Review by Frank Plowright
This giant compendium compiles the five paperback completing the original Fables run, and with some minor misgivings about the final section, it’s the same excitement, quality and lush artistic pleasure that’s characterised the remainder of the run.
If there’s a theme to these stories it’s the escalating inevitability of conflict between Snow White and Rose Red, with Bill Willigham showing how targeted manipulation increases fractures long present in their sisterly relationship. At the start a prophecy made during Compendium Three concerning Snow White and Bigby’s children weighs heavily, and as unusual at it may have seemed at the time, Willingham ensures it plays out cleverly, although as is the way with prophecy, the sadness predicted also occurs.
Despite knowing the end is approaching, Willingham continues to incorporate new characters from fairy tales and beloved out of copyright children’s books. Tying in Bufkin with the flying monkeys from Frank L. Baum’s Oz cast over a series of short chapters is an example. They’re drawn by Shawn McManus, whose art charms, and with other guest artist on longer chapters including Gene Ha, Steve Leialoha and a return for Lan Medina, the artist who began Fables, quality remains high when Mark Buckingham’s taking a short break. It’s his glorious delicacy and imagination delivering most pages, and among other triumphs here he redesigns Fabletown. He gets his due for this series, but it’s worth reiterating just how decorative Buckingham’s art is, how he fills the panels with delights, characterises the cast perfectly, and positively relishes bringing the animal characters to life.
The misgivings about the final 150 or so pages will perhaps be considered trivial. It’s sentimental and crowd-pleasing and surely only a complete heartless bastard would want anything else for characters followed over 22 paperbacks or fifteen hardcovers. The conflict lies in Willingham’s success being broadly based on not giving readers what they want, but surprising and shocking them instead. That’s not to say there aren’t some beautifully dropped bombshells, triumph, tragedy, sorrow, redemption, joy, and pain. There’s also closure, for the main characters in a longer story, and for minor ones in a series of short tales, some just the single page, with Willingham efficient in touring around everyone we’ve ever cared about in the company of some great artists. As ever with Fables, almost every valedictory spotlight could prompt another story.
Minor quibbles shouldn’t in any way diminish what’s been a fantastic, immersive series from start to finish, and the four giant Compendiums provide their own monument. Irrespective of format and genre, anyone who loves a good story should read Fables. In less bulky paperbacks these stories are found as Cubs in Toyland, Snow White, Camelot, Happily Ever After and Farewell. As Deluxe Editions they’re Book Thirteen, Book Fourteen and Book Fifteen.