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Fables #21

Posted: Thursday, January 15, 2004
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham (p), Steve Leialoha (i)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo

The Plot:
After watching Jack trying to sell a potential mark on his latest moneymaking scheme, we see his efforts attract the attention of the three men in black, and they approach him in a bid to buy the magic beans that Jack was trying to sell. However, when he turns down their offer they press the issue using more persuasive tactics. Meanwhile Bigby Wolf continues his investigation of the newly arrived Red Riding Hood, as he remains convinces she's a spy for the Adversary.

The Good:
There's a lot to like about this issue as while the material involving Jack does draw away most of the focus away from the more engaging plot involving whether Red Riding Hood is working for the Adversary, the sequence does give us a good look at Jack in action as he tries to use his nonexistent magic beans to secure a fairly sizeable chunk of change. We also get a pretty good look at the men in black, and the more I see of these three the harder it seems to place them, as I started out believing they were the three blind mice, but after this issue I'm not sure what to make of them. I will say that they are a bit less formidable after their encounter with Jack in this issue, as he's able to drive them off once he gets back on his feet after their initial onslaught, but as comedic relief the three look rather promising. However the far more interesting sections of the issue center around Bigby's investigation, as there's a great little scene where he pays a visit to a fable who is cursed with the ability to instantly see the evil in everyone he looks at, and the way this fable deals with this curse is truly disturbing, but even more so is the final exchange between the two which nicely reminds readers that in spite of his role in this series Bigby does have some serious skeletons in his closet. There's also a nice conversation between Bigby and Old King Cole, which nicely details Cole's motivation for wanting to accept Red into the community.

Mark Buckingham has found the perfect home for his art, as his clean line-work perfectly lends itself to this series, which seems to be all about merging the real world with the more fantastic qualities that are found in Fables. So when the three men in black close in on Jack one can't help but be concern when you see Jack go down. The issue also manages to capture the darker elements of the scene where Bigby tracks down the fable cursed with the ability to see the evil in everyone he looks upon. The scene where Jack fights back against his attackers is also nicely done as the art manages to nicely switch gears from a fairly intense chase scene to an almost comical bit of slapstick when we see these three can fall off a building and react like a cartoon character. There's also some fun little details like the street signs bearing the names of famous writers of fables, and the store signs are also worth a smile. Plus, once again this book continues to deliver some of the best looking covers in the industry, and I love the way the cover logo is continually worked into the cover design.

The Bad:
It's a bit difficult to fill this column as Fables is one of my favorite series, and this is largely because it's one of the few books that is continually able to hold my interest from start to finish. Now I guess I could express some concern about the men in black, as by having Jack able to drive them off so easily one is left with the sense that these three aren't all that dangerous, but than again if they do manage to lay their hands on some guns, their ability to pose a threat to our heroes would jump up considerably. I also found myself a bit curious why Jack was so willing to turn up his nose at their offer to buy his magic beans, as if nothing else their opening comments to him would be enough to convince even the most inept con-artist that they were the perfect marks. Now the scene makes it pretty clear that he views these three as non-Fables and perhaps there's some rule about cheating Mundys out of their money and potentially drawing attention to the Fables community, but if nothing else Jack has always struck me as the type of character who looks upon rules as something that's only important if there's a chance of getting caught with one's hand in the cookie jar, and these three look like they would buy the Golden Gate Bridge if Jack claimed to own it.

What An Intrusive Nose You Have Grandma:
A bit of a detour as the main plot isn't really centered around the Red Riding Hood investigation but rather Jack's encounter with the three men in black takes center stage. Now this plot isn't nearly as engaging as what we had going, but I did enjoy the opening look at Jack in action and the men in black are odd enough in their behavior that they make for an interesting diversion. However the material that centers around the investigation of Red Riding Hood is far and away the most interesting part of this issue, as the scene between Old King Cole and Bigby Wolf is a classic display of two characters holding a conversation where neither one is really listening to what is being said by the other. The scene where Bigby visit the fable with the ability to see the evil in everyone he looks upon does a very effective job of selling the idea that why this curse would drive a character to take the steps this fable does, and the scene also manages to neatly remind readers of just how big and bad Bigby used to be. Being a Canadian I also have to say I feel a sense of nationalistic pride whenever a character makes their way into my country, so I look forward to Bigby's impending visit.



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