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She Has No Head! – Ten Women Of Fables

by  in Comic News Comment
She Has No Head! – Ten Women Of Fables

Fables is one of those million dollar ideas that you really really wish you’d thought of first (I know I do).  A concept so

unique and rife with great stories waiting to be told that it almost feels like it can write itself.  Of course it doesn’t write itself…and in fact it’s thanks to Bill Willingham’s deft and devoted hand that we’ve gotten Fables, one of the great books of the last decade.

I’ve always liked Willingham’s writing, but it is with Fables that he has really blossomed, showing off not only his solid skills, but more importantly his insane unstoppable creativity in fleshing out the lives and world of these magnificent characters.  Fables is so elegantly constructed and executed that one can just bathe in the stories without feeling the need to deconstruct them…although they are fun to deconstruct if you want to anyway.

For the uninitiated, Fables is essentially based on the idea that all the world’s fairytales exist.  The book focuses (at least at first) on the population of Fabletown, an enchanted realm in New York City’s Upper West Side where a huge number of European fables live as exiles.  These fables, survivors that escaped their homelands and The Adversary, a tyrant that has taken over their world, thrive against all odds in both Fabletown, and The Farms, an enchanted location in upstate New York reserved for the fables unable to pass in the world as human.

As a whole Fables is fantastic, and like any book, certain arcs are more powerful than others, but from a female perspective the book is doubly great as it takes many female characters that originally ended with ‘Happily Ever After’ and shows you what happens next.  For me, someone that (perhaps cynically so) is not generally too satisfied with ‘Happily Ever After’, especially when that that result is achieved simply by marrying “prince charming”, it’s a real treat to see those characters and lives more fully explored.  And since fairytales are populated by many female characters, Fables the comic, is too.  It’s practically a treasure trove of characters waiting to be given new life, and as such the women in Fables are every bit as interesting and important as the men – creating a rich tapestry that’s surprisingly absent in a lot of mainstream comics.

When talking about why this book is generally so female positive I think it’s also important to talk about the visual portrayal of these female characters, which is in my opinion wholly absent of any inappropriate objectification or silly costume BS.  A handful of supremely talented artists have penciled Fables over the last 90 plus issues, but the most prolific, and the man responsible for what generally feels like the ‘Fables style’ is the absolutely wonderful Mark BuckinghamFables brings up an interesting question that I always have about who is really responsible for bringing us readers objectified or non-objectified visuals in comics.  Since Fables is a wildly popular (and multiple Eisner winning) book that manages to not objectify its female characters from the top all the way down, it seems like a perfect book to look at and try to discover why…so we can try to duplicate that progress.  The writing respects these female characters, the covers (by the brilliant James Jean) respect them, the character designs respect them, and the drawing…for 90+ issues (no small feat) manages to respect them.  So what is Fables doing differently with its female characters than most of the other comics out there?  Is it simply that these characters aren’t superheroes and that the objectification of women is easier to put a stop to once you move away from superheroes and the fetish that sometimes comes with superheroes?  Is it simply that putting these characters in the hands of a great non-objectifying artist like Mark Buckingham sets the precedent and so it continues not to happen whether he’s penciling or not?  Does it come as decree from the top – Willingham issuing a mandate on how his female characters will be treated and portrayed?  Does it come from Vertigo being a publishing line that has proven that it can make books successful (see also: Madame Xanadu) without all that objectification?  Is it a combination of all of these elements working in perfect synch?

Questions for another post perhaps…right now I’m just grateful that such a book exists, and not only exists, but thrives!  And on that note, let’s talk about ten of my favorite female fables (in no particular order)…

[SPOILERS]

01. SNOW WHITE: One of the main characters for the first several arcs, Snow was the Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, essentially running it as Mayor King Cole operated in a more symbolic way…shaking hands and kissing babies while

Snow did the real work.  Snow, the first ex-wife of Prince Charming is smart and tough and cynical about love given her unfortunate past encounters with it (she divorced Prince Charming after finding him in bed with her sister Rose Red), but she’s wholly devoted to Fabletown and has a firm but unimpeachable character.  After shacking up with Bigby Wolf (aka The Big Bad Wolf) against both their wills (magic is always a player in Fables) Snow does truly fall for this decidedly un-prince charming, and together they have seven of the cutest freaking cubs a comic could ever create.

