The Book of the Celestial Cow - Storybook War and Post-Apocalyptic Love

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> Protein Angst

April 22nd, 2008


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
01:18 pm - Storybook War and Post-Apocalyptic Love
It turns out that two of my favorite comics both started in 2002: Fables and Y: The Last Man. The former is ongoing, but the latter recently ended its run, and I am now completely caught up on both of them, which compels me to recommend the hell out of them to you all.

The premise of Fables, by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, is simple: all the storybook/folk tale/fairy tale/public domain characters you know and love—Snow White, Cinderella, Old King Cole, the Big Bad Wolf, Beauty, Beast, Pinocchio, and so on—are real.

And they're living in Manhattan.

They were forced out of the Homelands by the conquering forces of the unnamed Adversary, and they've set up Fabletown inside a Manhattan block. King Cole is mayor, Snow White is deputy mayor, and Bigby Wolf is sheriff. It's a hoot.

Sometimes, I think Bill Willingham is really not that awesome, and he's just coasting on his awesome premise, but I do give him a lot of credit for executing it very well, recognizing when it would be best to adhere to a particular character's characterization and when it's better to subvert it while still staying true to the story. I don't think he would deny that he's lucky to be able to elicit a reaction just by using a known character at all, but he doesn't use that as a crutch. He's created a very diverse, very sprawling world.

What's so great about Fables, then? It's constantly creative and inventive, and after the first couple dozen issues, the story really opens up and starts to expand beyond Fabletown, allowing many more possibilities for stories. It's a hoot, as I said: you can't beat the visceral cool of seeing such well-known characters acting like regular people. There are several strong, badass female characters, including Snow White and perhaps the most badass of them all, Frau Totenkinder (the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" and any other story that had a wicked witch in it). It has a very strong "storybook" sensibility, which obviously appeals to me; chapters often begin with cute little "In which..." epigraphs. The page frame art is something I'm not used to seeing in comics. It's full of surprises and emotionally affecting (the backstories revealed in 1001 Nights of Snowfall especially). Fabletown politics are kind of hilarious. Also, I found it interesting that the series eventually took a pro-Israeli stance, which is not something I expected a series about fairytale characters to deal with.

What's not so great? On rereading, I started to suspect that dialogue was not Willingham's strong suit; it's often a little unnatural and hokey. Because there are so many characters, most characters get painted very lightly, so they're not all as layered as they could be. Also, I've become more sensitive to the treatment of women in fiction since I first started reading the series, so this time around, some things pinged me. It seemed that despite his obvious desire to have strong female characters, Willingham would sometimes fall back on standard tropes (like a woman needing to be saved), which irked me. In addition, I sometimes felt like he relished having misogynist characters say misogynist things a little too much; it's obvious the reader is not supposed to espouse their viewpoints, but I felt like if he was going to be that blatant with the one side, there should be an equivalent and blatant asskicking to go along with it to hammer home the fact that what the character said is a load of crap. It's the little things.

Overall, it's a really great title, although the constant comparisons to Sandman bug me. Sandman is on an entirely different plane altogether. Sandman was consciously epic and layered; Fables is simply a ripping good yarn. Granted, it's become rather epic in scope, plotwise, so bully for Willingham.

If I've convinced you to give it a try, it's collected in nine trades plus 1001 Nights of Snowfall (I suggest reading it after Volume 7), with a tenth on the way in June. But, hey, I know you people want instant gratification: read the first issue for yourself.

The premise of Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, is also simple: all the male creatures on Earth inexplicably die except for Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. You may have heard of this one before, as it's one of the most acclaimed series in recent years; it would be hard to find someone who doesn't drool over it. One of those droolers is Joss Whedon, for what it's worth. And it's really no surprise that Whedon and Vaughan admire each other's work, since they have a lot of similarities.

The first issue is one of the best first issues I've ever read. It's fast-paced and exciting and tense and bloody and awesome. It introduces all the major characters. Yorick is an unlikely hero, a dorky escape artist who likes magic tricks and making pop-culture references that no one else gets: he's basically John Crichton in his twenties! With a dash of GOB for good measure. He proposes to his girlfriend, Beth, right before all the men die; she's trekking in Australia and therefore has no clue he's alive after the plague hits. Yorick's sister, Hero, is an EMT, and his mother is a Congresswoman. Agent 355 is a badass black secret agent eventually assigned to protect Yorick. Dr. Allison Mann is a Chinese-Japanese scientist who has been studying cloning and thus may be the key to saving the human race. Alter Tse'elon is an Israeli soldier who ends up being one of the many, many people after Yorick and Co. (Dude, he really is like Crichton.) Later, there's also a Russian chick. One of the title's many strengths is its globally diverse cast.

