Review by Frank Plowright
This hardback collection gathers material previously printed as almost all of The Mean Seasons and the standalone anthology 1001 Nights of Snowfall. It’s a patchy collection overall, with only a third of the content moving the story forward while the remainder sends the spotlight back into the past, where some stories work better than others.
The opening tale is some of Bigby’s exploits during World War II, and is neither fish nor fowl. Removed from the Fables environment, Bigby is here anomalous to begin with, not slotting very well into a buddy story behind enemy lines, and from there it moves into real B-movie territory. The Nazis are aware of Bigby’s pointed intervention and their consequent losses, and have plans for an immortal warrior of their own. The first two-thirds of the story are very well drawn by Tony Akins, but he’s rushing by the end.
It’s interesting to see Mark Buckingham both pencilling, as he does for the Fabletown section, and painting in depicting Reynard the fox’s cunning plan. He’s equally accomplished at both, and still ranks among the best artists in a collection that also includes Brian Bolland, John Bolton, Michael Kaluta and Charles Vess.
Snow White is central to this volume, both in the modern era section, where she gives birth, and in the past where amid many nights spent talking with King Shahryar she reveals stories about several of the Fables, herself included. There’s new light spun on the seven dwarves story, painted by Bolton, and how Snow White and Rose Red come across Frau Totenkinder shortly after her encounter with Hansel and Gretel. Esao Andrews paints the witch’s story of whim and cruelty, revealing just how many Fables she’s influenced over the years, including Ambrose. Snow White also meets her father in law (of a fashion), also seen in all his savage glory as Mark Wheatley illustrates the terrifying story of Bigby’s younger days as cruelty begats cruelty.
1001 Nights of Snowfall picked up an Eisner Award as Best Anthology, and ‘A Frog’s Eye View’ from it won an award for Best Short Story. Painted by James Jean, responsible for the covers to individual issues of Fables for half the run, it delves into the tragic circumstances of Flycatcher’s past.
The Fabletown section is Willingham’s by now familiar weaving of secrets, scheming and lies, and as such utterly compelling. It occurs over roughly a year, and during that period there are considerable changes.