorite movies in the same opening storyline you’ve got me.) So we’ll see.

    I really loved Fables 1-75 and think it represents a real achievement. I’ll be a little sad if I learn they continued it for the sake of continuing it instead of seeing a story that needs to be told.

  25. I have almost never agree with you Josh on Fables and still do not. I and many of my comic loving buddies were hooked from issue #1 with the who killed Rose Red plotline. The following Animal Farm and Blue Beard ones were equally impressive, so when you say the first 20 issues aren’t so good, I have never agree personally. 

    Also, I am all for change in a book. My problem, however, began before issue #75, with the Frog Prince story line, which for me was several issues too long. I certainly don’t think the book sucks, I just don’t have much enthusiasm for it and haven’t for almost two years. 

  26. I mostly read Fables for Mark Buckinghams art. Worst thing that happened in Fables for me was when they started using those repeating side panel things,blech. And then any double page spreads would generally incorporate those gutters still so the image was all cut up…that wasn’t such a good decision imho.

    But they seem to be gone for now…..woohoo!

  27. The themed background/side panels look fantastic in trade format, where the binding will often eat up panels in other books.  The buffer of the panels keeps that from happening.

  28. Haven’t gotten around to reading the newest Fables story arc yet since I’m rading in trades as well. But I can’t imagine Willingham’s writing suddenly going from great to crap. 

    I certainly got a strong affinity for Fables since it is the book that got me back into comics after a 9 year hiatus. Started out with "The Good Prince" and this was a huge difference to the 90s stuff I remembered (Onslaught and other crap that bored me to death).

     So even if the book should feel different now, as long as the writing is still good, I’ll tag along for the ride. 🙂 

  29. Still loving Fables, still hating Jack of Fables…can’t wait till this crossover ends and he gets the hell back out of the book I actually want to read.

  30. I’ve read 1 1/2 paperbacks of this, and already I can tell it’s great!

  31. Im still reading both…i like mor Fables than Jack!

  32. Jack of Fables is literally (har, har) one of my top 5 ongoing books that I read.  Fables is an enjoyable and beautiful book, but the humor in Jack is just so perfectly in my wheelhouse.  I adore it.

    Also, I know it’s sacrilidge, but god damn people need to try to shake off the worry about starting from the beggining.  Just pick it up, grab a friend who knows the continuity and ask questions whenever they come up.  If you like it enough then you can go and catch up.  The story is richer when you’ve come the whole way with it, but if that’s really your stumbling block on EVER reading it, stop worrying so much. Heard the second trade sucks? Skip to the third.  IT WILL BE OKAY!

    [For the record I love the first arc very much and like the second as well, but I can see why they’d trip some people up]

  33. I’ve only read the first two trades. But the second one, called ‘Animal Farm’ I believe (josh has the cover on his article) was pretty good. I’ve tried reading Jack of Fables as well…..and then I got my money back after I finished with it cause it was that bad.

    But I’ll stick to the trades of Fables and try and catch up with you guys.

  34. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I should like this book. I really should.  

  35. @Conor  

     =O well played sir! Too bad im a teenager and the contents off my bank account wont by you a weeks worth of comics. I remember an episode of the show when you and Ron ragged on Josh for likeing Fables. But i guess josh did the same with Nova and GOTG, and look at him now!

  36. @Kenzaburo I don’t mean to hate on Willingham, but he doesn’t have the greatest non-Fables track record for me. Essentially, Fables is the only book where I think he’s good. He was hit or miss on Shadowpact and down right terrible on Robin, DCU Decisions, what little he actually wrote of Salvation Run. Even House of Mystery seems lacking the punch that he and Sturges put into Fables/Jack. It’s why I’m really not looking forward to him and Sturges on JSA, because they’re non Fables record is so, so bad. Alas, I hope to be proved wrong. (And note, some people really loved his run on Robin.Well, very few.) 

  37. @Aquaman – You’re not doing so well today.  Please tell me when I ragged on Nova and GotG? I’ve been reading both since the beginning. 😉

  38. I’m afraid to read this post and comments b/c I am way behind on trades, and I don’t really want to get the story spoiled. But for some reason I decided to pick up the crossover anyway and I’m enjoying it. Just my point of view. Coming into this storyline relatively fresh, I think it’s good fun.

