Fables 12: The Dark Ages

Last year, I read the first 11 volumes of the marvelous Fables comic book series in which characters from many of our beloved fairy tales and other stories are living in a section of New York City called Fabletown. They’ve lived there, and in other outposts in our world, for hundreds of years having been driven out of the Homeland by a mysterious adversary (whose identity is eventually revealed). Over the centuries, they’ve formed unexpected relationships and acted in ways that echo what we know of the characters from our stories but that also take into account their new situation. By the end of the 11th volume, series creator Bill Willingham’s versions of such characters as Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Little Boy Blue, Sinbad, and Old King Cole (to name just a few) had become fully formed creations of his own.

The rest of this post will have some spoilers for the first 11 volumes. I will be as vague as I can regarding the major surprises, but it’s impossible to avoid discussing a few significant developments.  If you haven’t read the first 11 volumes of Fables, proceed with caution.

The 11th book, War and Pieces, had a shocking ending that brought to an end the major storyline of the series so far, the war with the Adversary for the Homelands. Volume 12, The Dark Ages, deals with the aftermath of the war. As such it’s really more of a transitional volume than anything else. Characters mourn lost friends and discover that the end of a war doesn’t mean peace.

Even without the war, there’s still plenty of conflict to be had. Some of the conflict is internal, as in Rose Red’s inferiority complex and difficulties with intimacy. Some is interpersonal, as in Bigby and the Beast’s fight over enforcement of Fabletown law. Some is on the battlefield, as in the fight to repopulate the Homelands, starting with Mowgli’s jungle. And some is the stuff of legend, as a new old enemy arises in the aftermath of the war.

All of these storylines have potential, particularly the one involving the sinister Mister Dark. The rise of Mister Dark already brought about one major change in the characters’ lives, but at this point, his story still feels like exposition. I’m curious to see what happens, but the exposition was not, in and of itself, riveting. The only storyline that was truly absorbing in this volume was the one involving Little Boy Blue.

So all in all, this wasn’t my favorite volume, but that’s no great surprise, given that it is a transitional piece. I imagine anyone who’s been following the series so far will want to read this volume, if you haven’t already. If you’re reading the series and haven’t gotten this far, rest assured that the story is holding up well and moving in interesting directions.

The next volume, released this past February, is actually a crossover with the spin-off Jack of Fables series. Jack was probably my least favorite of all the Fables characters, so I was glad to see him get a spin-off, but I’m not especially excited about a Jack-centric volume of Fables. Has anyone read it? Is it a one-off that’s easily missed or is there some character and plot development that I’ll want to know about?

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8 Responses to Fables 12: The Dark Ages

  1. Study Window says:

    I’ve only read the first part of this post as I will have to look out this series and don’t want any surprises spoiled. Have you read Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime Books? I suspect the tone is probably very different, but what he does with the characters of fairy tales and nursery rhymes is very funny indeed. ‘The Fourth Bear’ is my favourite.

    • Teresa says:

      I haven’t read Fforde’s Nursery Crime books (I wasn’t impressed with The Eyre Affair and haven’t sought out his other works.) Maybe I’ll give those a try.

  2. Nymeth says:

    “The only storyline that was truly absorbing in this volume was the one involving Little Boy Blue.”

    Yes, exactly. But like you said, it’s a transitional volume, so the story should pick up again after that.

    I’ve been told that volume 13 feels more like a Jack book than a Fables book, and that you really have to read all the previous Jack spin-offs first for it to make any sense at all :\ I haven’t read it yet, because I kind of don’t feel like getting six other books just so I can continue with the series.

    • Teresa says:

      Ana, I think the different ideas introduced have potential, so I’m optimistic.

      And I’m really not keen on reading the Jack books since I tuned out a lot of his Fables storylines. But I’d hate to miss important Fables plot points. Maybe I’ll just read the Fables-centric sections to stay caught up and ignore the rest.

  3. Jenny says:

    I was underwhelmed by Mister Dark. He seems like a slightly by-the-numbers villain, and I do not like it that he knocked down (all of? a large segment of? I can’t remember!) Fabletown – it felt a little bit like Willingham wiping the slate clean after the big battle against the Adversary.

    • Teresa says:

      Jenny, I think there was some slate-clearing going on for sure, but I liked how the destruction of the whole of Fabletown will raise the stakes on the Farm, especially for Rose Red. And Mister Dark’s tooth thing was creepy!

  4. Vasilly says:

    You can definitely skip vol 13, The Great Crossover. It’s not a waste of time but it’s not an important volume.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for the heads-up, Vasilly. As I told Ana I might just skim through it at the bookstore if they have it next time I’m there, but I’d rather not purchase it.

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