Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: Fables: The Good Prince

If you haven't been keeping up with the comic book Fables, written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by Mark Buckingham (pencils) and Steve Leialoha (inks), then you are missing out on one of the best comics being produced today. I'd rank this up there with titles like Ex Machina and Promethea (which has completed its run) for the richness of the setting, dialogue, artwork, and plot.

And it just so happens that this particular volume collects a story that you can enjoy and understand without being very familiar with what has come before. A lot of characters get introduced, but you are told most of what you need to know about them. I didn't read either of the two graphic novels in the series preceding this one and didn't have a problem keeping up.

The basic concept is that the Fables of western lore (and to a lesser degree Eastern--you do get to see them but the focus is mainly on the western fables living in America) were driven from the various faerie kingdoms by a mysterious Adversary and they ended up in New York living in disguise among the mundane population.

This particular storyline follows the adventures of a character who has played a pretty minor role up to this point in the series as far as I can tell, one Flycatcher (the Frog-Prince), who assumes his old role as Prince Ambrose and sets out on a noble quest with very interesting results. I can't say too much more without ruining some of the suspense, but suffice it to say that Willingham & Co. have developed a knack of making even conflicts that have foregone conclusions interesting to read, due to a combination of excellent visuals, some witty dialogue, and an ability to pull back now and then from the big picture view and zoom in on the specific casualties of any given struggle.

It's remarkable to me that Willingham can keep such a vast cast of characters straight and distinctive enough from each other to follow their exploits. He sketches out characters nicely with bits of dialogue, summing up small characters quickly while stretching out explorations of main characters at length. And one of the pleasures of Fables is that you never know when a seemingly minor character is going to be further developed in their own story. The Good Prince is a perfect example of that.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't credit Buckingham's excellent graphic design for helping distinguish the multitude of characters that dance across the page.

I'd only collected the first couple volumes of this series, as I have gotten out of the habit of collecting graphic novels in the past couple years, but I'm seriously reconsidering.

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