Friday, 17 April 2009

Comic reviews: Gothic monsters and fairy tales

I recently discovered Tales of the Multiverse: Batman -Vampire, a collection of DC stories attempting to mix the world of Gotham with the melodramatic lore of Dracula. The brutal way the characters are treated seems suitable in this context, and this new kind of challenge to Bruce Wayne’s operation of protecting the gothic Gotham city is welcome. No woman out late in the claustrophic streets is safe, even with the Batman around. And these vampires, powerful, sudden and hard to pursue amongst the streets and poorer levels of society, really leave gashes at the neck, and threaten to overthrow all Batman's work by turning everyone into un-dead creatures – it is a bloody read, but satisfying and exciting (if in a straightforward way), and I like how it really touches on Bruce's mission and how much he is willing to give up for the people of his city.

On the other hand, Fables is a different quality of comic book drama, from the acclaimed comics imprint Vertigo, made famous by Alan Moore's Watchmen (read about that here). It is a comic which seems to revel in not only telling stories, but building up a picture of the lives and richer-poorer relationships between the characters – which all adds up to mean that you actually care about what is going to happen to them. In fact this is a distinguishing feature of the series, along with the way each punchy episode is so tightly crafted: You care about the fate of Fabletown more than in most other fictional communities, probably as you’re never quite sure what threat is working it’s way against them next.

At the beginning the amiable King Cole and Snow White, woman of action, lead Fabletown, an area within twenty-first century New York where storybook characters live as refugees, hoping that the one who drove them out of their homelands does not come after them. And they need policing and defending, whether through the careful measures of shady-detective-type Bigby Wolf or through a more direct approach, in which every prince, pauper and talking animal avails themselves of the right to bear arms and defends their new homes (with all the practical difficulties of this).

Shocks and clever intrigues from one faction or another are always around the corner, and the Fables show their capacity for pride, greed, true love or the more predatory kind, anxiety, feeling the burden of war or responsibility, affectionate friendship, loyalty and betrayal and much more in the five volumes I have so far read of this brilliantly-plotted series. Do seek it out, and do start from the beginning. Writer Bill Willingham is clearly heading somewhere big to end this series, but it would be a shame to miss all the stunning surprises along the way.

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