With this twelfth collection of his award-winning series, The Dark Ages, Bill Willingham tackles the aftermath of the Fables’ victorious war with the Adversary, examining the effects on the Fables, Gepetto and the lands he formerly ruled. Winning, it turns out, isn’t always everything; nor is it necessarily an end, but more of a beginning.
The volume opens with a short story chronicling Gepetto’s first foray into Fabletown since his defeat, and how well he’s handling his new position. Or rather, how poorly. The former Adversary hasn’t quite cottoned to his diminished role and continues to dole out commands and demand a level of fear and respect he’s just not going to get from the denizens of Fabletown. What he does get is derision and anger and a near riot. Still, Fabletown and Gepetto are both still standing at the end, so, as Pinocchio points out, it could’ve been worse. Gepetto insists his reign of terror was a positive thing and the Fables are the evil-doers — some blood was shed so that millions could live in peace, and now that the peace is shattered, many more will die. Cold-blooded, brutal — everything you’d expect from the former Adversary — yet with a grain of truth to it, as unfolding events will attest to.
The main arc’s focus rotates between Boy Blue, still hospital-bound with his war injuries; a pair of mercenaries in the former Empire; Rose, who’s forced into a leadership role; as well as general scenes in Fabletown and the Farm. There’s a lot going on and many players at work, a definite sign that the Fables’ story is far from over. Blue and Rose’s stories are particularly emotionally painful, as the former comes to grips with the damage that’s been done to his body and the latter with the flaws she brings to every relationship (including her latest, a hasty marriage to war hero Sinbad).
Turns out it’s a really bad time for Rose to take it on the chin and sulk in her room, though. Something bad — really bad — is gunning for the Fables and their magic is starting to unravel. The origins of this looming trouble can be found in two mercenaries who, while looting an outpost of the former Empire, free something very old, elegant and powerful. Something that is rather intent on collecting Boy Blue’s witching cloak and extracting a price for its theft and misuse. Gepetto and Frau Totenkinder may not agree on much else, but they both assert the coming trouble is seriously bad news.
The volume’s end finds Fabletown vastly altered and all its former residents at the Farm, Rose broken, Gepetto at the mercy of the Farm’s wilder inhabitants, and Boy Blue quite possibly the focus of a Farm cult. Talk about turning things topsy-turvy! Willingham proves in this arc that there’s not only life still in his marvelous creation, but a whole new realm of possibilities. The writing and art remain top-notch and the story as riveting. It remains to be seen what will become of the new, if not necessarily improved, Fabletown; the overcrowded Farm; the splintering Empire and everyone involved. No doubt the ride will be bumpy for all involved, but worth every bruise!