High Five! Comics

reunionThere are several things both notable and fascinating about this issue of the Swamp Thing. First and foremost, this story is unbelievably fucked up. Modern comics deliver sick, twisted, graphic gore and horror but seldom dig into emotional turmoil this deep.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

Part 1: Abby’s Past Tragedies

Abby Cable is already a tormented soul. She and her husband Matt lost two of their closest friends (Alec and Linda Holland) in an explosion and were then forced to hide from the killers for some time. After this trauma Matt and Abby’s marriage begins to fall apart as they try to piece together the death of Alec and discover this being the Swamp Thing.

One night while Abby is out in the swamps with Swamp Thing, Matt is severely injured in a car wreck leaving him brain-dead and his body possessed by the soul of Abby’s uncle Arcane. Calmly engorged in the corpse of the Husband, Arcane begins the torment of his own niece by dazzling and bedding her. His torments increase and eventually leave her dead in hell. Only the bravery of Swamp Thing (with help from Deadman, Phantom Stranger, and Etrigan) pulls Abby back from eternal torment.

With Matt Cable a “vegetable” from his car accident, Abby begins a romance with the swamp monster. Alan Moore’s bit of parallelism here was not lost on me: Abby trades her metaphorical vegetable-husband for an actual vegetable.

Their lives would be happy but for John Constantine who continually lures Swamp Thing off on new adventures saving the world, universes, and eventually the spiritual realm itself.

At this point in the series, photos of Abby and Swamp Thing are published in the local newspaper and Abby is charged with crimes against nature, a charge normally reserved for beastiality. Fearing imprisonment, Abby flees to Gotham City where the Swamp Thing wages a war on the city to recover her from Gotham’s justice system.

At last reunited, Abby’s dreams are shattered forever when the agency that created the Swamp Thing finds a way to kill its monster and does so. Swamp Thing is dead. Abby’s last vegetable has been burned to the ground.

After so much tragedy in one character, Stephen Bissette takes a last oportunity to twist the knife.

Part 2: Issue #59: “Reunion”.

The story begins in hell, where a large demon is tormenting Arcane for his sins on earth. We notice that one of Arcane’s eyes has been squished and the socket is filled with maggots. He complains that he cannot feel his eye. This is the perspective from which our story is told. Though Arcane is the main character and provides the perspective of this narrative, the story is actually about Abby Cable as she pieces her life back together. Arcane is forced to watch three stories unfolding simultaneously.

  1. He sees Abby as she tries to live her life. She’s in a convalescent home working with the aged who’s families have abandoned them. She struggles to cope with this. An orderly is stealing from the residents once they die and it’s a bit of a scandal that Abby uncovers. This narrative expands on Abby’s character and furthers the main arc of our story by showing how she lives her life in the absence of the Swamp Thing.
  2. We see some unknown creature, and read its inner thoughts as it struggles to find someone. We see parallelism between this creature and Arcane as it also complains about its eye. This narrative is rife with intrigue but is opaque, confusing until the end of the issue.
  3. We see the past when Abigail’s father – a single parent – lives with his only daughter in some small European village still peppered with land mines left over from WWII. Here we learn that Abby’s father stepped on one of these landmines while she was a little girl, dying in front of her eyes. This is how Abby was orphaned and came to live in the United States at a young age. Throughout most of this story Abby’s father is reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” to his daughter.

These three stories are interwoven and evolve before Arcane’s eye (and the readers’). The final death scene of Abby’s father is followed with the unknown creature in narrative 2 finding Abby at the convalescent home. It sees her, is ashamed, and runs into the swamps. Abby, recognizing something in the creature, chases it and the two are reunited. Here we learn that Arcane rebuilt the corpse of his dead brother (Abby’s father) after Abby had left for America. All these years the reanimated corpse has struggled to find its lost daughter, and now some decades later he is literally falling apart, ashamed of his own wretchedness, and ashamed for his lost life, his life as an Arcane.

Abigail Cable, emotionally devastated after losing Swamp Thing, is reunited with her long dead father to discover that he has been turned into a “Frankenstein” and is now disintigrating before her very eyes. After some time spent in a tearful embrace the monster flees his daughter. She chases him further into the swamp, but she can only find the scattered limbs of the man she once called father. This is the second time that Abigail has watched her father die.

Abby is found the next morning next to a torso. Limbs are scattered about her.

She says, “I can’t find his head.”

Back in hell, an impressed demon remarks to Arcane that he is still causing pain on earth after so many years, and that he may be turned into a demon once his sins are paid off.

Hot damn. This issue was fucked up and demostrated the stength of Bissette’s story-craft as he seamlessly wove together four narratives into one issue. Told from the perspective of a dead man being tormented in hell, we are shown new depths of Abby’s past and present while still managing to progress the main story that has been evolving over the past few issues (Swamp Thing’s death and eventual return to earth). The parallels are numerous. We see Abby’s childhood fascination with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” which provides insight into her adult romance with the Swamp Thing. We see her father actually become a Frankenstein monster in a sick play on the old notion that women marry men like their father. And Bissette ties Arcane to his brother by demonstrating that they are both ashamed of the family name (one for his sins, the other for his own wretchednes), both are monsters, and both have deteriorating eyes that cause them pain.

