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Fables Vol. 12: The Dark Ages Paperback – Aug 18 2009
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"An epic, beautifully written story that places Fables, familiar characters from folklore, in the mundane world after a mysterious Adversary conquers their homelands ... the series has proved tremendously popular."
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What a fantastic volume! This volume deals with both the endings and beginnings of the old story arc. The aftermath of the war leaves pieces to be picked up and surprises as to who is still around or in what condition, while the beginnings of the new story arc are firmly set in place with a new Evil force to be dealt with and some major shakeups in the Fables lifestyle.
Starting off with a single issue of Pinocchio taking Geppetto around his new home shows his bitterness and the townsfolk's non-accepting attitude to having Geppetto there at all. A different artist drew this issue and he has drawn Pinocchio as a little boy which I really like compared to his usual appearance. Next we have the titular section consisting of five chapters and a single issue. The Dark Ages wraps up what has happened with the survivors of the war back at Fabletown and the Farm. There are several shockers changing some character's lives dramatically. The new Evil foe is introduced and how he has come to be. He forces a life changing event upon the fables and is firmly set to continue the plot in a new direction. Finally the volume ends with a short five chapter story "Return to the Jungle Book" where Mowgli goes back to his part of the homeland to do a quick recon on his old world to see if it is re-habitable. This is a fun side story with Mowgli and Bagheera, and Bigby's brothers along as body guards. Mowgli also comes home with two new characters to add to the Fables population.
Lots of action, the demise of a few characters including a major character, along with emotional insight into a few particular characters make this volume particularly satisfying.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In the first secton, a sort of establishing one, an interlude, "Around the Town", we get interesting (different from what we're used to, too) art by Michael Allred--very two-D, darkly outlined, thick areas of color. A sort of retro art look, but I liked it. Pinocchio is showing his toxic maker around Fabletown, where most don't wish him well at all. He gets an opportunity to spout his menacing philosophy, and there's nothing likable about this still-menacing (if momentarily neutered magically) puppetmaker. I like how Pinocchio is drawn in a very boy-like way, unlike the original/usual Pinocchio who has a huge head and square jaw, as if he were a dwarf rather than a boy. I also liked seeing Bigby and Snow's brood taking in the city. (Bigby looks like a young Marlon Brando in this chapter.)
After that, we are in familiar visual ground with Buckingham's style as we move into a series of chapters that toggle between Fabletown in the city and parts of the homeland, where things are happening that not everyone is yet aware of--very dangerous things that bode ill for the residents of all fabley places. One is Mr. Dark (and yes, that connects to the title) and the other is Baba Yaga, who you may recall is imprisoned way down there in Fabletown's dungeons. There is a short, but hilarious, section with Bufkin, the flying monkey, and his digestive event. Bad things are also happening to our dear Boy Blue, whose wounds post-Wartime are not healing well at all.
The darkness in this Dark Age refers not just that of the sorcerous villains that are revived/released, but the darkness within the hearts of characters--from the first pages showing us the wasteland of Gepetto's heart and mind, to the darkness in the looting mercernaries, to the surprising revelation of the darkness in Rose Red.
A new romance, a visit to Mowgli's jungle, a terrible loss, and some insight into the emotional dysfunction of one of the main female Fables--a very good scene that's sad and insightful.
As usual, you get so me glorious cover pages reproduced inside (non-glossy) for those of us who prefer the bound volume to the individual issues. It's totally worth taking a pause to enjoy each of the covers, including the bound volume's glossy one that gives a Fables version of a Madonna and dead Christ.
I've never been let down by the FABLES series, and I look forward to seeing what's up next.
At this point if you have not read the series, stop reading this review. In order for someone to fully appreciate and understand what is going, you have to read the series in order.
What we have seen so far, our heroes have successfully defeated the forces of the Adversary and his empire is destroyed. The true power of this empire, Gepetto, is now an unwanted and very reluctant citizen of Fabletown in Manhattan. But he is under control. Everything should be fine, right? WRONG!
Gepetto is utterly unrepentant over anything he has done. He hates where he's at. He hates everything around him. But he does have a point however twisted. His empire kept order. Our heroes have serious destabilized the worlds of folklore. In the ensuing chaos, two soldiers-of-fortune unwittingly unleash an evil from confinement worse than the one they defeated. Unfortunately our heroes are first on the agenda....
They are forced to run as things literally collapse around them. They do not understand this new opponent. They do not even know the true nature of this new enemy. Not even Frau Tottenkinder does not understand what is happening. But they do know they have run.....
It is a common criticism of "The Good Prince" that everything was cut and dried with victory inevitable. Apparently Mr. Willingham heard your complaints. Now everything is in disarray and out of control.
Our favorites are all here. Flycatcher, King Cole, Bigby, Snow White, etc. have key roles in the action. My favorite part is when Boy Blue sadly, quietly and dispassionately tells Rose Red exactly what he thinks of her. What I didn't like is the author instantly creating a rivalry between Beast and Bigby. One of the things I liked about these characters was regardless of what they thought of each other when there was crisis, truces were declared. They pulled together and took care of business.
As for the art, Mark Buckingham is the best Fables artist. I really don't care for the others featured much. But Willingham's writing and the character's so rich I don't notice much.
Consider "Star Wars", where the death of the Emperor and the destruction of a minor portion of the Imperial Fleet was implied to have led to the complete collapse of a galaxy-spanning imperium, and its replacement with a New Republic (the non-canon novels give a more complex picture, of course, but that's not in the films). The Fables succeeded in decapitating the Empire's leadership, but it soon becomes very clear that the bulk of the forces, and the more junior ranks of the military and administrative leadership, have survived, and are now trying to deal with things individually. Each world now becomes an isolated problem to deal with on its own. In addition, the disbandment of Fabletown's specially-raised armies poses new questions, as many demand the right to conquer their own realms within the old worlds (as was hinted at back in "Sons of the Empire"). And the seemingly-too-easy induction of Gepetto himself into the Fables' community gets dealt with here, which goes quite a way to justifying it (Gepetto gets a particularly chilling line where he compares himself to God).
By far the biggest consequence, though, is the release from prison of Mr. Dark, a spirit of unknown origin but considerable magical power, who lends the volume its name. Imprisoned by Gepetto's forces, the chaos surrounding the Empire's collapse lets him loose, and he strikes with such unexpected force so as to knock even Frau Totenkinder off balance. While his actual actions are rather limited in this volume, he promises to be a compelling antagonist in future volumes.
Except this isn't the case.
The fables in our world are slowly recovering from the war, surprised at the few numbers that died, while on the Adversary's side, the number of dead are immeasurable. That is except for Boy Blue, who suffered an injury from a magical arrow. The fables' best doctor thinks he has him all cured, but Boy Blue isn't getting any better; in fact each day he looks much worse, one step closer to death, which would be wrong for one of the greatest heroes of the war. Meanwhile there are those in the Homelands who are searching through the spoils, and they inadvertently awake a dark and terrible creature, a bogeyman that haunts our dreams, hides under our beds at night, and terrifies us from the closet. He is the one whose power the fables have been using for so long to use their magical devices, and he's very angry.
The Dark Ages starts a fascinating new plot line, reassuring any Fables fans that now the big war is over, Willingham isn't done by any means, but merely with an important chapter in the Fables storyline, with plenty more tales to tell. The use of magic and power for the war was at an immense cost, as The Dark Ages shows. The question now remains who will live and who will die with this new evil loose amongst the fables.
Originally written on October 18th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.
Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.
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