March 29, 2010

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Jack of Fables Volume 2

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Illustrated by Tony Akins, Steve Leialoha, and Andrew Pepoy
Vertigo

Jack's adventures in America continue, as he relates a story about his time as Jack Frost and then ends up in one of the warmest places possible--good old Sin City itself, Vegas.

Can the former movie mogul, with the help of another fable, turn the cards in his favor in the high stakes world of gambling? Or will Lady Luck block his path? Watch the highs and lows of the life of Jack of Fables as he tries to stay one step ahead of Revise, gangsters, and his own trouble making nature.

This is the point where I dropped this in single issue form, apparently because I didn't like it. I continue to be baffled as to why, because this is another set of solid stories using Jack's own arrogance against him and further expanding the world of Fables.

Heck, there's even nerd jokes in this one! How could I be against that?

This trade has two story arcs in it, the first going back to the days when Jack was in the Homelands, causing almost as much trouble there as he does in America. The idea that it's Jack in his desire to satisfy his needs brings pain to an entire world and later creates a horrible killer makes perfect sense and gives the two Fables books a connection without forcing a reader to follow both titles if they don't want to.

Jack's constant misogyny, scheming, and outright lechery is in full force as Jack Frost, despite only going for two issues. Willingham and Sturges make it perfectly clear that Jack is a horrible person, but he's still compelling enough to want to follow. After all, there's quite a bit of fun in seeing Jack fall from his artificial grace time and time again. (Jack's awfulness might have been what turned me off three years ago.)

The main story parallels Jack's time with the Ice Queen in that he ends up taking something which isn't his and ends up abusing his powers. The biggest difference is that Jack appears to care about the girl this time, or does he? Personally, I think Jack's rage is more that he's interrupted by another Fable's meddling than because he really is in love this time.

As Jack romps his way through Vegas, ignoring warning signs and living life in the moment, it's clear that we're supposed to notice that Jack never learns from his mistakes and is fated to fall again and again. That's the nature of his character, and at least so far, his development is going to be a lack of development.

I was happy to see that Willingham and Sturges aren't letting go of the Revise crew. They show up to break the fourth wall in two great scenes, then pop up trying to prevent Jack from spreading his illicit magic across the American West. The Librarians catch someone very different, but the prize may be more than they bargained for. It's a point I'm sure we'll see continued later on.

So far, every story involving Jack has ended mostly where it began, with our rogue hero having to start all over again, never being able to live happily ever after. I'll be curious to see if that theme continues. In that way, Jack of Fables is sort of the anti-Fables. You can pick it up almost anywhere and not really miss anything, other than a few references here and there. Even the Revise sections work, thanks to a few comments summarizing the first trade. Our co-writers are very good at writing a comic that doesn't require lengthy knowledge of past history, and I think they should be praised for it.

The best skill these two have, however, is for comedy. Unlike Fables, which is often so serious, Jack's life is one big comedic scene after another. Whether it's the Pathetic Fallacy making slot machines come alive or having relationship issues with a mannequin *he* created, two geeks discovering there's more to life than D&D, or the idea that Jack has an unnatural hatred for Belgians, the tone here is light, no matter how many people die. Even the gruesome ideas of eating lucky brains ends up being dark comedy.

The setup would not work nearly so well if it were not for the strong partnership with the artists. Though I still don't like Akins' design for Jack, he knows just when to exaggerate the action and how to give Jack a look that shows he's aware of the reader. Leialoha's section gives Jack a more handsome face, but shares the same comedic feel. John Byrne managed this balance between being in the story and having an interactive character, too, but he was writing and drawing. The collaboration on Jack of Fables is extremely solid to pull off the same trick despite having four people working on the writing and artwork.

In addition, the whole book has the same general look as the main Fables title, keeping this world much more cohesive than anything else I've ever seen from DC or Vertigo. I don't know how much of that is in Willingham's hands or that of his editor, but I appreciate it.

My 2007 self was totally wrong. Jack of Fables is a great book, and anyone who like books that skewer comic conventions, traditional story settings (a prison in vol 1, now Vegas), or feature people who you love to hate definitely need to start reading this. Filled with humor and a racing plot, Jack of Fables is likely to stay one of my favorite comics for awhile. I'm lucky I gave it a second chance!