Part of me hates that Snow steps to the sidelines after becoming a mother, but with the rules Willingham has created there wasn’t much in the way of other options.  It’s fair to say that it is Willingham’s world and thus he created (and can break) those rules as he sees fit, but I don’t see this as a nefarious plan to remove Snow but more of a convenient (though not particularly well thought out) way to give other characters a chance to shine.  I suspect (and hope) that she will re-emerge as a significant character again at some point in the future, proving that you can be both a mother and a force to be reckoned with.  I certainly don’t see why Snow can’t be mayor someday…cubs or no.  Also, I freaking love her cubs and so the more we can see of them, the better.

Shining Moment: In issue #26, With Bigby out of the picture, as the default leader of the battle with the wooden soldiers, Snow proves herself to be almost as deft with battle strategies as she is with city politics.

Fun Fact:  Seven seems to be a magic number for Snow as she now has seven cubs (well six cubs and a “cub” made of wind) and of course has the notorious seven dwarves in her past.  For a less PG version of the story of Snow’s dwarves check out Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall.

02. CINDERELLA: The third ex-wife of Prince Charming, Cindy is spunky, clever, and technically runs the Fabletown shoe shop, The Glass Slipper.  Less officially, she’s actually a deep cover spy for the Sherriff of Fabletown (first Bigby

Wolf and later Beast).  Cindy has been instrumental in both the war/resistance efforts and also in executing alliances and treaties with Fabletown’s allies.  My favorite thing about Cindy is her unwavering confidence and comfort with herself,  as she allows herself to be widely seen as a ditzy blonde that likes to vacation as her cover, while secretly she’s among the most intelligent, highly trained, and important citizens of Fabletown.

Shining Moment: This is tough as Cindy does some great stuff in later arcs, but for my money it’s Fables #22 when we first learn about Cindy’s real purpose as the most precious of Bigby’s spies.  Cindy proves herself loyal above almost all others in he unsavory service to Fabletown.  Fables #22 is a story with a nice twist at the end, and it’s the kind of story I’ve come to expect when dealing with Cindy.

Fun Fact: Cinderella, as revealed in the Fables miniseries Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love possesses an enchanted bracelet with three charms, a cat, a mouse, and a sparrow, and touching the charm allows her to call any one of those animals to her aid, though she can only use each charm once.

03. BRIAR ROSE: The second of Prince Charming’s ex-wives, Briar, thanks to the enchantments placed on her by the fairies at birth remains the wealthiest of Fables, even in the new world.  Unfortunately, also thanks to her

enchantments, she still can’t prick her finger on anything sharp without falling asleep – along with all those nearby.  Briar has not been wildly explored yet, but like all of the fables there are rich storylines still to be discovered.  Hopefully she will survive her ordeal in the Homelands and eventually return to the Fables pages.

Shining Moment: Briar sacrificed herself to save Fabletown and defeat The Adversary by agreeing to prick her finger and be put to sleep along with The Adversary’s armies at a critical point in the final battle (Fables #73 & #74).  She remains asleep and waiting for her prince charming, perhaps indefinitely, in the Homelands.  A great sacrifice for her friends.

Fun Fact: Briar can no longer be woken with a kiss from Prince Charming as he no longer truly loves her.  In issues #12 & #13 when Bigby, Prince Charming, Bluebeard, Briar and others work together to save the secret of Fabletown, Briar pricks her finger deliberately as part of the plan.  But Briar has to later be woken by Ambrose, the Frog Prince when Prince Charming’s kiss does not break the spell.

04. BEAUTY: Married to Beast all these long centuries, it’s good to see a ‘happily ever after’ marriage that actually works (mostly).  The Beast begins to revert to beast form when they have marital difficulties, which…you’re bound to have if

you’ve been married for centuries.  But they always manage to work it out, which is refreshing.

