Review by Frank Plowright
The title pretty much tells you anyway, so it’s not a great spoiler to reveal that Bigby turns up in a small town named Story to investigate a community of werewolves. The problem with that is while they masquerade as human, they retain the pack and hunting instincts of wolves. Furthermore the town leader is someone known to Bigby, and readers, from his World War II days as detailed in The Mean Seasons. Elements of that story are re-told, explaining the community’s origin in Nazi experimentation.
Bill Willingham’s applied a fair bit of thought to the concept, and several good ideas emerge, not least wolves constantly challenging their pack leader, searching for signs of weakness. Extra points too, for avoiding any kind of obvious business analogy. There’s a lack of sentimentality to a wolf pack, and that equally applies to this story, with Bigby ultimately a bigger brute than the remainder combined, although most readers forearmed with that knowledge will experience little suspense. There are also the surprises that Willingham’s so good at dropping into the parent series, although fewer of them.
For all that, Werewolves of the Heartland is several notches below the best of Fables. The good ideas are dragged out, the new characters introduced never really attain substance and some of their actions appear entirely gratuitous, and the art is all over the place. Jim Fern supplies the layouts, then draws some pages himself in a faux naturalistic style. Craig Hamilton then draws others with his turn of the 20th century shading techniques. There are some truly spectacular pages, but it becomes apparent both artists are rushed when it’s difficult to distinguish between characters.
Given that werewolves are central to the story no-one should be surprised that there’s plenty of blood and gore, but numerous other writers can provide that sort of material. There’s probably more male nudity than previously seen in any single Vertigo graphic novel, which is an interesting breakthrough, but not enough to warrant any recommendation.