Y is essentially a big road trip. The core trio (quartet, if you count Ampersand) is constantly traveling westward toward their goal, and they have all kinds of wacky adventures on the way where people die a lot. Vaughan really examines what might happen if all the men died and women had to run everything. Some would be distraught at the sons and fathers and husbands they lost. Some would see it as the fiercest form of female empowerment. He explores all sorts of reactions and muses on how the world would keep itself running: that's what science fiction allows you to do, after all.

A quick note: you may think that having one man left in a world of women would lead to fifty-nine issues of porn, but...not so much. This isn't that kind of book. Yorick is determined to reunite with Beth, and he doesn't feel the urge to fuck everyone he meets just because they have no one else to fuck.

What's wonderful about Y is that it's, well, full of strong female characters. All the women in the book feel like real, developed characters, even the very minor ones. I think it's also notable that the artist and co-creator, Pia Guerra, is a woman (a rarity in comics, I imagine), and she draws the women like real people. The art is very accessible and easily draws you in. I also want to give props to letterer Clem Robins, who does a great job of creating emotional moments by reducing the size of the words in a large bubble.

This book has got everything, you guys. Monkeys! Guns! Pirates! Ninjas! Spies! Robots! Lesbians!

Brian K. Vaughan is a masterful plotter, but more importantly, he cares very much about characterization. Each issue drives the narrative forward in some way; characters from previous storylines will often return, and things the trio does in one town can have consequences later on. It's very much One Long Story, and you can go back and see how everything fits together. Several one-shots focus on giving backstories to characters and fleshing them out through flashbacks (a technique he employs throughout, all hail non-linear narrative). Characters are complicated, and their motives aren't always completely clear. And Vaughan is one bad motherfucker when it comes to cliffhangers. There was one issue where I was saying out loud, "Oh fuck, fuck, FUCK!" before I turned the page, and you all know how I love when fiction makes me do that. (Incidentally, the moment I describe turned out to be "just" a reveal with the end of the issue still a few pages away. My mind was blown into a billion pieces by the end.)

As I neared the end of the series, I got the same feeling I had watching the end of Six Feet Under, the realization that I was really going to be saying goodbye to these wonderful characters. Because they all felt like real people I knew and wanted to hang out with. It was lovely to watch Yorick and 355 and Dr. Mann, three very different people from very different backgrounds, bond as a group like Mugen and Jin and Fuu. In the end, when you stripped away the crazy cliffhangers and the sci-fi mumbo-jumbo and the examination of gender politics, it was really just a story about people. And that, I think, is why the series is ultimately so popular and amazing.

Have I convinced you to check out what many people call one of the greatest comic books ever? The series is collected in ten trades, the last to come out in June. That's right, it's over. Vaughan says, "I think finales are what give stories their meaning." (Is it a coincidence that soon after he joined the Lost writing staff, they negotiated themselves an end date?) There is a movie (well, a trilogy, as all things must be trilogies...and you'd be stupid to attempt to condense sixty issues of hardcore story into a two-hour movie anyway) on the horizon, and Shia LaBeouf is rumored to be playing Yorick.

Read the first issue right now! Tell me you're not hooked.

If you've been hesitant to check out comics, these two titles are great to start with, and they will make you instantly cool, as both have won multiple Eisner Awards (the comics equivalent of the Oscars). If there's more interest in comics, I can recommend more titles as I continue to catch up on my favorites. There's a whole wonderful world of storytelling out there, just waiting to be experienced.
Current Mood: blankblank
Current Music: Cibo Matto - Speechless

(30 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:cucumbersarnies
Date:April 22nd, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I concur about Y: The Last Man- I got it on your recommendation, and it is great, and twisty and unexpected in where it goes, while also being very very funny in places, considering it is about the apocolypse.

However, I've still only read the first trade (library doesn't stock it, so it will a slow read of any issue every few months), so I'll stop there.

Are you reading Buffy Season Eight?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC)
(Link)
it is great, and twisty and unexpected in where it goes, while also being very very funny in places, considering it is about the apocolypse.
Well, Yorick is a funny guy. And 355 and Allison ragging on him never gets old.