  39. ha ha, aquaman.

     you have to give willingham credit. At least he wrote the conclusion to the actual original story instead of string the reader along for years. it was a really intelligent way to turn a finite series into a on-going.

    i also remember when Conor and Ron teamed up on Josh for reading Fables. These days the guys still have disregard for eachother’s tastes they just express it with passive aggressive silences, not blatant put downs. (i think anyway)

  40. @patio

     

    HA! HAAAAAAAAAAAAA! THANK YOU!

    I’ve been railed on in the past for telling people they could pick up Fables without entirely catching up. I’m not an anomole!

  41. @Josh

       when Ron picked Nova number 2 as pick of the week you went pack and got issues one and two, but when he talked about the first issue when it came out  you werent positive tword it. It may have just been conor =O im so sorry! I really mean that you dident like marvel cosmic stuff and made fun of that (which is understandable).

  42. I loved the Dark Ages arc, and I’m waiting patiently to get back to it

  43. When is the next trade coming already! i cant wait to read it now with all the controversy

  44. Well said Josh, I’ve been enjoying every ounce of Fables, Jack Off Ables, and The Literals, and the braintrust behind those book has got me locked in for life as far as I’m concerned.

  45. Even after reading Josh’s article, I’m still not convinced that this is quality work.  It is different, granted, but I’m still not enjoying this arc as much.  The argument is people do not like when things change, which does not apply to me.  I like change.  But turning Fables into a cheeky, colorful "sort of comedy" is not enough for my tastes.  We all have certain reasons that draw us to specific lines.  My fascination with Fables was an adult spin on the stories that I heard as a child.  This literals run, to me, is mediocre at best.  I’m definitely looking forward to the boiling conflict with the dark mage that took over their home in the city.  I think that will be worth the wait:) 

  46. @jimski Jack’s meta-humor strikes me as more Moonlighting-Bruce-Willis and less Deadpool, which is why it works for me (because I agree with you completely about Deadpool, who I now resent for existing while CB&MI13 dies). 

    Jack is the only funnybook that makes me laugh out loud, every week.  It’s true that this is largely because of Babe the Blue Ox, but the fact remains that I laugh, and laugh hard.  

    To the topic of the article: I’m enjoying the Literals, though everyone being in the wrong book is a bit like driving a car that’s just a little too big: it can be fun, but it feels wrong and shouldn’t go on too long.

  47. It’s seems like humor in comics is incredibly subjective from person to person, even when they have similar tastes in other kinds of humor.  Strange indeed.  Again, I think it has to do with pre-conceived perceptions.

  48. Hey if you’re just getting into Fables (or want to walk down memory lane), we’re blogging about the trades every week at <a href="http://www.tfaw.com/blog/tag/graphic-content/?qt=bl_ifanboy">TFAW.com</a>–we're up to volume 4 this week! Plus, if you post a comment, we’ll send you a gift certificate or coupon code–should help out with the financial investment to catch up. 🙂

  49. i have just jumped onto this like a month ago and i am loving it. i got all the trades and i love this crossover!!

  50. The problem with most comic books is that they are ALL "second act." In 99% of most ongoing monthly titles, nothing ever REALLY changes. So while fans of all types of storytelling mediums are pretty resistant to change, comic readers have this ingrained mental thing that the status quo MUST be maintained. And when something happens and a book is actually different, they have this knee jerk panic reaction and proclaim that it sucks, with (usually) little to no justification. It is one of the limitations of the comics medium, because most good stories are supposed to be about a change in the main character(s), but comics, by their very definition, can not allow that to happen. So when something like Fables rolls along and there is a huge change, people are very uncomfortable with it. 

  51. All I have to say is whether the "second act" of Fables works seems to rest on this crossover. I remember a column Willingham wrote a few months ago hyping this crossover that was essentially making fun of mainstream comic "events." He pretty much said that his crossover would not disappoint fans and would forever change the Fables universe. 2/3’s of the way through, how do we think he has delivered on those promises? Not well in my opinion. He has set up some interesting plot lines with Jack’s return to Fabletown and Boy Blue’s deification. I just can’t wait for this crossover to end to Rose Red can FINALLY get out of bed and maybe we can all explore some of the interesting new plot threads developing.