Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Fabled ending and a less than Fantastic beginning

“Great bird spirit! Why? Why did you lead us into this death trap?”

“No particular reason. I thought it’d be funny.”

(Spoilers for the last issue of Jack of Fables)

The most charming thing about the fifty-issue run of Jack of Fables was its free-wheeling ability to go anywhere and do anything. It took constantly surprising plot turns, while sticking to an incredibly rigid meta-textual formula, and then making fun of the whole thing.

The series has just ended with the extra-sized #50, which is made up of little more than endless splash pages in which the characters built up in the comic over the past four years all meet ignominious and pointless deaths.

It’s brilliant. It might be my favourite comic so far in 2011 – I certainly laughed out loud more than I have for any other comic book. It cut away to the boys in the commentary box talking about the action, blew up a truckload of cows (“Oh the bovinity!”) and killed off all the characters with gleeful abandon, with the thankful exception of that little blue bull.

Stories that end with everybody lying around dead – including things as diverse as Blake’s 7 and Hamlet - are usually filed under “Tragedy”, but the last issue of Jack of Fables is pure farce. It ended the only way it possibly could, a series that ended up choking to death on its own silliness, but still pulled off a cheery thumbs up as it was starved of life.

Besides, this is the Fables universe, where a bloody death can be nothing more than a painful inconvenience, and the series closes with Jack outwitting the Devils and hitching a ride as a ghostly figure – “What? You think just because the series is over I’m going to stop doing stuff?”

Jack of Fables got out while the going was good and ended up right where it started, but it’s a shame to see it go, if only because the Vertigo imprint needs a series with a sense of humour to balance out the endlessly complex original graphic novels and deadly serious ongoing titles with vast master plans.

It was also a series that could be deeply unmemorable, just by its very nature. When the lead protagonist is a selfish and hedonistic arsehole who drifts from story to story, it is always going to be hugely entertaining and instantly forgettable. The comic’s creators tried to get around this issue by constantly making fun of the idea, but it still failed to click.

But Jack of Fables was fun, man. And sometimes that’s all I want.


I’m genuinely sorry to see Jack of Fables go, but all jokes run their course and it’s wrapped up with a nice dose of carnage. In contrast, it was ridiculously easy to give up on the Fantastic Four again.

I really, really wanted to like Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four, but it ended up so serious and dour that it eventually turned sour for me. I had started buying the FF again a couple of years ago because of my weird addiction to Mark Millar and kept on getting it because Hickman was saying all the right things in interviews. Even though I’d really disliked The Nightly News, he was an obvious talent who had things to say.

But the Fantastic Four I dig is all about the sparkling pop power of the imagination and that never quite happened here. Eaglesham and Epting’s art always felt oddly restrained, creating a dry monotone of a book that deserved to sing.

To be honest, Hickman lost me a while back when he had Mr Fantastic stand up at a scientific conference and belittle and ridicule a number of colleagues in front of their peers because they had legitimately advocated caution in the pursuit of scientific excellence. It was obvious what the writer was going for – a new way of thinking free from the prejudices of the past – but it came off a mean and spiteful and petty thing for Reed Richards to do, and Mr Fantastic should never be mean and spiteful and petty. He should be helping his scientific chums up to his level, not smashing them down with his scorn.

So after the incredibly underwhelming death of the Human Torch – and most aggravatingly, the refusal of any character to acknowledge that this shit happens all the time and that Johnny will be back driving his hot rod down Broadway in no time– a new beginning with the Fantastic Foundation was also a terrific way to drop the title.

I gave it a quick look in the store and while that’s no way to judge anything, it was just more of the same, dressed up in new white costumes that already looked dated last week. More grimacing and smart people acting like idiotic dicks because they need to get the plot moving.

The craft is solid in these comics, and I’m sure they are finding an appreciative audience, but it’s nothing I want in superhero comics, so that’s another comic I don’t get every month any more.

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