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Fables: The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham and 6 others

1/07/2010. Contributed by Neale Monks

Buy Fables: The Great Fables Crossover in the USA - or Buy Fables: The Great Fables Crossover in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 224 page softcover graphic novel. Price: £11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84856-574-6).

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'The Great Fables Crossover' concerns a group of characters from the 'Fables' series trying to stop an omnipotent writer from ripping up their universe and starting again with a whole new one. As such, it's a very metaphysical sort of story, with fictions within fictions and no obvious sense of what, if anything, is reality. While that all sounds promising enough for a nine-volume, 224-page series, 'The Great Fables Crossover' actually ends up being heavy-going and unrewarding.

As a cross-over work, 'The Great Fables Crossover' includes three issues from the 'Fables' series, three from the 'Jack Of Fables' spin-off series and three that comprised their own series, 'The Literals'. The question is whether one of the characters in 'The Literals' is actually the creator of the entire Fables universe. Inevitably, cross-over series tend to be self-referential and if you're not completely au fait with either 'Fables' or 'Jack Of Fables', following some of the plot-lines could be tricky. But even allowing for the need to bring readers up to speed, there's a lot of talking in this comicbook series and not very much action.

Part of the problem is the lack of appealing characters, which makes the slow pace of the book hard to take. As a hero, Jack just isn't all that attractive. It may well be that (to quote Jessica Rabbit) he's drawn that way, but even anti-heroes have to have their good points. But Jack is such an irresponsible jerk that it's hard to warm to him. Similarly, the Literals are so abstract that connecting with them is difficult. Of course, personifications are as old as the Muses themselves, but they don't necessarily make engaging characters.

Another problem is the sheer unevenness of what Bill Willingham is putting forward. Besides the metaphysical nature of the primary plot, there are numerous smaller plots fizzing and sometimes sputtering on the side. Some of these plots don't seem to have any purpose. Gary the Pathetic Fallacy starts off a Jack's sidekick, gets dumped, then gets attached to Bigby Wolf, but there's no real interaction between the two of them. Similarly, while the Literals are clearly very important and powerful, some of them are clearly much more creative and independent than the others, but why that should be isn't explained.

It's not all bad, though, there are some nice touches. Bigby's transformations stand in sharp contrast to his appearance and fighting prowess and Jack's 'seduction' of Rose Red is so bad it's good. Some of the Literals take the form of literary genres, and while they're pastiches of clichés, they're fun nonetheless. There's even a deux ex machina ending that actually makes sense. It's also worth stating that the artwork is consistently good and when the storyline warrants it, the artists have produced some really detailed and action-packed illustrations.

But the bad outweighs the good, and the 'The Great Fables Crossover' simply doesn't work on too many levels. Whereas the 'Fables' series is accessible and fun in the same way as 'Shrek', 'The Great Fables Crossover' is a series for Willingham fans only.

Neale Monks

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