Shining Moment: Beauty managed in Fables #42 to resist the considerable charms of Prince Charming, sharing a kiss, but then finding the will to turn him down.  Keep in mind that Prince Charming is literally magically tempting and charming and nearly impossible to resist, so this is no small feat.  It’s also interesting to note that in many ways this makes her far smarter than her fellow “princesses” as Beauty, unlike Snow, Briar Rose, or Cinderella, was able to see that while she would likely have a very good (but brief) time with Charming, in the end it would end as all his relationships do, in unhappiness.  Perhaps it is Beauty’s great centuries long love affair with Beast that allows her to see things more clearly than her fellow princesses.   And that ability to love one person for all time?  That in and of itself is pretty damn impressive…and possibly deserving of some kid of award.

Fun Fact: Beast and Beauty have long wished for a child and been unable to conceive, but it looks like they are expecting a bundle of joy in the future.  An odd looking bundle of joy, but a bundle of joy nonetheless. (Fables #88)

05. GOLDILOCKS: Taking a hint from the breaking and entering nymph of the fairy tales, Goldilocks has turned herself into a powerful villain (well, assuming she rises from the ashes) not afraid to do what it takes to get what she wants. 

Interestingly enough, while her goal was to kill Snow and Bigby in an early arc, they actually have Goldilocks and Bluebeard to thank for love, marriage, and of course their litter of cubs.  I don’t think Bigby or Snow would change a thing.

Shining Moment: In Fables #8 Goldilocks shoots Snow in the head, and Snow likely only survives thanks to her popularity as a story among the mundies (humans).  Additionally, before being dispatched herself, Goldy manages to nearly kill Bigby (The Big Bad Wolf) one of the most powerful characters in Fables #17

Fun Fact: Goldilocks is a proponent of interspecies relationships, based on her belief that ALL fables are equal, and continues a carnal relationship with Baby Bear (not really a baby) from her original tale, in part to deliver that activist message.  Love or hate the idea of her sleeping with an actual bear (and the tactics she employs) it’s hard to argue that her message, ‘equality for all fables’ is actually wrong.

06. THE SNOW QUEEN aka Lumi: I don’t love the suggested development that it was lothario Jack Horner leaving her that drove The Snow Queen to evil, but barring that, she’s arguably the most powerful person in the Homelands next to

Father Geppetto, and that alone breaks all kinds of boundaries.  She was the right hand man of The Adversary/Geppetto and she single handedly came up with a strategy that were it not for Briar Rose’s sacrifice, likely would have turned the tide of battle and left The Adversary triumphant.  She’s a character that hasn’t gotten as much play as I’d like, but I’m always optimistic that we’ll see more of her…when she wakes up.

It should be noted that I understand The Snow Queen has shown up as a character in Jack of Fables, which I don’t read, so I can’t speak to what’s going on there…

Shining Moment: In Fables #36 The Snow Queen almost foils Boy Blues’ attempt to kill the Adversary – and she’s the only one who even gets close.  After pages and pages (whole issues) of Boy Blue killing everyone that stands in his way, thanks in large part to his mastery of the witching coat, it is only the Snow Queen that is finally able to catch him, by freezing him in a block of ice as he tries to escape in the form of a bird.

Fun Fact: The Snow Queen is the sole person in the entire homelands at The Adversary’s disposal that manages to sense Boy Blue inside the witching coat – which makes her powers impressive indeed.

07. FRAU TOTENKINDER aka Frau Baby Eater aka The Black Forest Witch: Totenkinder is an incredibly powerful witch and one of the true players on the Fables field.  Unfortunately in

this latest arc, she has transformed herself into a beautiful young woman again, which I find bit disappointing and counter productive to her awesomeness, but she’s still a great character and I hope after her adventures she’ll return to form.

Shining Moment: In Fables #27 Totenkinder single handedly defeats Baba Yaga (disguised as Red Riding Hood) and keeps her captive by drawing her powers from her on a daily basis (Fables #29).

Fun Fact: Totenkinder was originally rescued from her oven grave by Snow White and Rose Red while they tried to escape from The Adversary.  It was thanks to Snow and Rose (mostly Rose) that she survived and emigrated to Fabletown, turning over a new, less homicidal leaf.   You can find this story, illustrated by the lovely Tara McPherson no less in Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall.

