Writer(s): Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham
Artist(s): Tony Akins, Russ Braun, Andrew Pepoy
Publisher: Vertigo / DC
Let’s talk cartoons.
In particular, I’m thinking of those great “tortoise vs. hare” shorts in which Cecil the Turtle managed to get the better of Bugs Bunny, the great trickster of the 20th century himself.
You know what made those cartoons work? First, they were just funny; let’s not overlook that. Second, it was a terrific, unexpected treat to see Bugs get it handed to him for once. One of those old Warner animators – Clampett? Jones? Freling? I don’t remember – once said we like Bugs because we want to be him – because he is smart and funny and just so damn smooth.
But every once in awhile, we like to see our heroes, our cocky ones anyway, get brought down a notch or two. Every once in awhile.
Add to that the fact that for these stories to work, everything else has to be working as we normally expect it to. Our hero can be off his game, but it can only happen on occasion and everything else has to be right with our story.
Which brings us to Jack of Fables #14, in which our hero gets it verbally handed to him repeatedly and all is most definitely not right with the rest of the story. Jack finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being an imposter, as he learns that Wicked John was the original trickster of, among other things, beanstalk fame, and he is just a Johnny – or rather a Jackie – come-lately.
This sort of thing would work just fine in Fables, where the strong ensemble cast allows readers to find something or someone to connect with or enjoy when the book isn’t up to its usual standards. For example, the current storyline in that book began quite suddenly – we were introduced to a new character, learned of a mission Fly just somehow knew he had to go on, and saw Fly’s preparations and departure for that mission all within an issue or two. From that rapid start, which gave us no way to emotionally connect with the arc, we moved into a couple of tedious and plodding issues without the emotional interest needed to forgive those pacing problems.
But Fables is, more often than not, a really good book, and has been for more than five years. As a result, we care about Fly even if we don’t care about this story, and we’re willing to plow through this arc knowing the next one will almost certainly be better.
Umm… OK, I misspoke before. That brings us to Jack of Fables #14, in which Jack and company are, just as they were in the last issue, stuck in the Grand Canyon. And, based on where the issue ends, they’ll be stuck there next time as well.
Jack of Fables doesn’t have the benefit of an established track record or a strong ensemble cast – it is a one trick pony: the entertainment in the book derives solely from watching Jack get the best of everyone.
That would be well and fine if something were happening to Jack, but all that happens in this issue, as in the last, is that Jack whines about his situation, we get some hints of the intrigue going on elsewhere in the Fables-verse, and we’re treated to some exposition. Lots and lots of exposition.
Sure, the exposition is handled in an amusing fashion – the Giant’s wife is very funny, as is the way in which John trips Jack up and reveals he has been lying – but it is still exposition, and Willingham’s pacing issues from Fables seem to continue here, as the issue ends in the middle of Gary’s story.
So next issue Jack will still be in the Grand Canyon, he’ll still have a sword stuck in him, he will still be whining. Will we still have to read a lot of exposition?
And that’s the problem with this issue: It’s in the same rut the book has been in for a few issues now. Even worse, the issue’s sole highlight – the way Jack gets repeatedly verbally one-upped by John – is amusing enough in theory but it undermines the sole reason to like this book: Jack is the ultimate trickster, the European version of the Native American coyote and the African-American Br’er Rabbit, all of whom would play ancestor to Bugs Bunny. And it was OK to watch Bugs get beat every once in awhile because it was just every once in awhile and those shorts were G.D. masterpieces.
When your book is in the middle of a tedious lull and the only reason to enjoy it at all is Jack’s super-freaking-awesomeness? Hey, it might be funny, but it’s the wrong time to have him play the bitch.
Get him out of that canyon, get that sword out of him, and have him show Wicked John that Jack may not have been first, but he has always been best.
And do it soon.
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