Monday, December 12, 2005

Slow vs. Dull

Vertigo comics promise a greater emphasis on storytelling. Unlike your typical superhero fare that requires some kind of whiz-bang action sequence every 10 pages, Vertigo can sit back and tell a tale, knowing action has greter impact when it's a contrast instead of the norm. While a slow issue of Ultimate Spider-Man or Daredevil or New Avengers or Powers or (fill in other Bendis books here) promises a lot of supposedly realistic dialog and character development, they wind up being dull and going nowhere.

Here, we have two slow issues of Vertigo's two best books, showing slow and dull are not synonyms.
This is the second of two fairly slow issues of Fables. Bill Willingham spend most of the issue setting up the conflict that will eventually be dominate the story: the Arabian fables brought with them a genie--or d'jinn as we're told they are properly called. Genies are almost pure magic, as opposed to the most powerful sorcerers, who are only about half magical. In short, unleashing a genie can completely fuck up everything beyond all repair in as long as it takes you to say, "I wish..." and there's nothing Frau Totenkinder nor the rest of the Fables' magicians can do to stop it.

The majority of the issue continues with the negotiations between the established Fables and the new Arabian arrivals. This is where the difference between slow and dull comes to light. The negotiations highlight one of this series's greatest strengths: its ability to flesh out minor characters and make them essential players. Beauty and the Beast used to just be a bickering couple, now they are the second and third most important people in Fabletown. Boy Blue was a janitor who discovered the true identity of and fought the Adversary with the two most powerful weapons in history.

In this issue, it's King Cole, who's been a doddering half-wit for 41 issues, finally stepping up to the plate (we actually got a glimpse of this last issue, hence his not being a doddering half-wit for 42 isues). Cole speaks Arabic and serves as translator for Prince Charming and Sinbad's negotiations, proving himself a great diplomat. Charming's "Shall we get started?" becomes "The mayor extolls your virtues and honor, wishing a blessing on your lives, and inviting you to sit" in translation. The major sticking point of the negotiations is over slavery, which is commonplace for the Arabic fables but illegal in Fabletown. King Cole easily defuses the situation by agreeing to honor the Arabic tradition of keeping slaves as long as they will honor the Fabletown tradition of hanging slavers.

Sinbad's agreement to release his slaves convinces his trusted advisor, Yusuf, that his prince is under some Western enchantment, justifying his unleashing the d'jinn.

The next issue blurb at the end promises "Next issue: The Twist" and since I doubt Chubby Checker is showing up (though what a twist that would be), we can be certain the d'jinn is going to betray Yusuf in some way while "technically" fulfilling his wishes. Among his wishes, Yusuf orders the d'jinn to slay Sinbad, Charming, Cole, and more-people-to-be-named-later and DC promises "there's no way to take back wishes once spoken." Willingham's never flinched when it came to killing off major characters in the past, but this situation seems ripe for one of those loophole situations where Charming points out that the genie could just do a really hilarious stand-up comedy routine ("Ha ha, you slay me, d'jinn!").

In the end, we have the set up for what could be the best conflict yet, and, in addition to the fun negotiations, we got a lot of good character development for Beauty and Beast and got to check in with Snow and the kids at the farm, but this is still a "set up" issue, and the second straight at that.

This is the first of what promises to be several stand alone issues focusing on minor characters we haven't seen in awhile, meaning it could be half a year or so before we actually get Yorick, 355, and the rest of the gang on their merry way to Japan to save Ampersand, a mission it seems they've been preparing for since early 2004. Seriously, when was he snatched? I'm graduating with my MBA in two days and it seems like he was monkeynapped before I even took the GMAT. (Nothing draws in an audience more than discussion of the MBA admissions process.)

In this issue, we touch base with Hero and Beth--the girl Yorick did the horizontal bop with at the church, not Beth the girlfriend he was trying to hunt down in Australia only to find she's gone to France. Hero was sent to give Beth a letter from Yorick, the contents of which we learn at the end of the issue and are pretty insignificant.

The story revolves around the fact Beth is pregnant with Yorick's baby, however, with all the men in the world dead, a group of nuns assumes its an immaculate conception. They are the new heads of the Catholic church, but--here's the rub--without papal concent, they cannot be clergy. So they are waiting for an immaculately-concepted boy to be born so they can appoint him pope and, in turn, he can order that women are allowed to be clergy.

In the end, it doesn't matter, because the baby is a girl. The nuns let Hero and Beth go and they ride off together, waiting for another time to inconveniently pop up with a story about labor or breast feeding or something else that will take us away from the main plot thread just as things are getting good.

Actually, this wasn't a bad story, though it felt like a fill-in issue, which is fine. I'm more concerned that we have a streak of similar issues ahead. I'm all for taking a month off to learn 355's origin and the history of the Culper Ring, but then let's jump right back into the primary storyline. These issues remind me of the Preacher one shots that focused on Cassidy or Arseface or Jesse's cousins in the swamp, only instead of being an extra story I can pick up as a compliment to my monthly dose of Y: The Last Man, these are the substitute.