Review: Fables Vol. 21 (and Overall, Really), Gotham Academy 1, and The Ring of the Seven Worlds

Apparently it’s been over a year since I last reviewed anything on the blog. Which I can think of a number of reasons for. But there are several reviews I want to get around to writing on here, and since I’m doing what feels like a lot of ranting on Facebook about my comics reading, and what are effectively reviews there, I’m going to repost a couple of things here as a way of getting me back into doing reviews here more regularly.

From oldest to newest rants. (Just two, really. From the last few days.)

Fables 21 CoverFables 21: Happily Ever After by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham
ISBN: 9781401251321
Vertigo
May 2015

So, I’ve got one more collected volume of Fables to read until I finish the run. And I kind of fucking hate the series? I mean, it started interesting enough, but with huge problems in the writing and the characterizations (which were largely explained by finding out more about Bill Willingham). But the series at least kept much of its bullshit in check until volume 7. (I don’t remember which issue that TPB starts with.) And then things just went to fucking hell. And just kept doing so.

I suspect I’m kind of hate-reading it at this point. And have been since volume 7, though I wasn’t really thinking about it that way. More in an “I expect this to come together as not-shit again at some point” vein. But every fucking writing choice — every goddamn instance of totally unnecessary rape and degradation directed at women (rape never makes your book edgy; it is not a tool to be there to define your female characters; I am staring especially hard at you, in absentia, 1001 Nights of Snowfall standalone volume), the inability for women to be three-dimensional in the series (or to be neutered or in some cases just murdered once they gain agency), the unbelievably lazy plot writing, and the horrifying racism on display in the book — has been a masterclass in what not to do writing ongoing, serialized storytelling (or, really, other forms — I’ve read Willingham’s Peter & Max; it has many of the same problems, and I’m sure would exhibit the others if it weren’t incredibly limited in scope).

But I’m going to finish this fucking turkey because after reading the penultimate volume — so much rushing to kill off multiple characters to finish the series; otherwise known as the lazy writer’s wrap-up to ongoing content — I kind of want to see what utterly fucked-up ending this thing is going to come to. Partly because of the “I’ve committed so much time to this thing already that I’m just going to grit my teeth and see it through” approach.

And it’s funny noting that every time I pick up a Fables volume now it’s settling in for a slog, or in some cases skimming when I feel like whipping the volume across the room because of the dialogue (so much awful dialogue writing) or the content.

VS:

Gotham Academy 1 Cover(Gotham Academy 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher & Karl Kerschel
ISBN: 9781401254728
DC Comics
June 2015)

Picking up something like Gotham Academy 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy, which is just extraordinarily good on so many levels: characterization; a light, effective hand in the writing (Cloonan’s writing is incredibly good and often deliciously funny — Maps; so much love for Maps); a cast of characters who actually feel like individuals; a well-represented and normalized spread of diverse characters, rather than calling attention to any of them; some fucking fantastic artwork; and a really solid storyline to that first volume. And it creates a series of effective hooks. And wraps a full arc at the close of the volume, so if you just wanted to stop there, you could. But the invitation is left open well, and the pace and introduction of elements layered so that you don’t feel overwhelmed stepping into what is, let’s be honest: a very busy corner of DC’s universe.

It’s not doing anything revolutionary with the storytelling. But it centres young women as its protagonists, has a diverse cast, is written by a very talented woman with a flair for dialogue (who also happens to be an amazing artist, to boot), and it’s YA-friendly because of the age range of the protagonists and the approach to writing them.

(It doesn’t hurt that it also pays homage to one of my favourite jokes from Batman: The Animated Series. Which I can’t elucidate on here without giving away one of the reveals in the volume.)

That’s a series I’ll be continuing with. And looking forward to.

The Ring of the Seven Worlds CoverThe Ring of the Seven Worlds by Giovanni Gualdoni, Gabriele Clima, Matteo Piana & Davide Turotti
EAN: 9781594650529
Humanoids Inc.
November 2013

You know how you sometimes come across a comic that spends it first 200 pages trying to be all kinds of different things (a lot of them Hayao Miyazaki narratives in this case) and ends up being this long list of drawn-out clichés, and then hits its pivot and spends 30 pages doing an impossibly fast wrap-up of all its dispersed storylines (some of which never actually get attended to beyond a very surface level, even in the wrap-up)?

So, hey, in related news, I just read the hardcover trade translation of Gualdoni, Clima, Piana, and Turotti’s The Ring of the Seven Worlds….

Actually, all kidding aside, it’s fascinating, and I quite enjoyed reading it. Despite being aware that there’s so much stupid in this thing it’s painful.

But the editor in me is kind of wondering why the fuck this narrative wasn’t 500 pages instead of about 230. The initial pacing of the book sets up some very specific structural choices and plot events that never get drawn out properly or in some cases get massively glossed over. We’re talking huge amounts of narrative that should be in the book — as well as attending to several more cultural components and POVs than are actually featured. Alongside the problem of having characters just drop out of the narrative at various points, never to return. Which is especially irritating when you create an interesting character. (Even if one of the ones I’m thinking of is both interesting and mishandled from quite early on in their storyline.)

Also, technically, the central crux of the narrative doesn’t hold because the story posits seven interconnected worlds. Several of which, as entire societies, given their interactions, would have figured out the crux of the story which one lone characters figures out (in a rather effectively portrayed one-page reveal, actually) after no one else does. For I don’t even know how many epochs of interaction.

It’s both engaging and frustrating. And features some beautiful art. But so frustrating….

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