RRRs: The Fables Spin-offs Edition

Rapid response reviews are shorter entries for books that I want to comment on, but don’t have enough time or material to finish a normal post. Given the sheer length of the Fables series, the only way I’ll ever be able to tackle most of its volumes is if I keep my comments short and sweet! My reviews for the actual Fables series are simple: go read them all! To get the whole story, readers need to finish all of the books, and even though there are 19 volumes (as of now), all of them are worth the read. Today’s RRR, therefore, is dedicated to the Fables spin-offs since they are almost as voluminous, but differ widely in their importance to the main series and their overall quality.

Title: Jack of Fables (Volumes 1-9, including The Literals mini-series)

Author: Bill Willingham

Rating: *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Jack of Fables Series

I’m cheating a bit with Jack of Fables as I am lumping all of the books into one write-up (though I did write mini-reviews for volumes one and two here). Simply put, I hated this series. Jack of Fables is extraordinarily different from its predecessor, and very little of what I loved about Fables was present in Jack. Admittedly, the story premise is quite intriguing as these books deal with the existence of the Literals, beings that are the anthropomorphic representations of writing tools, but the titular character makes the story all but unbearable. I read the full series because there is a cross-over between it and Fables, but after trudging through these books, I am pretty sure I could have just skipped Fables 13 and saved myself the trouble. While the Literals are an interesting concept, most of the series is dedicated to showing how Jack is a terrible human being. The humour is sexist (for example, Jack sleeps with his half-sisters and this fact keeps coming up throughout the entire series as something that is supposed to be funny or admirable), the art is inconsistent, and I could not care less about any of the characters. Unless you are a diehard Fables fan, these books should be a skip.

Title: Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

Author: Bill Willingham/Assorted Artists

Rating: * * *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - 1001 Nights of Snowfall

1001 Nights of Snowfall is a prequel to the Fables series detailing Snow White’s visit to the Arabian Fables in the 19th century. Unfortunately for Snow, she was not positively received, and the Arabian Fables ordered her executed. To delay her death, Snow White became Scheherazade by telling tales to the sultan so that he would keep her alive in order to hear the end of them.

What makes 1001 Nights unique is that each story is illustrated by a different artist, and almost all of the offerings are gorgeous. The stories are also some of the stronger offerings in the Fables spin-offs, and many of them offer important information and backstory for central characters. My favourites were The Fencing Lessons in which we see Snow White take revenge on the dwarves who kidnapped and tortured her, and The Witch’s Tale that reveals much of Frau Totenkinder’s past. There are also several other entries dealing with Bigby Wolf, Prince Ambrose, and Red Rose that are particularly illuminating for fans of the main series.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this spin-off to fans of Fables, and if you don’t mind the occasional spoiler, it makes a great entry point for the series as it gives readers a better feel for the Fables universe than the first main volume.

Title: Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love

Author: Chris Roberson/Shawn McManus

Rating: * * *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Cinderella From Fabletown with Love

In this Cinderella-led entry, Fables takes on the spy thriller genre as readers get to see exactly what Cinderella is up to behind the scenes. When long-lost Fables artefacts start showing up in dangerous places, Bigby assigns Cindy to figure out where they are coming from, and to stop whoever is sending them out into the world. Her hunt takes her all over both the mundy and Fables worlds to meet a dastardly figure from her past…

From Fabletown with Love is a lot of fun. While not as carefully put together as your average Fable volume (the art is quite a bit weaker), I enjoyed the story quite a bit, and its use of the spy thriller genre was an amusing shift from the usual Fables fare. This book is not particularly necessary to the overarching plot, but it goes give readers more exposure to the Arabian Fables, and who doesn’t want to see Cinderella being a kick-ass spy?

Title: Cinderella: Fables are Forever

Author: Chris Roberson/Shawn McManus

Rating: * * ½

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Cinderella Fables are Forever

Continuing from the last volume, Cinderella: Fables are Forever features our well-trained protagonist as she tries to take down one of her arch-nemeses: the Silver Slipper! Unfortunately, this story was a fair bit weaker than its predecessor. Cindy runs around in a bikini a few too many times, and there were connections to the Jack series that didn’t make me want to be very forgiving towards the story. Dorothy and the Oz connections might make for an interesting addition to the main Fables series one day, but they weren’t used very effectively in this book. Too much exploitive girl-on-girl wrestling and not enough world-building means that Fables are Forever is a possible pass if you’re feeling overwhelmed with Fables options.

Title: Fables: Werewolves in the Heartland

Author: Bill Willingham/Craig Hamilton/Jim Ferm

Rating: * *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Werewolves in the Heartlands

I had very high hopes for Werewolves in the Heartland as it’s about my favourite character, Bigby Wolf, starring in his own solo adventure. Unfortunately, both the story and the art were subpar, and I can’t see myself ever picking this book back up for a reread.

The book follows Bigby as he travels through the US, looking for a suitable place to set up a new Fabletown. He stumbles across a hidden town comprised entirely of werewolves that worship him as a God. Through an exploration of his past and some vicious battles, readers are given new glimpses into Bigby’s character. Unfortunately, none of what we see or find out is particularly interesting. The story doesn’t affect the rest of the series, and doesn’t provide substantial insights into Bigby’s character.

