I was going to review the latest issue of BRAVE & BOLD today, but it is the first issue of a two-parter, and not very good to boot. In four weeks I will hit both parts in one lump, probably with prejudice.
In the meantime, let us turn to more pleasant subjects. Nearly everybody loves FABLES, a long-running and award-winning comic book that has been gathered into perhaps a dozen graphic novels by now. The basic premise — characters of fairy tale and legend in our world — is fun and teeming with promise. The creators spin a good plot and develop fascinating characters, not a given, alas! in today’s comic book market.
Why is this so, when cash cows like SUPERMAN and BATMAN are limp as laundry? Partly Superman and Batman suffer from Hollywooditis, in which a fatal surge of turgid images and wan themes washes east from California to the offices of DC Comics in New York City. This happens every time there is a major motion picture, or even TV. How many years we labored in the wilderness while Batman fought off his Adam West incarnation, and it will be a long, long year before the Joker quits looking like Heath Ledger. Another factor is control. Is Batman going to die in this current issue? Of course not, not with a new movie in production.
But from a writer point of view the other fatal handicap is the serial nature of comics. Once a character is successful, he really can’t change very much. He can’t even die — consider Sherlock Holmes, shoved off of Reichenbach Falls by Arthur Conan Doyle and then resurrected due to popular demand. It was a major deal when Superman finally married Lois Lane some years ago; the marriage between Peter (SpiderMan) Parker and Mary Jane was retconned (retroactive continuity) right out of existence over at Marvel recently.
And here we come to why Fables is so successful from an artistic point of view. Change and development is wide open. The title has not yet come to the point (although I can see it coming) when it is no longer possible for beloved characters to die. It is still possible to marshal plot and character towards coolness, rather than towards luring in movie fans. You want an example? Coolness is when the wooden warriors of the Fables’ enemies invade the Upper West Side of New York City; the Fables erect barricades in the street and fob off the police with a story about how it’s a quaint ethnic festival from the old country.
In other words, Fables is not yet straitjacketed by its own success. That means now is a good time to jump on. (Well, a couple issues ago if you want to start at the beginning of an arc. ) Don’t wait until they cut a movie deal.