Comic Book Club: Jack of Fables

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I couldn’t even go one week, could I? It was only just Monday I was talking about Fables by Bill Willingham and already I’ve decided to cover Jack of Fables, the spin-off series written by Willingham and Matthew Sturges. Can a spin-off be anywhere near as good as the original? In this case, it just might. Let’s have a second dose of Fables with Jack of Fables!

Somehow it out-weirds Fables, and that's saying something.

The premise of Jack of Fables differs from the main Fables story by way of Jack, the one from every fairytale that features a Jack of some sort. Instead of focusing on the ensemble aspect of the cast, Jack of Fables focuses almost exclusively on the titular character, even going so far as to let him narrate the story much of the time.

That’s the real change between the two series. Whereas Fables plays it the standard way and has the story told in the traditional comic book style, Jack of Fables goes out of its way to break the fourth wall in every episode. Jack frequently looks at the reader to make comments, mentions the artist of the month by name, and plays upon the structure of narrative in the literal sense.

In fact, most of the important characters of Jack of Fables are Literals, individuals with special powers who aren’t Fables but rather elements of a story. Mr. Revise, for example, has the ability to brainwash other characters and rewrite their being. One of my favorite characters is a Literal named Dex who pops in when the plot can’t be resolved by anyone else and then leaves as soon as he’s fixed everything.

Basically, Jack of Fables is the comic book for writers as the book plays heavily with nods that writers and the writing-savvy will appreciate. This is also where the series begins to bog itself down. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated every reference to Elements of Style that Willingham and Sturges can possibly cram into a plot arc, but after a while it starts to unravel the believability of the world and show frays at the seams, especially since this is supposed to take place in the same world as the main Fables storyline.

Also, girls tend to hate Jack, then love him, then kick him in the balls.

Initially, Jack finds himself trapped in a forced retirement home of sorts for Fables and magical creatures, which yields a ton of new characters from fairytales we had yet to see in the main Fables storyline such as Alice from Alice in Wonderland and the whole cast of The Wizard of Oz, but after Jack escapes a few times and takes along his sidekick Gary, well…the problems start to compound.

A few trade paperbacks in and you’ll agree that Jack of Fables is worth reading due to the excellent humor and writing-based commentary. But go a little further and you’ll see that Jack as a character isn’t very likeable, his sidekick is pretty annoying, and the distance the writing has to get stretched to incorporate all the literary references becomes painful at times. Eventually, as I said, so many super-powered characters are walking around, each with an ability that can create or alter the Fables world, that you start to just sort of wonder, “Why does this work?” Once I learned that every Fable was originally created by the same guy and that he can recreate them whenever he wants and has, suddenly each character starts to feel less powerful.

The specific plot I’m bringing up is where Jack of Fables (and possibly Fables itself) jumps the shark is referred to as The Great Fables Crossover. It becomes mostly a plot about how the Fables must somehow outsmart the Fables God in some convoluted way, ultimately resulting in an appearance of Dex that makes me go, “Okay, I suppose that’s the only way it would have made sense.”

There is, however, a lot to take in on most pages.

Don’t misunderstand me, everything before Crossover is perfectly grand. Jack’s character is hysterical in his crapulence and the side characters add a much-needed charm to the story, but after Crossover the series took a turn that I’m not sure I really like, a turn I’ll leave for you to judge for yourself.

And now I’m done with Fables again. Any loyal fans out there? Who’s your favorite Fables character? Leave a comment and let me know. I might change it to a comment I like better, but that’s just because I’m a Literal, or something like that.

Want more on comic books? Check out these articles:

Comic Book Club: Ex Machina

Comic Book Club: Superman: Secret Identity

Comic Book Club: Chickenhare

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

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