Writer: Bill Willingham
Artist: Bryan Talbot
The book opens during the final stages of the American Civil War, where we see Jack (from Jack & the Beanstalk), has been fighting for the South, and when he becomes aware of the fact that he's on the losing side, we see he's quick to desert this sinking ship. However as he sneaks his way through a nearby swamp he comes across a mysterious old man, who challenges Jack to a game of cards. After nearly losing all his worldly possessions & his immortal soul in this game of chance, we see Jack is able to walk away from this game with a mysterious sack that looks to have no bottom, and once something is placed within this sack it can't come out until Jack decides to remove it. We then see his journey takes him to a large house, and within this house he encounters a young woman who claims she is dying from an incurable illness that has claimed the rest of her family. However when the Grim Reaper comes for this woman, Jack captures the entity within his magic sack, thus saving the woman from her inescapable fate. However while this woman is quick to express her thanks, we soon discover a world without death is not a good thing, and Jack is forced to released the Grim Reaper to ensure the suffering people of the world find their release.
I realize that this book is about a group of characters who have quite literally stepped out of fairy tales, and as such it doesn't make much sense to criticize this book for venturing into terrain that I find unbelievable. However, since this story would seem to be set after the Fables were forced from their lands, and that Jack is running around in the real world, I must confess that I found this issue's inclusion of some decidedly fairy tale like elements a bit distracting. I mean one of the more appealing elements that this book had going for it was that it followed the adventures of some truly bizarre & in some cases utterly fantastic characters, who found themselves on a world that was downright ordinary. I mean the very fact that they have call outsiders mundanes suggests that the Fables themselves recognized their new world was a rather unremarkable environment. However this issue has Jack encountering the devil and the grim reaper, and he also manages to get his hands on a magical sack with no bottom. By showing us that the real world has it's own fairy tale like elements, the Fables suddenly look far less unique, and I'm not sure if I'm willing to embrace this new bit of insight, as it contradicts the underlying premise of the entire series, which is the Fables are something truly fantastic, trapped on a world that is anything but.
There's also a sequence in this issue where I was thrown by the sheer excess that was employed to sell an idea to the reader. I mean yes having the woman take a hatchet to every single animal on her farm does make for a powerful method of showing us that Death’s capture has had a profound impact. However, the question quickly becomes why did this woman feel the need to savagely attack every single animal on the farm, when most people would've gotten the message far sooner. There's also the simple fact that the absence of death does not remove the concept of pain, and as such there's also the idea this woman's inability to buy a clue also acts as a pretty good indicator of her mental health as well, as most sane individuals tend to shy away from inflicting pain upon animals. Now I realize fairy tales will often take things to an extreme level, as in most cases these tales were meant to act as object lessons, but since this story is suppose to be set within the confines of the real world, this woman's behavior suddenly comes across as look downright crazy. Now perhaps the wait for her own death acted to drive her insane, but when Jack first meets her she seems quite sound mentally, so her decent into madness is a bit abrupt, and as such harder to accept.
While I had hoped that Mark Buckingham would be this book's regular artist, I must confess there is a certain appeal to the idea that each story looks like it'll be handled by a different artist. This done-in-one issue features the art of Bryan Talbot who is a truly wonderful artist when it comes to the amount of detail that he puts on the page. Take the double-page spread that opens the issue, as we're treated to a full blown recreation of a Civil War battle. The art also does some nice work on the sequence where the Grim Reaper comes for the young woman, as her look of utter terror in the final scene really sells the entity's arrival. There's also a cute bit of story telling where we see Jack's movements after he took his bath, and strong indication that he didn't bother to dry off, let alone rinse the soap off. Now while I feel the reveal shot made the woman look like a blood thirsty lunatic, I can't deny how effectively the barnyard full of mutilated farm animals sold the idea that Death's capture was a grave mistake. The art also does some nice work on the little details like the woman's look of disgust when Jack originally moves in to collect his reward, and one also has to smile at her expression as she is chased by the headless chicken.
While the opening page of this issue suggests that one can dismiss this story as a tall tale that Jack made up, the whole fantasy element of this issue undercuts what I've found to be one of the more appealing elements of this series, and that is that the Fables are moving about in the real world. I mean if the real world is littered with fairy tale style elements, than the Fable characters are robbed of the primary element that makes them so engaging. It also doesn't help that the story offers up a scene that is so extreme in its presentation of an idea that one is actually left questioning the sanity of a primary character. Still there's are some cute elements to this story, and I do like the idea that the Fables have been running around the real world for at least a couple centuries, as it opens up a whole new segment of story telling possibilities. I mean one wonders what the Fables were doing during the World Wars, or what Snow's reaction was when Walt Disney released its first animated feature.
What did you think of this book?
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