However, I've still only read the first trade (library doesn't stock it, so it will a slow read of any issue every few months), so I'll stop there.
Ha, you've got a ways to go! I'm glad you liked the first trade, though, after my recommendation!

Are you reading Buffy Season Eight?
I've only read the first trade. I need to catch up. And I'm excited to read BKV's arc.
[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:April 22nd, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I still haven't finished Y, although the last few issues are sitting in my pull-box at the comic store, but I do love it so much. Also, the cool thing is that on this season of Lost we saw Vaughan's name in the credits and realized that that's probably why the series's plot is running so much smoother now that they have someone who's used to having to episodic pacing with only a small page count and long spaces between issues, so that he can keep the continuity going without getting too complicated or drawn-out.
[User Picture]
From:lodessa
Date:April 22nd, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
YAY! I am very slightly ahead of the curve of Cow's pimping!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Good for you!
[User Picture]
From:lodessa
Date:April 22nd, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It makes me feel hip and with it.
[User Picture]
From:punzerel
Date:April 22nd, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I started reading/want to continue Y, but Brian K. Vaughan burned me with Runaways. :( But if you say the women are strong and drawn realistically...maybe I'll give him another chance. (I didn't note that they were especially realistic from pages 1-5, basically - given that this blonde girl was irrationally wandering around the Australian outback in shorts and a bikini top - but I will squash my grumpiness and try again in May.)

Fables sounds delightful - I'll have to check it out, for me + for several other people I can think of who would enjoy it. Thanks!!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Brian K. Vaughan burned me with Runaways. :(
I've only read a few issues of that, but I really liked it.

this blonde girl was irrationally wandering around the Australian outback in shorts and a bikini top
Ha, I noticed that too. But maybe it was hot out?

but I will squash my grumpiness and try again in May
You should! It's worth it!

Fables sounds delightful - I'll have to check it out, for me + for several other people I can think of who would enjoy it. Thanks!!
Tell me what you think! I hope you like it!
[User Picture]
From:sabra_n
Date:April 22nd, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Yay, I love both of those comics! Though I'm behind on both- I haven't read Fables since Wolves and I, erm...kind of stopped Y: The Last Man after the 9th trade. I need the 10th one like burning but I don't have time or money or access and ARGH.

But yeah, huge kudos to Pia Guerra's art in the latter book- it's not just that the women look real, it's that they all have different faces rather than different hair and skin colors stuck on the same face over and over again, a trap even pretty decent artists fall into sometimes.

Also, I am kind of filled with inordinate Bigby love, though I think Snow gets tortured a wee bit too much. And as an Israeli, I'm uncomfortable with the pro-Israeli stance Fables takes, but then, I usually am when it comes to Americans who support Israel. And the metaphor with Fabletown doesn't really work, but whatever. Look, Bigby being awesome!

-blue
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I haven't read Fables since Wolves
Oh man, you are missing out on so much crazy shit.

and I, erm...kind of stopped Y: The Last Man after the 9th trade. I need the 10th one like burning but I don't have time or money or access and ARGH.
Ditto with the crazy shit! But it's acceptable since the trade isn't even out yet.

it's that they all have different faces rather than different hair and skin colors stuck on the same face over and over again, a trap even pretty decent artists fall into sometimes.
Yep, I agree. Although I probably wouldn't notice either way.

Also, I am kind of filled with inordinate Bigby love, though I think Snow gets tortured a wee bit too much. And as an Israeli, I'm uncomfortable with the pro-Israeli stance Fables takes, but then, I usually am when it comes to Americans who support Israel. And the metaphor with Fabletown doesn't really work, but whatever. Look, Bigby being awesome!
Bigby IS pretty awesome. And I didn't know you were Israeli.
[User Picture]
From:sabra_n
Date:April 22nd, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Eh, I'm Israeli-born. Now I'm a naturalized wholesome American! :P

And I feel better knowing the last Y: The Last Man trade doesn't actually exist, because I have heard Rumblings and been spoiled and I was sure it was out already. Sometimes I forget that people read comics by issue. Heh. I kind of fear the movie because Hollywood would never be so kind as to actually get it right, would they? They'll try to dress 355 in a catsuit or something.

-blue
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 10:45 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I have heard Rumblings and been spoiled
Aw, that sucks.

Sometimes I forget that people read comics by issue. Heh.
Hee. Yes, it is quite the popular means of reading comics.

I kind of fear the movie because Hollywood would never be so kind as to actually get it right, would they? They'll try to dress 355 in a catsuit or something.
Yeah, who knows, really. I hope for the best. I definitely need to watch Disturbia now; the writer and director are the ones helming the movie.
[User Picture]
From:daynr
Date:April 22nd, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
(Link)
WhooHoo, something to do when I'm bored and no one wants to talk. OR, maybe I'll download it to my blackberry and take it to meetings.
[User Picture]
From:lynevere
Date:April 22nd, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Cool. I only made it through the first volume of Fable - I found it kind of trite and self-pleased with its premise, but I'm definitely a fan of Y: The Last Man. My library only has volumes 1-9, so I'm still waiting to finish that off. I'm hesitant to buy it, since I got burned on Volume 8.

she draws the women like real people
Not sure I completely agree... the women are definitely more attractive than a cross-section would be. And there is a volume called Girl on Girl. But overall, yes, a surprising amount of restraint is shown towards the fan service/porn. In characterization, though, definitely real women.

"I think finales are what give stories their meaning."
Amen to that. (Not that I can really comment in the specific, since I haven't seen the finale yet.)



[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I only made it through the first volume of Fable - I found it kind of trite and self-pleased with its premise
Heh, well, it gets better, if you want to give it another try.

I'm hesitant to buy it, since I got burned on Volume 8.
How so?

Not sure I completely agree... the women are definitely more attractive than a cross-section would be.
Well, sure. What I meant was that the art isn't extremely stylized or anything; you could see how the person drawn could easily map to an actual human being. It helps keep everything grounded.

And there is a volume called Girl on Girl.
Heh. Well, the world's full of women! It's inevitable. They can't all be straight.

In characterization, though, definitely real women.
And that's the important part.

Amen to that. (Not that I can really comment in the specific, since I haven't seen the finale yet.)
Although you can already tell in Volume 9 that the story's coming to a close.
[User Picture]
From:lynevere
Date:April 22nd, 2008 11:56 pm (UTC)
(Link)
How so?
My local library basically stocks "popular" items, so I do almost all of my borrowing through requests to other libraries in the county. I was up to Volume 8, and the cart catalog didn't list it, although it did have a copy of 9. I decided to buy 8 and donate it to the library. Once I did that, though, Volume 8 still didn't show up on the cart catalog. On a whim, I checked the shelf in my local library, and I saw four copies of Volume 8. It turns out they filed that one by the subtitle, while every other one was alphabetized by "Y: The Last Man."

I understand that's not a reason to not buy Volume 10, but it makes me hesitant.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 22nd, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Oh, I thought you meant "burned" storywise! And now I understand that by "my library" you did not mean your personal library.

Volume 10 comes out in June.
[User Picture]
From:lynevere
Date:April 23rd, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
(Link)
Hee, no. I own about 6 books. I'm cheap.
From:toastandtea
Date:April 22nd, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Oooh, i like this post, despite not having read either. PIMPAGE: EFFECTIVE.

I've basically intended to read Y for yeeeears, i just really never get around to reading comics (what's up, only just now reading Watchmen!) But with it ending now and seeing mention of it in so many places my curiosity has been piqued again. Also, i accidentally spoiled myself for a very big huge thing in glancing over a review of the last trade and i hate myself for it. :( BUT i will not let that get me down too much.

I remember also being interested in Fables when i heard about it at some other point, but apparently it takes a lot of bashing over the head for me to REALLY notice things and i guess it didn't stick. I will definitely check it out now.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 23rd, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
Oooh, i like this post, despite not having read either. PIMPAGE: EFFECTIVE.
HUZZAH! Thank you for being you.

(what's up, only just now reading Watchmen!)
Doesn't it rule? It actually lived up to all the hype, surprisingly enough.

Also, i accidentally spoiled myself for a very big huge thing in glancing over a review of the last trade and i hate myself for it. :(
Oh, motherfuck! I'm sorry. That sucks. Well, that is only one of many surprises. It's just...the last big one, I guess. Le sigh.

BUT i will not let that get me down too much.
Just try to forget about it! Enjoy the ride. It's a great ride.

I remember also being interested in Fables when i heard about it at some other point, but apparently it takes a lot of bashing over the head for me to REALLY notice things and i guess it didn't stick. I will definitely check it out now.
Ha, well, maybe I'll remind you constantly. Check it out!
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:April 23rd, 2008 02:33 am (UTC)
(Link)
I have mad love for Y: The Last Man. I started reading it near the start of its run when I was just starting out reading comics, and it was the best comic I'd ever read. It's still one of the best. The plot, the characters, the dialogue, the emotion, the humor, the action, the art... it's all incredible. And, although I wasn't able to really appreciate this until just a few years ago, it's one of the more feminist comics I've ever come across.

Brian K. Vaughan is my favorite comic book writer. His other original creations, Ex Machina and Runaways, are also fantastic.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 23rd, 2008 02:55 am (UTC)
(Link)
I started reading it near the start of its run when I was just starting out reading comics
Really? Huh, I think you and I started reading comics around the same time. Within a year of each other, at least.

The plot, the characters, the dialogue, the emotion, the humor, the action, the art... it's all incredible.
Yeah, it's very consistently good.

And, although I wasn't able to really appreciate this until just a few years ago, it's one of the more feminist comics I've ever come across.
Yep, definitely.

Brian K. Vaughan is my favorite comic book writer.
What about Brian Michael Bendis?

His other original creations, Ex Machina and Runaways, are also fantastic.
I'm catching up on Ex Machina now, in fact. And I've read a few issues of Runaways and really liked them, although it was the second volume so I wasn't really clear on who everyone was and what was going on.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:April 23rd, 2008 05:51 am (UTC)
(Link)
Huh, I think you and I started reading comics around the same time. Within a year of each other, at least.
I started in... '01, I think. I wasn't reading much the first few years, though. No DC or Marvel.

What about Brian Michael Bendis?
Eh... he's done some stuff I've liked, but he's also done some seriously sub-par stuff lately. I'm starting to think he might be a bit overrated.

And I've read a few issues of Runaways and really liked them, although it was the second volume so I wasn't really clear on who everyone was and what was going on.
Yeah, you really should start with volume one. It's a complete story in and of itself, and volume two would spoil most of the plot twists.
[User Picture]
From:ryca
Date:April 23rd, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Thanks for the awesome recommendations.

Off-topic, but I saw this today and thought of you.
[User Picture]
From:daynr
Date:April 24th, 2008 09:14 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Ok, where are the rest of the issues?
Also, nice research assistant in the first one.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:April 24th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Right?? I need to meet the guy just to...say something about that.

The rest of the issues are in trades. Click the link to go to Amazon. Or try the library; they should have them. And, yay, glad you want to read more!

Alternatively, download this program, and then you can torrent comics and read them on your computer.

Edited at 2008-04-24 09:24 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:daynr
Date:April 25th, 2008 01:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
hmm, I'll have to see if I can sneak that at work. That would be ideal.

the library has a queue, but i"m in it.
[User Picture]
From:mycenae
Date:January 27th, 2009 07:20 am (UTC)
(Link)
I like parts of Fables but there are enough parts where Willingham makes me want to set something on fire (pretty much the whole Snow White/Bigby story) that I can't really say that Fables is recommendable.

Willingham quote from this interview:

"...we've had lots of complaints online about the misogyny of issue 50, where Snow White actually kept the line, "Love, honor, and obey," in her wedding vow, which apparently is a pretty high crime these days. That, I get complaints about a lot. The wedding-vow thing, I didn't think was going to be controversial. That did surprise me, simply because my point was that these are immortal, traditional people, and they've been alive for thousands of years, and we've shown already that they tend as a community to cling to old ways. So I assumed every reader was going to see that and say, "Well, that's not the way we would do weddings today, but these are folksy, old people. So, okay, I guess that's what they're doing." Having readers actually upset about that did come as a surprise."

Misogyny justification fail. >:{
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:January 27th, 2009 07:35 am (UTC)
(Link)
That seems like a fairly sound justification, I guess. I don't think that line pinged me because it was a wedding vow, and that's what they sound like. But Willingham does seem to walk a fine line with the misogyny in the book.
[User Picture]
From:mycenae
Date:January 27th, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
(Link)
Well, I don't think anyone says that anymore unless they're very religious and traditional. It just bugged me because the Fables had clearly adapted a lot to modern America and then he throws that in there. What? The characters aren't depicted as actively religious, and Snow White stated out at least as a strong female character. Basically it just seemed to me like Willingham thinks women should vow to obey their husbands, so he stuck it in there, whether it really made the most sense for the character or not. Also, it was coming on the heels of a lot of other stuff with that relationship that pissed me off, so that was kinda the last straw where I was like "oh, hell no!" and had to stop reading for awhile.

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com