Fables: The Mean Seasons (Volume 5)
written by Bill Willingham
art by Mark Buckingham and Tony Akins
Comics / Twisted Faerie Tales
A lot of people think Once Upon a Time is a rip off of the Fables comic series. I really don’t think that’s the case. It’s been awhile since I picked up a Fables trade, but I remembered it being much darker and more magical than the television series. I wasn’t wrong. I left volume 4, March of the Wooden Soldiers, seriously disturbed. This is a violent and graphic series, absolutely not for children. While The Mean Seasons is not as violent, there’s still bloodshed and so much lingering darkness hanging around the edges.
There are three fundamental things I love about Fables that I wish were also in Once Upon a Time:
- There is one Prince Charming. He just happens to have three ex-wives (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella). I think it’s an awesome twist on the character.
- Characters that were animals in the stories are still animals in our world and, therefore, forced to stay at a secluded farm.
- Almost all the female characters are strong and intelligent, not victims.
But that really has nothing to do with what I thought about The Mean Seasons. Spoilers through March of the Wooden Soldiers ahead.
Volume 5 includes three separate stories – a one off tale about Cinderella entrapping another fable as a traitor; a short arc regarding Bigby’s (Big Bad Wolf) past experience in the army; and the continuation of the main story line with Snow pregnant with Bigby’s children and all of Fabletown attempting to piece their lives back together amidst chaos. All three further flesh out their main characters in ways that are sometimes unexpected.
Cinderella’s story is the first time, I believe, we’ve spent any significant time with the character and she turns out to be much more than everyone thinks. I liked that I wasn’t entirely sure who was pulling her strings or even if someone was pulling her strings in the things she was doing. I was pleasantly surprised to see how it twisted at the end. Also, having a headless horseman statue in a room where Ichabod Craine is hanging out? Awesome.
“War Stories” is devised as a way for Bigby to look back at a mission he served with a handful of American soldiers during World War II. It was an enjoyable look back at a more carefree Bigby, showing how weighted he is by all the madness going on around him by contrasting his go-with-the-flow attitude during a deadly mission. He and Snow White are, I think, the most interesting characters now that Pinocchio is playing a very large roll in things, so I was happy to see some more back story and another side to the Big Bad Wolf than just Sheriff.
Then, returning to continuity, there are the four issues of “The Mean Seasons”, which begins in fall with the election for Fabletown mayor and Snow White going into labor. This is when things started veering into madness for me. While there were little touches I enjoyed, such as having the reconstruction of Fabletown as a background in certain scenes and acknowledging that everyone is still reeling from the battle of the wooden soldiers, the vast leaps in time between issues threw me. Each issue is a season, so by the end, Snow is celebrating the kids’ first birthday. There was just so much I felt I had missed out on - relationship dynamics that changed, the slow fall into chaos under a Prince Charming administration, why the babies could fly.
Okay, to be completely honest, I got stuck on the fact that Snow White’s children could not stay ground based, but had to be tethered to bassinets so they wouldn’t float away. I did not understand how this could happen when their parents were essentially a werewolf and Snow White. Yes, it does get explained, though never outright stated (thank you very much for thinking your readers have at least some intelligence to put the pieces together), and the explanation left me with a whole other set of questions about family trees and biological ramifications. I know, it’s a comic book about faerie tale characters. It shouldn’t make biological sense. Rational Leslie knows this; OCD Leslie needs family tree maps!
I like how Bill Willingham manages to piece small things together across issues. The context of Cinderella’s issue (technically #22 in continuity) is casually brought up in issue #31. This does, however, cause some problems when I have such large gaps between readings because there are some things and characters who I should know, but I’ve forgotten. Still Willingham manages to hide little things in the background that turn out more important later on.
The art in Fables has never been my favorite with the exception of the amazing cover art by James Jean. It’s much rougher than and not as detailed as the art done by Gabriel Rodriguez in Locke & Key. Certain characters can be easily confused because there is so little difference between their faces. This was a big problem with “War Stories”. There were soldiers, another in-the-know fable and Bigby, and I could only pick Bigby out of the lineup because he wasn’t in a uniform. All the other soldiers as well as the important fable liaison all looked essentially like the same person to me.
Okay, small minor spoiler for a page in the book that hasn’t led to anything yet. Spoiler warning nonetheless.
If you blink, you might miss the single page of a reporter writing down his sightings of Fabletown and odd fable-related madness, such as the giant war involving wooden toy soldiers that occurred in the streets of New York City. As far as I can remember, this Kevin Thorn has never been introduced before and, past this one page introduction, he doesn’t show up again in The Mean Seasons. It’s one of those things you forget about if you don’t move immediately to the next volume. Damn you, Bill Willingham!
For someone who really enjoys alternate versions of faerie tales, I do enjoy Fables even when it doesn’t maintain the high octane excitement that left me breathless and shocked during March of the Wooden Soldiers. This fifth volume is more of a slow burn, setting up things that I hope will pay off in big ways down the road. I have another four or five volumes sitting on my bookshelves, so I will be marching onward to see where the chaos created by the end of The Mean Seasons leads me.
A fun world with fun characters who continue to develop; art is a little sloppy and text near the gutter gets hard to read at times; some pacing issues, like it’s setting up for something bigger
I purchased this graphic novel some point in time, most likely from a vendor at San Diego Comic Con. It is mine. You can't have it. So there.