Jack of Fables vol. 9: The End

by on Jul.14, 2011, under Comics

Once upon a time there was a successful and critically-beloved comic book called Fables that spun off one of its central characters into his own title, Jack of Fables. It took a while for it to find its footing, but when it did it was fun and smart in a way distinct from its parent title. (Sort of the way the best seasons of Angel stood on their own as something distinct from Buffy.)

See, the original Fables had laid claim to all the fictional and mythical characters there have ever been, so for Jack of Fables author Bill Willingham had to find a new angle. Jack of Fables became the story of old, discarded myths, ones from American folklore that no one remembered or cared about anymore. It was the story of those forgotten fables and their conflict with a newly invented race of supernatural beings called the Literals: embodiments of literary concepts like the Pathetic Fallacy, Deus Ex Machina, and various genres.

All this was great fun through issue 35, when in a major crossover with the original Fables Willingham wrapped up the Jack of Fables tale beautifully, bringing everything to a satisfying climax. Jack of Fables finished its funny, engaging side journey there.

Except it didn’t. Jack of Fables kept plugging along for another fifteen issues, coming to an actual end only with the run collected in this final trade paperback The End.

Willingham can be forgiven for trying to extend the title past its epic climax, I suppose. He’d already done it once, successfully, with the mothership Fables itself. That book had its major showdown with its primary villain in issue #75, and Willingham invented a new villain and kept plugging, currently at issue #107 and counting.

But it became clear pretty quickly that Jack of Fables was going nowhere. Willingham even sidelined the namesake Jack completely for issues at a time and tried to tell stories about his heroic son Jack Frost. I don’t think his heart was in it.

So in The End he brings the whole title crashing down, and the way he does it, that I have a harder time forgiving. He engineers a final battle among all these characters he’s invited us to like over the years, and every single one of them dies.

“Those sick bastards went for the Shakespearean ending,” comments narrator-Jack.

But the Shakespearean ending (of Hamlet, say) is set in motion by characters’ inner drives, and when it’s over it feels as inevitable as a geometry proof. The ending of Jack of Fables happens because of really unconvincing meddling by outside forces, and, according to Willingham himself, was deliberately sprung on readers as a surprise they shouldn’t have seen coming.

A messenger robot comes to entreat Jack Frost to fight original-flavor-Jack, who’s been a dragon for several issues. Who sent the messenger? We never learn. A bird spirit visits trickster Raven to draw him into the conflict, along with all the other Jack of Fables fable menagerie.

“Great bird spirit!” Raven cries on the point of death. “Why? Why did you lead us into this death trap?”

“No particular reason,” says the bird spirit. “I thought it’d be funny.”

If it were funny I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with it. Funny covers a lot of flaws. Except it isn’t funny.

Willingham says Jack of Fables wasn’t canceled because of poor sales numbers. He says this is the ending he wanted. But writing “and then everybody died” just seems lazy, and unfair to fans you’ve asked to invest their interest and care inthis world and characters.

This was a series that gave us a deus ex machina as the resolution to its big conflict back in issue #35, and sold the hell out of it. I not only accepted it, I loved it. Jack of Fables, and Willingham, were capable of much better than this.

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4 Comments for this entry

  • Josh K-sky

    But writing “and then everybody died” just seems lazy

    The real pros do it like this:

    Lesson 2 – The Ending

    All too often, the budding author finds that his tale has run its course and yet he sees no way to satisfactorily end it, or, in literary parlance, “wrap it up.” Observe how easily I resolve this problem:

    Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck. -the end-

    If the story happens to be set in England, use the same ending, slightly modified:

    Suddenly, everyone was run over by a lorry. -the end-

    If set in France:

    Soudainement, tout le monde etait écrasé par un camion. -finis-

    You’ll be surprised at how many different settings and situations this ending applies to. For instance, if you were writing a story about ants, it would end “Suddenly, everyone was run over by a centipede.” In fact, this is the only ending you ever need use.*

    *Warning – if you are writing a story about trucks, do not have the trucks run over by a truck. Have the trucks run over by a mammoth truck.

  • Joshua Malbin

    One of the characters is in fact run over by a truck.

  • Joe M

    What happened to the Great Spirit Bird?

  • Joshua Malbin

    Nothing. The line I quoted of his is the last time he appears.

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