April 29, 2010

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Jack of Fables Volume 3

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Illustrated by Tony Akins, Russ Braun, Andrew Robinson, and Andrew Pepoy
Vertigo

Think you know everything about Jack of Fables? Think again! As a tumble into the Grand Canyon takes Jack, his friend Gary, the Pathetic Fallacy, and Priscilla from the Golden Boughes down a road that leads to a secret that Jack might prefer to be kept hidden about his past.

Can his massive ego stand the blow that Gary is about to give it? What do you think? Plus, we get a bit more insight into the nature of Mr. Revise's work, intrigue is afoot at the Boughes, and Jack shows how to turn your soul into a high-risk mortgage.

All that and more can be found within the pages of Jack of Fables, a series I quit on a few years ago and am glad I gave a second chance. Though Jack himself is a lot less active this time (a result of his ego causing him to suddenly become the Sword in the Stone), we still get his trademark snarking, scheming, and stealing as he works to make a bad situation better.

We've come to expect by now that Jack won't ever quite deal with reality, nor will any of his plans ever work out quite how he wants them to. But watching how he squirms his way in and out of trouble at the hands of our skilled co-writers is a treat, trade in and trade out. How he handles the secret Gary reveals and then uses it to worm out of trouble is absolutely brilliant, and leaves the reader just about as shocked as the characters in the story.

At the same time, because Jack constantly breaks the fourth wall (with Gary now joining in, as we learn more about his past as well), Willingham and Sturges are able to use Jack to say something about the nature of telling a Fable. One little change can have a huge impact, as Jack learns. How Jack presents himself, from the movie deal to hero of the oppressed to a man who can beat the devil at his own game, is all about getting someone--the reader or another Fable--to believe what he's selling. This is just like being a writer, and Jack's success--or lack thereof--hinges on that belief.

Our writers here are winking at us and letting us know that they understand the game of storytelling. If you do it well, you gain fame. Do it wrong or have your work mangled (see Mr. Revise) and you risk being left behind. (I doubt, however, if either Mr. Willingham or Mr. Sturges are in danger of being stuck with a sword in their stomach. Given how rabid fanboys can be, however, you never know...)

With this trade, between Gary's story of the "real" Jack of Fables and the implication of the literals populating the world, we are seeing a lot about the concept and nature of the story. If this were another writing team, you might end up in a lengthy philosophical debate that, while good, would not be in the spirit of Jack. So instead, we end up with sex jokes, a fantasizing blue ox, and as many one-liners as letterer Todd Klein can fit safely on the page. Jack can't take anything seriously, and the reader isn't supposed to, either. But if you take a few minutes to look at what Willingham and Sturges are doing here with storytelling, I think you'll find some insightful commentary mixed in with the slapstick.

A lot of the reason why this series works so well is the structure. Gary literally walks us through some of Jack's adventures, and the switching of scenes is performed deftly. Each time we get a new revelation, we're moved on to something funny just to make sure we don't think about it too much before we're supposed to. No matter who is talking where, it's always as though we have Jack's attention span. I like the feel of the pace a lot as a result.

Plus, who can resist talking, illiterate dogs and Jack telling a (tall?) tale about his dealings with the devils of the world, complete with a playful jab at the other Vertigo series to deal with storytelling written by that English guy?

Jack of Fables is a great package from a visual standpoint, and the artwork helps Willingham and Sturges out quite a bit. Brian Bolland's covers set the tone, and even an increased number of artists don't spoil the internal consistency of the characters. You can still tell who is who, even if I would prefer they draw Jack to look a lot less like Bigby from Fables. Our artists allow for mugging for the camera and do well whenever there is a need for a visual gag. I also was amused by several Gil Kane nose shots.

The Satan section that closes things out is a great showcase of artist Andrew Robinson. He portrays devils of all kinds and really captures, I think, the mania of listening to Jack relate one of his biased stories. If you want to see if Jack of Fables might be for you, then sneak a peek at the one-shot at the end of this trade. I'm betting you'll be hooked.

I hate to make Jack's head any more swollen than it already is, but this series is really, really good, and I think everyone should be reading it. Willingham is nominated for an Eisner, and its' easy to see why. This trade and the series itself is very different from Fables, but it's every bit as good. If you haven't started Jack of Fables yet, get off your beanstalk and start!