Fun Fact 2: Yes, Totenkinder is so cool she gets two!  It was recently revealed in Fables #88 that Totenkinder’s rocking chair is really her gingerbread house, named Stronghold; her knitting needles are actually ancient weapons named Hunger and Judgment; and her basket of yarn is really a ‘bag of tricks’ that she calls Pathfinder.  Awesome!

08. ROSE RED: Rose started out as a pretty uninteresting typical bad girl – acting out against her more popular and beloved sister – pissed that she has been left out of most fairy tale mythology while her twin (Snow) has gone on to become

even more famous and powerful as the years pass.  But once Rose Red found her niche at The Farms she blossomed (no pun intended) and became a layered and powerful character in her own right.

Shining Moment: Rose has grown immensely as a character over the course of this series, but my favorite moment for her was actually in Fables #7 when she stands up to Snow and asserts herself, simultaneously proving that Snow is not the only one in the family born with cagey intelligence and balls of steel.

Fun Fact: Rose Red had a crush for a time on her best friend Boy Blue, but refused to date him when he finally admitted his feeling for her, having claimed she no longer felt that way.  Following Boy Blue’s death Rose has been in a nearly catatonic in a state of guilt and sorrow.

09. BABA YAGA: A powerful witch working for the adversary, Baba Yaga was defeated by Frau Totenkinder, but proved herself useless when being interrogated as a prisoner, particularly when she managed to trick Cinderella into

revealing more in her interrogation than she did herself.  Baba Yaga has recently been engaged in a battle with Bufkin the flying monkey as they have both been inadvertently trapped by The Dark One inside a magical Fabletown room.  Bufkin is kicking ass, mostly because Baba Yaga has underestimated him, a fatal mistake in any situation.

Shining Moment: The aforementioned interrogation was more impressive to me than any of Baba Yaga’s powerful magics.  I guess I’m just a sucker for characters that can just plain outwit others.

Fun Fact: Baba Yaga originally took the form of Red Riding Hood in order to infiltrate Fabletown as a spy, not realizing that Boy Blue had spent intimate time with Riding Hood (although it would later turn out that was not the “real” Red Riding Hood either) which would allow Boy Blue to realize the deception and unmask Baba Yaga.

10. OZMA: Recently given some screen time, Ozma is proving to be a bit of a thorn in the side of Frau Totenkinder as

Ozma hopes to overthrow Totenkinder’s leadership of the witches since she believes it is her appointed task to do away with Fabletown’s latest enemy, the Dark One and to restore Fabletown to its glory.  Although Ozma has diplomatically argued for Frau to willingly give up power, her motives are questionable and she’s definitely put things in motion on her own now that Frau is resisting her.

Shining Moment: Ozma’s story is pretty new and as such she hasn’t had time to do much yet but scheme, but I suspect we’ll see her in force soon.

Fun Fact: Ozma has a cat she calls Maddy that aids in her scheming.  The cat claims to be a lot of thing including ‘the invisible walker’, The Scythian Raven, Medea, and Sycorax. 

Fables #93 will be released March 10th.

Fables is also well collected by Vertigo in trade paperback, up through issue #85 in the recent February 3rd release of Fables Vol. 13

It can cost a pretty penny to catch up with this series via trade since there are now 13 volumes, which generally range from $9.99 to $17.99 depending on how many issues are included, however an excellent advantage of Fables is that though the stories are involved and layered, and you will certainly get more out of them by knowing everything, the individual arcs are relatively self contained, and because the characters are somewhat familiar to anyone familiar with fairytales, it makes it pretty easy to jump on board and try out an arc.  The problem of course is that you’re likely to fall  in love and be compelled to read them all, which is what happened to me.

Other delightful Fables books I recommend:

Fables:  1001 Nights of Snowfall. This is a great companion piece to the series, going into depth on some of the origins of the characters you’ve come to love.  With an all-star cast of writing and drawing talent it’s a real treat.

Fables Covers: The Art of James Jean Vol. 1. I’m a huge fan of James Jean (how can one not be?) and this book collecting his covers is a wonderful coffee table book full of his Fables cover illustrations.  It looks as if it is currently out of print but is available new and used (for very high prices) on Amazon.  You might be able to find it in your local high end bookstore, or perhaps on ebay for a lower price.

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