When I read Volumes 1 and 2 of Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham’s Fables, I fell in love. I loved this irreverent, modern look at classic fairy tales. I also loved the idea of the fables that live on The Farm are at odds with the fables who can pass for “mundys” in the city. Such an interesting idea! Rose Red is a great character, and watching her go from Snow White’s bratty little sister to caretaker of the Farm was an interesting journey. And Goldilocks as a lefty political agitator? Awesome.
After I read Volume 2, I picked up Volume 3: Storybook Love immediately with the full intention of reading it. Then life got in the way, as did other books and comics. It sat on my “to be read” shelf for over a year…
And in that time, I grew annoyed with the trend of “retelling” fairy tales. From Gregory Maguire books (and the Broadway musicals based on them), to Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, to just about every SyFy movie (Red, Tin Man, Alice in Wonderland…), the constant barrage of retellings was getting on my nerves. Where are OUR fairy tales? I wondered. What happened to people inventing new characters and making up stories about THEM?!
And I think this weariness of fairy tale retellings affected my reading of Storybook Love. I found myself rolling my eyes at everything, because despite several interesting things happening with the characters, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was simply tired of this kind of story. My reaction wasn’t helped by a story that too often focused characters I never gave a crap about in the first place.
Storybook Love is divided into two parts, the first of which focuses on Bigby (ie: Big Bad Wolf, who is also the sheriff) leading an effort against a mundy (regular human) reporter who threatens to expose the fables as…vampires. (Yet another trend that’s long overstayed its welcome) The second part focuses on Bluebeard’s attempt to assassinate Snow White (deputy mayor of Fabletown) and Bigby by sending them into the woods under a spell, and sending Goldilocks after them with a gun. The first story, “A Sharp Operation,” fell flat for me. It was too clever for its own good, from the reporter thinking these immortal fables vampires, to using Briar Rose’s sleep enchantment to break into a building. Despite the supposed gravity of their situation, it all seemed so…cute.
The second half of the volume, the titular “Storybook Love,” was better, as Snow White and Bigby got closer as they fled for their lives. Goldilocks continues to be an intriguing character, and Snow and Bigby do have great chemistry. The twist with them at the end also makes me curious enough to continue the series. However, so much time was spent on Bluebeard and Prince Charming, two of the least interesting characters in the whole thing, that I found myself getting bored every time they appeared. Prince Charming’s desire for power means nothing to me, because I don’t care about him. And the attempt to “humanize” Bluebeard by making him upset about being a coward seemed forced.
The best part of the volume are the two one-offs that bookend the story arcs. The first issue, a one-off about Jack Horner (of Beanstalk fame) called “Bag O’ Bones,” is loosely based on the American “Mountain Jack” folktales, and tells the story of how Jack comes across a beautiful dying woman, captures death just so she can stay alive and he can have sex with her, then realizes that maybe a world where nothing dies isn’t the best idea ever. This issue is a perfect combination of humor and gravity, and I think what I liked most about it is that there was no discussion about Jack’s origins or references to beanstalks. He was just an unthinking trickster in an odd situation.The last issue in the volume, “Barleycorn Brides,” is cute in a good way, telling the story of how the tradition among young Lilliputian men to steal magic barleycorns came to be. It is both a rare glimpse of Bigby being charming and warm, and a fun story.
Overall, what bothers me about Fables sometimes, and what bothers me in general about the trend of retelling fairy tales is that there’s only so many times you can be self-referential. How many cute references to mirrors and apples can Snow White make? How often can Briar Rose mention her aversion to needles? It’s so rare that, in stories like this, the characters get to be characters in their own right in a new story without constantly referring back to the original source material. Fables gets it right a lot of the time, which makes it particularly disheartening when it gets it wrong.
Next on Teresa’s Bookshelf: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Currently Reading: Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates