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Jack of Fables #40 – Review

by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham (writers), Russ Braun (pencils & inks), Jose Marzan Jr. (inks), Andrew Pepoy (inks & balance), Daniel Vozzo (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Jack Frost battles the sorcerer while Jack Horner discovers his fate and the true nature of his condition.

What’s Good: Since he first appeared, I’ve always found Jack Frost a fairly bland character, a problem that seems to be fairly irresolvable.  That said, this is a surprisingly strong outing for him.  His banter with the sorcerer really is fairly funny at times and did bring me a couple of smiles.  It is fairly enjoyable to see how Frost’s inexperience as a hero also affects his ability to converse mid-battle.  Also, while it may be a little baffling to see Jack Frost as an exponent for modern lingo, his colloquial language also brings the laughs as it clashes with the sorcerer’s by-the-numbers fantasy villain dialogue.

Despite the bevy of inkers, this month is also a strong outing for Russ Braun.  His dragon looks great while retaining a sense of comedy through all, and his depictions of Brak the monster continue to be weirdly adorable.  Braun’s work alone gives the furry beast a lot more character than he otherwise might have.  As always, Braun’s work on his characters’ faces is also a joy.

What’s Not So Good: While this was a stronger issue for Frost, I still left the book feeling Frost to be a bland character incapable of carrying, or frankly deserving, an ongoing series.  He’s still little more than a standard character archetype, and a fairly uninspired one at that.  He’s the young, male hero.  That’s it.  Nowhere is this reflected better than in the internal monologue contained within this issue.  Usually, I love internal monologues as a means of getting to know characters better, yet here, Frost’s narration is a snore.  It’s little more than a paint-by-numbers recounting of the action, which is pretty indicative of the blandness of the character.  Worse still, there are far more of these narrating captions than need be.  Did we really need to have Frost retell the entire arc’s plot, in some detail, at the start of this issue?  It’s unnecessary, and it’s yawn-inducing.

It also doesn’t help that “the Sorcerer” is about as clichéd and uninspired a villain as I’ve ever seen in a comic book.  If that’s the kind of short-term villain Jack Frost’s book is going to be getting, it’s going to be a bad book indeed.  Seriously, the guy doesn’t even have a name.  He’s just “the sorcerer.”  That about sums him up, unfortunately.

Then there’s the scenes involving “Jack Dragon.”  This is nothing short of a complete catastrophe.  In fact, it’s insulting and borders on being a slap to the face of long-time Jack readers in just how poorly the whole thing is wrapped up.  Putting aside how wrong, and dispiriting, it is to remove the character for which the series is named, only to replace him with a much blander protagonist, the manner in which this done is just sloppy.

Jack’s banishment from his own series is abrupt and underwhelming.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen something this anti-climactic in a comic in a very long time.   Sturges apparently thinks removing the character in this manner is humorous, when it’s closer to nauseating and rage-inducing.  Even worse is just how ridiculously convenient and sudden the explanation for Jack’s transformation and consequent doom is.  It’s also unimaginative and lazy in the utmost.

But wait, didn’t we get the explanation for Jack’s transformation already?  All that stuff Gary (and DC’s solicitations) said about it being artist Tony Akins’ doing?  Yeah, apparently that just never happened.

Conclusion: Having been on-board since issue one, I’m sad to say that I’m done with this series.

Grade: D -

-Alex Evans

Jack of Fables #38 – Review

by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham (writers), Russ Braun (pencils), Jose Marzan Jr. & Andrew Pepoy (inks), Daniel Vozzo (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Jack Frost gets his first real quest as a hero for hire, while Jack Horner just keeps getting fatter.

What’s Good: Well, this month wasn’t quite the tranquilizer that last month’s once.  Though I still miss Jack Horner, Jack Frost’s adventure may not be a complete disaster of mediocrity and boredom.  This month, he begins to show some actual character I can latch onto, sporting unlimited and naive optimism.   I hope that this optimism is explored a further, even if it means a darker direction.

What really keeps the character afloat, however, is his relationship with the wooden owl Macduff, who is actually turning into a decent character.  Inexplicably knowledgeable, well-spoken, and yet somehow socially inept, he is a fairly enjoyable read and some of his dialogue with Frost shows some solid synergy.  In particular, an early conversation regarding Macduff’s name straddles the line between intelligence and pointlessness in a manner that borders on Seinfeld-esque.

On art, Russ Braun basically delivers more of exactly what we expect from him: solid detail and a firm sense of comedy.  I still agree with Jack though – much of Braun’s greatest assets rest in his being a more restrained Tony Akins.

The best scene of the book though, is far and away that which features the now obese Jack Horner and his “little buddy” Gary.  Jack and Gary’s relationship remains weirdly adorable and fat Jack is laugh-worthy on sight alone.  Jack’s dialogue regarding his new eating habits and his new sense of fiscal responsibility are both absolutely hilarious, representative of the sort of ludicrous nonsense that marks the character at his best.

What’s Not So Good: And therein lies the problem of the book: the best scene of it involves the old main character in a scene which feels completely and utterly divorced from the rest of the issue.  The 17 pages of Jack Frost/Macduff, while not bad, pale in comparison to the 5 featuring Jack Horner.  Frost’s tale does have a naive and cutesy charm, but it simply lacks the spark and vitality of Horner and Gary.

A key part of this, I think, is that Jack Frost’s tale just isn’t all that special.  Frost is still the typical young man out to prove himself, with a quirky sidekick and, now, a bland damsel in distress.  Essentially, Sturges and Willingham are just writing a standard fairytale.  Fables’ premise was to transplant fairytales into a modern setting with fresh takes on old characters, but here, we have a straight-up fairytale being written with your average fairytale characters and setting.  As a result, it just doesn’t feel particularly special.

I’ve also got to punish this issue for what can only be described as flagrant misinformation.  The solicitation for the comic and its cover would have you believe that the focus of the book is on Jack Horner’s battle with artist Russ Braun.  Indeed, the solicitation text doesn’t even mention Jack Frost.  The reality is that Horner appears in all of five pages, with said conflict only barely being referenced.  It’s clear that DC, aware of a potential sales drop with the shift in focus, direction, and tone, have decided to distort the facts in an attempt to stave off losses for at least another month.

Conclusion: It’s a touch better than last month, but this is still somewhat bland.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans

Jack of Fables #37 – Review

by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges (writers), Russ Braun (pencils), Jose Marzan Jr. (inks), Daniel Vozzo (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Jack Frost sets out to carve a life of his own as a hero, disowning his mother’s powers and returning to the dead heart of the Empire.

What’s Good: I’m digging the idea of artist Russ Braun taking his revenge on Jack.  Jack of Fables has continuously broken the fourth wall, but this takes it to a whole new, almost Animal Man-esque level.  I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes and at the very least, it is fun to see an overweight, balding, acne-riddled Jack, who laments that he can’t both be ugly and a jackass.

Once again, I can’t help but find the Page sisters incredibly likable characters.  In an oddly inspiring moment, this month sees Robin, and by extension Willingham and Sturges, acting as motivational speakers as Robin lectures Jack Frost on becoming his own man.  Hopefully this familial bond will reassert itself in future months.

Also, it feels empty and strange and even disturbing visiting the barren, overgrown heart of the Empire.  I really liked seeing the place again and hope that its desolation will continue to be explored in future issues of Jack.  It’s an interesting and dangerous setting that deserves an arc or two.

Meanwhile, Russ  Braun turns in what we’ve come to expect from him.  The character designs for Jack Frost, both powered up and depowered, are nice, with the depowered Jack looking just as he should:  a younger, innocent, “good” version of Jack Horner.

What’s Not So Good: The biggest problem with this issue is that I’m just not buying Jack Frost as a leading protagonist and central focus.  While I do like him contemplating his thoroughly rotten parents, he’s just not a very interesting character.  At times, he comes off as a cliche.  He’s the young man just making his way into the world, trying to be a hero.  What’s worse, he’s defined by his naivety and him being a “nice guy.”  Right now, there’s just not much depth to him. And what’s there just isn’t very interesting or vibrant.  As a result, this issue at times feels more boring than it should, having such a bland character as its lead.  It’s particularly bad given that such a character had to take over Jack of Fables of all comics, where we’re used to having a flamboyant, lively, and impossibly egotistical lead.  It feels like we’ve gone from having an ornate chocolate sundae with all the toppings to a bowl of cottage cheese.

I also really can’t stand this idea that neither Jack nor Gary can remember the events of the crossover or that Gary’s previous powers as the Pathetic Fallacy are also being forgotten.  It just seems lazy, non-believable, and simple.  I hated it when Snow and Bigby forgot everything in Fables, and I’m hating this even more.

Conclusion: Jack and Robin are fun in their respective scenes, but even with a decent action scene, a boring lead character leads to a dry issue.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans

The Literals #3 (Great Fables Crossover) – Review

by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (writers), Mark Buckingham (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story:
The Great Fables Crossover comes to its conclusion as our heroes finally confront Kevin Thorn.

What’s Good: Well, this issue feels a bit less slapped together than last week’s; the characters sound like themselves once again.  Also, we finally get Gary actually making himself useful, which is refreshing.

Also, I’ll admit that for better or for worse, I always snicker a bit whenever Willingham and Sturges get metatextual and have their Literal characters break the fourth wall.  Revise’s comments on the comic were great, as was Deus Ex Machina’s tongue-in-cheek remarks about himself.  I also liked how Kevin Thorn’s powers were depicted, affecting the actual comic.  It was also nice seeing the business office again, if only for a moment.

Unfortunately, the best thing about this comic is that it marks the conclusion of this underwhelming crossover.  It was great seeing things go back to normal:  the reunion of Jack and Gary was oddly touching, while the Page Sisters join up with Frost and head out, guaranteed to cause mayhem in future issues of Jack.  It’s just a giant breath of relief as we are reassured that all of this nonsense is over and that we’ll hopefully once again be getting the comics we know and love.  At least Buckingham’s art has been consistently outstanding.

What’s Not-So-Good:
This issue clearly demonstrates why shaping an entire story arc around the Literals wasn’t the best of ideas.  The Literals are all, not just Dex, walking cases of deus ex machina.  Now, that’s all right for a quick gag here and there or a fun side character, but when an entire story rests upon them?  It leads to problems and a truly anticlimactic ending.

Indeed, words cannot describe just how anticlimactic the ending is to this crossover.  After all of the build-up, there is more or less no real “battle” with Thorn.  Worse still, the ending comes courtesy of Dex.  Yes, Dex is funny, but unfortunately using him nonetheless means that Willingham closed off his series with a ludicrous deus ex machina moment, which is unforgivably lazy.  Just because you wittily acknowledge using deus ex machina doesn’t mean that you aren’t using it.

Can’t figure out what to do with Thorn?  Dex shows up with a random artifact that solves everything.  Can’t figure out how to use it?  Don’t worry, Revise just “edits out” the part of the comic where our heroes work it out, making the artifact work instantaneously.  I don’t care if Revise edited parts of our real world comic out, nor do I care how admittedly witty that is, the fact remains that Willingham just took a shortcut that allowed him to avoid explanations.

More anticlimactic still is that the crossover ends with seemingly the removal of all the Literals from the series, which creates an even stronger sense of pointlessness to this crossover.  Jack and Gary are back together, the Literals are gone, and Bigby and Snow go home.  What in the hell was the point of this crossover?!  I’ve been plagued by this question for the last three months and this issue gives me my answer:

Nothing.

Conclusion:
This pointless, drawn out crossover is finished.  Thank God.

Grade: C-

-Alex Evans

Jack of Fables #35 (Great Fables Crossover) – Review

by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (writers), Russ Braun (pencils), Jose Marzan Jr. (inks), Daniel Vozzo (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Old Sam makes his play and the battle with the Genres comes to its bloody conclusion.

What’s Good: Little Girl Bigby Wolf is a joy to read and see. Russ Braun does a fantastic job drawing  her, with the frequent scowls being absolutely priceless. Seeing the little girl do bloody battle with the Genres is hilariously good fun and the definite high point of this issue. Willingham and co. go for broke on the gore here and it’s a real laugh.

Also, as ever, the Genres provide great commentary/ satire on literature as a whole, this issue in particular focusing on Science Fiction and Fantasy. The descriptions of the individual Genres early on in the comic is clever and the calling out of SF and Fantasy’s undeniable similarities is enjoyable. I also got a good laugh out of the very first two page Babe sequence. Oh, the awkwardness… Somehow, someway, Willingham manages to lampoon Snoopy of all of things.

What’s Not-so-Good: Despite providing a laugh here and there, this issue just felt strangely lifeless; not a good thing for the second to last issue of a 9-part crossover. I think part of it comes from the feeling that some of Willingham’s writing feels rushed. Some of the words and phrasing are repeated within individual word bubbles, which is usually a no-no, and little Girl Bigby just doesn’t sound like Bigby, nor does she sound like a little girl. Bigby’s dialogue lacks the distinct voice, containing little of the customary grit.

Meanwhile, Gary is such a lost cause in this Crossover that even he himself seems aware of it. The idea of Gary as Bigby’s sidekick had so much promise, but like many things in this crossover, it came to nothing. Bigby never even acknowledges his presence, leading to Gary having no comedic foil and just being flat out unfunny and repetitive.

Also indicative of a rush-job are a couple of underwhelming story elements. Old Sam’s attempt to steal Thorn’s pen ends in uncreative and anticlimactic fashion. Why even bother include this plot element? Meanwhile, Bigby overcomes his little Girl form simply by… trying really hard. Seriously?

Not to mention that this solution to Bigby’s dilemma makes little sense given the scope of Thorn’s powers. It doesn’t make sense, but hey, Willingham knows it and says it’s due to Thorn’s being “distracted.” Lazy. Similarly, I’m not entirely sure how Gary, let alone Hillary Page, is able to recognize Jack Frost, or know who he is. Also, several of the Genres are entirely forgotten for the first half of the issue (they are not even listed as being present), and then magically show up in the second half.

Conclusion: There are a few laughs here and there, but this is a lifeless and rushed issue in an increasingly tiresome crossover.

Grade: C

-Alex Evans

Fables #85 (Great Fables Crossover) – Review


by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (writers), Tony Akins (pencils), Andrew Pepoy & Dan Green (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Jack meets his son, offering fatherly advice before he and Rose are shipped off to Wolf Manor.

What’s Good: Jack’s comedy seems to be a bit better than it was last issue. This still isn’t the funniest Jack issue, but it has its moments. Jack’s interactions and the “sagely wisdom” he offers Jack Frost is quintessential Jack and is all the more enjoyable for it. It’s funny, self-centered stuff. I also enjoyed Jack meeting the cubs and giving them an education in vice.  Not laugh out loud funny, but it’s a cute moment that shows Jack mentoring the kids around a poker table.

I also thought Jack’s manipulation of Frost at the end was smart stuff. It was interesting to see Jack reasoning and behaving exactly like a Literal and not realizing that he was. I really do enjoy it when Willingham and Sturges play up Jack’s Literal heritage, as this served as another method of breaking the fourth wall.

Akins’ work is as loaded with comedy as ever. He may be no Mark Buckingham, but he does have a unique style that works well with this story. Once again, Akins manages to draw a wide array of humorous facial expressions that lead to some really memorable panels– Jack’s expression when caught stealing Bigby’s booze is absolutely priceless.

What’s Not So Good: I tried to keep believing in it as long as I could, but the fact is that this crossover just sucks. It just doesn’t have the scope and nuance to demand nine issues to tell it. Fables #85 only provides further proof of this.

This issue is all but completely pointless. The only item of any importance is Jack sending off Frost, which takes all of a single page. That means that plot-wise, this is about 20 pages of filler. Nothing important happens.

What’s worse, nothing RELEVENT happens. For the most part, this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the crossover. Sure Willingham throws in a couple pages of Old Sam planning on stealing Thorn’s pen (and what a “no duh” moment that is) to make us think this is a crossover issue, but it’s not like those scenes were particularly vital either. It’s just the seventh issue of Thorn hesitating. What does the Boy Blue cult have to do with the conflict with Thorn? What does Jack’s arrival in Wolf Manor and his meeting the cubs have to do with the effort to stop the creative Literal? The answers are nothing and nothing; and unfortunately, most of the issue is spent on these two topics. The fact that Thorn isn’t even mentioned by any of the characters on the farm until the very last page certainly doesn’t help.

Conclusion: Fables is a cute, fairly amusing comic that has little to do with the crossover of which it claims to be a part of, having pretty much nothing of importance occurring within its pages.

Grade: C-

-Alex Evans

Fables #84 (Great Fables Crossover) – Review

by Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges (writers), Tony Akins (pencils), Andrew Pepoy & Dan Green (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors), and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Jack returns to the Fables world, taking control of the farm, a weak Rose Red, and Stinky’s Boy Blue cult in the process.

What’s Good: For better or for worse, this was a Jack of Fables comic without Gary or the textboxes. While a lot of people can’t stand Jack’s Deadpool-esque breaking of the fourth wall, I love it. He only does it a couple of times in this issue, but both times, I laughed; it’s quite clever. What I like even more is that this issue finally explained Jack’s ability to do this, tying it to his being half-literal.

What’s-Not-So-Good: I am a huge Fables fan. Furthermore, I love Jack as a character and read his series as well. I find him incredibly humorous and am definitely not among the vocal “Jack hating” party. However, I do not exaggerate when I say that this is one of the worst issues of Fables/Jack of Fables that I have ever read.

The elephant in the room: Jack as semi-rapist.  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this angry towards a comic. Willingham and Sturges, writers who I have long admired, have truly, utterly crossed a line here. I understand that Jack is without morals and I understand his Byronic sexual hunger. However, Byron, despite being somewhat incestuous like Jack, was not a rapist. Jack was always meant to be the “lovable asshole”, the self-centered twit who conducted himself with complete moral abandon, but always in such a way that we could still laugh and get behind him. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how I can laugh at something that nears on the rape of one of Fables’ most beloved characters. I don’t see how I can support a rapist. Willingham and Sturges have moved Jack from “affable rogue” to “depraved villain.” It’s absolutely sickening; this is disgusting stuff and a huge mistake.

What’s also bad, is Akins’ art. I normally love Tony Akins for his comedic potential and what he’s able to do with cartoonish facial expressions. However, when Jack spends half the issue in Rose’s bed, Akins’ art only makes it worse. His depictions of Jack’s face making the quasi-rape all the more nauseating; his depictions of the wasted-away, broken Rose making it all the more vile. Jack’s banter and Akins’ art try to extract comedy where there is none, and as a result, Akins’ comedic style makes the whole affair look like an underground European sex comic. Instead of bringing laughs, it brings vomit. It’s sad that Akins has an issue long struggle with drawing Beauty. He just can’t do it.

The other major problem is this “Great Fables Crossover” itself.  I had faith last month, but now, as we near the halfway mark, I finally admit that it’s floundering.  This issue is a complete stall, not advancing the major plot or the conflicts with Mr. Dark or Kevin Thorn in any perceivable way.  The fables don’t believe in the Literals…and that’s it.   Also, this issue proves that there are just too many disparate elements.  Crossovers NEED one, big central issue/conflict to drive them and to necessitate their existence. So far, we have TWO entirely separate conflicts in Mr. Dark and Kevin Thorn, but as if that’s not enough, we also have other issues like the Boy Blue cult and Jack Frost.  As a result, this issue moves forward with the latter two smaller issues, while throwing the two major conflicts on the backburner.  This crossover is turning into an aimless, and pointless debacle and I’m failing to see why keeping Mr. Dark and the Boy Blue cult in Fables and Thorn and Jack Frost in Jack wouldn’t have been better.

Conclusion: From a plot perspective, this issue is a waste of time.  Nothing moves the major conflict forward, and there are just too many damned minor issues going on at once.  However, if you are a Jack of Fables reader or are looking to be one, skip this issue. I’ve never said this before. Skip it. You don’t want to see Jack as a rapist, as it will ruin the character for you.

Grade: D

-Alex Evans

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