Perhaps I would have been more vested in the book had the art been better. Technically, the illustrations are fairly solid. The inking is variable, but I’ve certainly seen worse. Unfortunately, there’s little life to the drawings. The line work is too thin to have much depth, and the colours are very washed out. Given the unique and beautiful imagery of the main series, this stylistic change seems ill-thought out in comparison. The pages lack atmosphere even though the violent nature of the story cries out for a darker, angrier mood. Overall, the art contributed heavily to a mediocre read that I was quite disappointed in.

Title: Fairest 1: Wide Awake

Author: Bill Willingham/Phil Jimenez

Rating: * *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Fairest Wide Awake

Fairest is a spin-off series in the Fables universe dedicated to exploring the lives and experiences of the women cast members. Even though Fables is already a series that is quite popular among female readers, I thought that this new addition was a great way of further encouraging women to read comics. Unfortunately, this first volume of Fairest shares much more in common with comics traditionally aimed at men than any of the progressive or interesting takes I was thinking of.

There are two main stories in Wide Awake. The first deals with Briar Rose and the Snow Queen after the fall of the Adversary. To be truthful, I don’t remember much from this feature except for the fact that a lot of the story hinged on the actions of men, so I didn’t think it was a particularly good choice for the start to a female character-centric series.

The second story is much more interesting as it reveals an important detail about the pasts of Beauty and the Beast. Every few decades, the monster inside Beauty, her true lamia identity, comes out and she goes on a murderous rampage. Beast must then find her and clean up the mess that she has caused. This tale is told in the style of an old noir detective story in 1940s Los Angeles. It is a very memorable and atmospheric addition to the volume, but is, unfortunately, only a small portion of the entire book.

The art in this Wide Awake was a major problem for me. Jimenez is a very skilled artist, but his style is so different from the main Fables series that the female characters were mostly unrecognisable. (Their cup sizes also grew by several factors in comparison to their normal looks was well.) While the colouring in this volume was superb, the designs were quite generic and felt out of place in the Fables universe. To be blunt, the art didn’t feel like it was trying to draw in female readers, but instead rely on the usual oversexualised slock that a lot of modern comics use. Wide Awake, therefore, was a lackluster beginning to this particular Fables spin-off.

Title: Fairest 2: The Hidden Kingdom

Author: Laura Beukes/Iῆaki Mirana

Rating: * * * 1/2

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Fairest 2 The Hidden Kingdom

Out of all the books on this list, The Hidden Kingdom is definitely my favourite. While most of the Fables spin-offs lack the same level of creativity and care of the main volumes, this second book of Fairest is filled with extraordinary details, strange new ideas, and fantastic art.

The Hidden Kingdom delves into the background of Rapunzel. When she is called to Japan, readers find out that Rapunzel once lived there while she was searching for her lost children. Back in the homelands, Frau Totenkinder threw her out of her tower as punishment for becoming pregnant. When she gives birth in the middle of a forest, a strange woman arrives to help. She claims that the twins were stillborn, but Rapunzel is convinced that the children are alive, and she searches all throughout the homeland to find them, eventually ending up in the world where Japanese fables live. She has not returned to the Japanese fables community since they were run out of their world by the Adversary, but she’s been told that the key to finding her children may be in Japan, so she flies across the world to find out.

By travelling to Japan, Rapunzel introduces readers to a whole new series of Fables creatures, many of which are refreshingly different when compared to the talking animals and fairy tale princesses of the American Fables. The art depicting these new creatures is confident and vibrant. The artist certainly does not shy away from bright colours and detailed character designs and backgrounds. These illustrations brought this new part of the Fables universe to life, and the art here was the strongest of all the volumes I am reviewing on this list (save, perhaps, 1001 Nights of Snow).

The one main problem I had with The Hidden Kingdom was the oversexualised art for the covers (done by a different artist than the interiors, and admittedly, still quite beautiful). Rapunzel is a bisexual woman, and some of the art exploited the heck out of this fact. The main series of Fables is not known for doing this, so it was a disappointment to see such needlessly sexualised art in a series that usually avoids this.

Title: Fairest in all the Land

Author: Bill Willingham/Assorted Artists

Rating: * *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Fairest in all the Land

Fairest in all the Land is another Fables compilation story featuring a variety of artists. While I enjoyed this format in 1001 Nights, it wasn’t nearly as strong in this book. The story follows Cinderella as she attempts to solve the murders of some of the most significant Fables in America. Unfortunately, despite the interesting premise, the implementation is weak. Each new artist draws a chapter of the story, but these sections are only a couple pages long. The story, therefore, feels choppy and disjointed, and many of the chapters feel as if they should have been fleshed out more. Furthermore, the book leaves itself little time to deal with the consequences of what occurred in this plotline. I hope that the fallout is dealt with in a future Fables story as some of the character deaths should have significant effects on the Fables world. Overall, it was an entertaining read, but not especially memorable or well-crafted.

I should also note that Fairest in all the Land deals with plot points from an unreleased Fables trade. For those who are particularly concerned about spoilers, I would recommend delaying your read of this book until you are caught up with the main series.


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