Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fables #56

Fables #56, February 2007, Vertigo/DC Comics
writer: Bill Willingham
penciller: Mark Buckingham
inker: Steve Leialoha, Mark Buckingham, & Andrew Depoy
colorist: Lee Loughridge
letterer: Todd Klein
assistant editor: Angela Rufino
editor: Stelly Bond

Tonight concludes my slew of Christmas-themed comic book reviews, a series that was initially difficult to initiate, as I usually scour back issue bins for A Comic A Day fodder. I know plenty of holiday comics exist, but for the issues I haven't read or own, their seasonal timeliness (and timelessness) hardly warrants abandonment in a quarter or dollar box. That's a fancy way of saying that people value Christmas comics, so they're usually quickly dubbed classics and snatched with a tenacity that will assure their rarity in later years. For instance, I know of a few '70s Detective Comics that took place around Christmastime, that placed the stark shadow of the "Darknight Detective" against a white-blanketed Gotham City, with a heart-warming twist (probably courtesy of Denny O'Neil) that made the read a worthy holiday offering. (A Batman companion book I have at home circa the late '80s/early '90s I have reprints a few pages from an old story that features the Caped Crusader singing carols with the Gotham PD while the city enjoys an uncharacteristic crime-free Christmas night.) If I hadn't picked up the recent holiday specials from Marvel and Johnny DC, I wouldn't have had even twelve days of Christmas comics, if I even did in the first place. Still, from what I found, from the Hulk to the Teen Titans, each issue was charming enough to satisfy my holiday-loving inner child, and as a fanboy, I was thrilled to realize that even the Justice League has its own seasonal traditions, just like my family. Still, in the context of these iconic fables, I dare not forget the most memorable and universal myth of December 25th, the character that captures the heart of every child whether they read comics or not. No, I'm not talking about the baby Jesus. Of course, I'm talking about:

Yes, Santa Claus. This image is from the cover of Fables #56 by James Jean, a depiction so masterful that one could use if for a Christmas card, if family and friends didn't mind the subtle references to the series pouring out of St. Nick's sack. I haven't read much of Fables, but I have read plenty about it, and in fact, a non-comics-reading friend of mine recently commented that Fables was recommended to her by another fanboy. I was surprised that she knew another one, but also that this series was so highly acclaimed, particularly in the context of the other Vertigo classics cluttering the mainstream bookshelves out there. (Although, I must say because now is the time to do so, that I had a futile time finding the final Transmetropolitan trades for my brother at both Barnes & Noble and Borders, a surprising turn in my shopping adventures considering the collection's recent release and the other Vertigo books that make the cut for that coveted graphic novel shelf.) Anyway, this issue seems to stand as an interlude to the ongoing Fables saga, but these glimpses at the epic's major players was enough to tease any potential readers' tastebuds.

In this issue, we see Jack Horner for a snoop, Snow White for a housewife with a shady past desperate for normalcy, her sister Rose Red with Little Boy Blue (I presume) as mischievous twentysomethings that aren't afraid to act on impulse. Like I said, I haven't read the series, but the depictions are fairly transparent, unless Christmastime has thrown my impressions off completely. Of course, this issue features the most celebrated "fable" of all:

There he is again. (Pardon the crude image. I'm snapping stills without my scanner over here.) Of all of the holiday comics I've read, in the stories starring Santa, the jolly one is always treated with respect, even by the world's most powerful heroes. In Marvel handbook entry, Santa's "powers" are charted with the same consideration of their core characters, taking his speed and durability into account. In Fables, Willingham adds an interesting element to the myth; when one of Snow White's kids asks Santa how he accomplishes his one-night mission, Kringle essentially explains that he visits each deserving home simutaneously, as if for one night a multitude of Santas exist, not so much as dopplegangers, but as various aspects of the Santa persona, to fulfill all of his deliveries in as efficient a manner as possible. It's as good an explanation as any, especially in a world where childhood stories coexist with the humans that revere them. Santa is obviously serious about his mission, approaching the trespassing Jack Horner with a fire stoker like any old man would, but also retaining the jolliness and benevolence associated with his myth. Like any fable, Santa represents a story that has been told many times and many ways, but the result, the lesson, is always the same.

And what is the lesson of Santa Claus? Why are parents so insistent to convince their kids that a seemingly timeless character like Superman (who has at least existed as long as a majority of Earth's current population has lived, some 70 years) doesn't exist in a fantasyland called Metropolis, but yes, Virginia, St. Nick certainly lives in the North Pole, keeping tabs on your yearlong deeds to determine if you deserve toys on Jesus's birthday? Therein lies the answer, and coincidentally the point to our favorite comic book icons' vigilante heroism: as humans, we should be accountable for our actions, lest we threaten the safety and security of our fellow man. If you rob a bank, the Ben Grimm might shed his trechcoat and risk a chuckle or gasp from some rubbernecking onlooker to bring you to justice. If you lie to your parents, Santa might drop a lump of coal in your stocking. Different offenses, same concept. Really, Santa Claus predates Superman himself as Earth's mightiest superhero, avenging wrongdoing, and going beyond most Leaguers' or Titans' or Avengers' call of duty, actually rewarding good behavior. I mean, Santa travels from rooftop to rooftop -- which sounds pretty familiar to genre, if I do say so myself.

It's no wonder the big guy fits in so well with my childhood heroes. It's no wonder I don't think twice about Santa dwelling among the world's most renowned bedtime stories. Santa captures the best of both worlds with a story that will outlive them all. It's a shame his adventure is merely an annual one-shot . . .

Ho ho ho.

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