Book Reviews, Graphic Novels

Farewell to Fairest, the dumpster-fire of misogyny and naive political diatribes

series supervised by Bill Willingham

Bill Willingham’s Fables universe is incredibly addictive, yet only seems to make me grumpier and grumpier with every page.

The final Fairest arc follows in the footsteps of the two prior collections: The Return of the Maharaja (2013) and Cinderella: Of Men and Mice (2014), meaning it’s barely relevant to the universe set-up by Fables and even less relevant to the advertised purpose of the Fairest spin-off — i.e., “The women of Fables in a series all their own!”.

“The Clamour for Glamour” story arc doesn’t have anything to do with the ‘fairest’ of the title.

“The Clamour for Glamour” includes the six-issue arc of the title (#s 27 : 32) written by long-time series artist Mark Buckingham, and the final issue (#33) by creator Bill Willingham, which focuses on Goldilocks — a prominent villain from Fables‘ earliest issues.

The bulk of this volume feels like the disappointing “Return of the Maharaja” story arc, yet not paced as well, and with far too many stories crammed into it: A reprise of the earlier demands for human glamours by the animals of the Fables-verse; an adventure in the mundy world by the glamour’d Reynard the fox; and our grumpy narrator’s (“Mister Angry Sunflower Kid”) shenanigans up at the Farm. The pace is spastic, reliant on strings of jokes rather than plot, and we’re kept bouncing between settings every other page at the expense of coherence. It actually feels a lot like Jack of Fables in tone, humor, and pacing.

These two issues feature female characters on the covers, at least, though I’m not sure why.

Why am I needing to ask where the ‘fairest’ of the series’ title are? Female characters show up very rarely in this story, and usually just to gab briefly in the background.

I’ve had a bit of a soft-spot for the character of Reynard, who has always felt like a lead being restricted to cameos. Under Buckingham’s pen, unfortunately, he’s no longer the plucky, witty trickster hero with mysterious, if goofy, intentions — no, he’s been rewritten by Buckingham as Jack of Jack of Fables, another trickster, but a snarky, stupid, self-obsessed one that drove readers nuts.

Reynard’s goofy adventures in the south make no sense. He magically flies to Louisiana from New York in 10 minutes, and drives back in a single day and on a single tank of gas. Only about five pages relate to any actual story relevant to the Fables universe; the rest is just…jokes. It’s baffling that these kinds of editing gaffes made it into the final story.

Enjoy counting the sexist tropes.

The bulk of the glamour plot regarding non-human fables never gets a resolution. Characters like Pussy and Owl — who are actually kind of adorable — hit their quest’s climax, and then, in a stunning display of Scooby-Doo endings, we see a baby, fawn over it, and give a raucous group laugh as the camera pans out. Then it’s over.

The pumpkin patch and giant breasts are relevant to the stories within.

The series finale is a phoned-in prequel to last year’s underwhelming Fairest: In All the Land graphic novel spin-off, and adds nothing to the universe or character histories that wasn’t already known. It certainly didn’t capture readers’ imaginations enough to warrant its creation.

Why fill in years of a character’s life in 21 pages without saying anything new? Why end a series about Strong Female Characters this way? Sure, it’s about a woman, so we’re returning to the purpose of this series, but it also features some of the overt misogyny that’s a staple of Willingham’s writing, negating any idea of goodwill or intellectual discussion and replacing them with gross stupidity.*

Who did the creators foresee as the target audience of this spin-off?

As is required of anything under Willingham’s creative control, we get pages of anti-Marxist, anti-feminist tirades, where he puts the words and ideas in the mouths of imaginary philosophical opposites like Goldilocks, and then proceeds to make them look incredibly stupid to everyone so he, his Mary Sues, the rest of his characters and — hopefully — the adolescent boys reading his work can point and laugh at how stupid caricatures of Marxists and feminists are. It’s particularly infuriating since this series, and the series it was born from, are known for making sacrifices to the plot in order to push the author’s philosophical / political views, which, you know, could be fine — if it didn’t feel like the characters were constantly being replaced by dozens of Rush Limbaughs caught in a gross, ideological circle jerk for the previous 13 years.

Writing like this makes me want to tear my hair out in frustration, and I can’t help but pay back Willingham and company’s petty, stupid snark in kind. If he’s one of the best writers in the industry, the industry has insane quality-control problems.


reviewed September 2015, revised January 2017

* Willingham recently bulldozed any criticism along these lines at a panel about how men can write comics for women (later reorganized as a panel on women in comics as readers and contributors). Without irony or apparent self-awareness, he interrupted other panelists and audience members repeatedly in order to engage in mansplaining, and later labeled the people upset by his behavior as ‘hysteriacs.’ See also Niki Messmore’s report, or the Mary Sue followup.

Considering he led that panel, that brings me back to questioning…was Fairest intended to appeal to women? Is this seriously how he writes for women?

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