Fables: Cubs in Toyland

Bill Willingham's amazing graphic novel series Fables is one of those unbelievably, game-changingly epic series, one where I'm just as excited to get a peek at the edges of the world and the backstory of the characters as I am to see how the grand sweep of the plot turns out. The last one of these I can remember is Stephen King's Gunslinger books, where the sidewise discursions were as exciting as the forward movement.

Volume 18 of the Fables was published last week, and it's definitely more sidewide than forwards. Cubs in Toyland is a blood-freezingly scary episode exploring the ancient parent's nightmare of a child spirited away, one that combines the inherent creepiness of anthropomorphic toys (Chucky, anyone?) with the mythic resonances of the Fisher King.

By the time it was over, I was wrung out, but not exhausted. For all that my emotions had been taken through the gamut of wonderment, fear, disgust, suspense and triumph, I wanted more. Specifically, more about the future of the Fables, and the place where they will all go when the tale has run its course. In other words, this is yet another volume where Willingham hits it out of the park; it's reason enough for you to start reading the series, or to keep up with it.

Fables, Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland


  1. Cory, I have to quibble with your assessment of Cubs in Toyland, though this may be purely a matter of taste. It was the arc that once and for all killed off my interest in Fables, which at one point was very high flying. Besides his basically sexist take on women — and let’s not even pause on his incarnation of the new Ms. Dark character — Toys in Cubland was a pointless, and pointlessly cruel, work with no moral message and no ethical achievement. The setup was intriguing and, of course, terrifying, to parents. But his writing in Fables is already so metafictional that his attempts at achieving a BPRD-style sense of removal, distance and inevitability failed completely. It came out as pointlessly cruel, and unrealistic within its own milieu. Why the girl wolf-cub should be so awfully, cruelly punished for being merely thoughtless makes no sense in a universe where the creator’s capacity for intervention is so apparent. The boy-cub’s self sacrifice is similarly meaningless, which is a giant fail in terms of writing and plotting a storyworld in which serendipity and the writer’s whims play such a huge role. I’ll check in on Fables every now and then, but I see its achievements are largely self indulgence, at this point.

    1. +1 for well-thought out and justified criticism. I’m hoping that Willingham can justify this incredibly twisted and joyless tale in the larger arc. He hasn’t lost me *yet*. It took reading Fairest at the same time for me to make it though. (and Fairest is worth a spin from the library if you’re looking for better feminist stories)

  2. I think Fables was quite good (although not up to the standards of Vertigo classics like Sandman and Transmetropolitan) during its first large arc against the adversary. But since then it’s lost its raison d’etre and has just become more and more meandering.  Cory Doctorow seems to be trying to make a silk purse out of that particular sow’s ear here. 

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