This issue is tremendous and is followed by another gem in issue #60, “Loving the Alien” which proved to be another gorgeous issue in the Saga of the Swamp Thing. Though the issues compiled in book 6 of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing are considered by many to be weak and inferior to his previous work, and are a bit overshadowed by the other story he wrote that year (Watchmen), I would argue that these issues rank easily among the best stand-alone issues of the whole series. Their depth, craft, and creativity are simply unparalleled.

Happy readings,

- Jonny

(PS, sorry for two Swamp Thing posts in a row. It’s what I’ve been reading.)

Hi ho, happy readers it’s Jonny here!

Who even writes for this blog anymore? Certainly not us! Anyway, I just read a magnificent issue of Swamp Thing from the year 1996!

Clinton was in office and Dole wanted to oust him. Newt Gingrich had signed some weird “Contract with America” and the world of American politics was as nutty as ever. Apparently disgusted with himself, the comics industry, and left-wing socialist nut-jobs Mark Millar enlisted the incredible talents of Curt Swan to create this fascinating bit of satire.

swamp-thing-165If you’re familiar with Alan Moore or Rick Veitch’s work on Saga of the Swamp Thing then you know Chester Williams as an eco-friendly former hippie that loves tubers and teams up with the Swamp Thing to battle evil.

But that was before he saw the Contract!

Professor Chester Williams is at his apartment throwing a party with another professor and some of their students. The kids are dancing, drinking, getting high, and engaging in other immoral activities. After a living the hippie dream this party serves as a wake up call to Mr. Williams and he’s had enough! Chastising a young lady for strip-dancing at the party Chester proceeds to kill the music and call the cops on his students.

Disgusted with the loose living of these young liberals, Chester decides to join the NYPD and clean up America. After killing a few bank robbers (illegal immigrants no less!), saving a woman from being robbed [Ed. note: a "dyke," who he then kisses so hard she goes straight and marries him], and plenty of good old fashioned liberal bashing, Chester receives word that the Swamp Thing is giving the world’s leaders an ultimatum: stop polluting or else! As an old friend of this Elemental, Officer Williams decides to pay a visit to Houma, LA to try and talk some sense into the old Swamp Hippie.

After a stern lesson on economics, the importance of international trade, and a plea for Swamp Thing to “grow up”, Chester convinces Swamp Thing that the earth doesn’t need a paradise and things are best left as they are. Chester then returns to New York where he defeats incumbent Bill Clinton and becomes President of the United States of America!

Conservative ideals win again!

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Happy readings!

Dear everyone.

I will pretend this is the real Justice League. I hope you enjoy.

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Happy readings.

Today’s post gives me the opportunity to introduce a new category for Bronze Age comics I’ve called: “Love for the Bronzer”.

You may not realize this, but Dr. Strange and the Man-Thing have have something in common: murderous Christians hate them.

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Say What!?

I suppose in Strange’s case it makes a bit of sense. Since the Julio Claudian dynasty, paganism and Christianity have butted heads. Add a little Constantinian conversion, a bit of Julianian conservatism, and you’ve got a recipe that has left polytheism and monotheism standing on opposite sides of the Deity Dance Floor glaring one at the other for the last 2000 years. So when Marvel debuted their protagonist of polytheistic persuasion in Strange Tales #110, it was only a matter of time before Christianity took a stab at him, and in 1974 that’s exactly what it did. Enter the Silver Dagger, a knife-dipped-in-holy-water wielding ex-Cardinal who left the Church after being denied the Papacy. What was Dagger’s next move? Why, he became a sorcerer and took to killing off all practitioners of the mystic arts, of course!

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Unfortunately for both Foolkiller and the Man-Thing, this swamp monster can’t exactly be killed. Foolkiller goes about his business of trying to get the local radio station to stop playing “blasphemous” music and is ultimately killed during a fight with Man-Thing when the Dead Preacher Shrine falls over and a large shard of glass pierces Foolkiller’s heart.

I don’t know if there is any connection between these two stories. The Jesus Movement was all over the US, and Protestants and Catholics were really going at it in Ireland around this time, but that’s all I can think might have inspired these two stories such a short time from each other. In any case I still effing love the Bronze Age of Comics and I’ve learned just how dangerous a knife dipped in holy water or a God-sent laser blaster can be, so it’s a win/win for me. It’s been a long time since anybody did a “Reviews & Booze” write up, so I’m gonna go ahead and recommend some red wine for this one.

Happy readings!

I was catching up on Crisis on Infinite Earths tonight when I noticed this lovely Easter Egg. As a big Trekkie, and a fan of The Wrath of Khan in particular, this panel made me very happy.

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It’s worth noting that Marv Wolfman actually wrote the Marvel Super Special comic adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 and edited the first 20 issues of DC Comics’ Star Trek from 1984 to 1985 (and doing sporadic color work thereafter) while George Perez did the covers for the first three issues of the DC Comics run.

Speaking of Wolfman and Perez, don’t forget that The New Teen Titans Omnibus Volume 1 is out today! I’m broke, but green with envy over all you who purchase it (insert your own Beast Boy joke here).

Happy readings!

tmnt1IDW has always had a bad habit of taking their dirty franchise-licensing thumbs and jamming it into my pie of childhood nostalgia (terrible metaphor, but go with it). Every time I hear that there’s going to be a new comic based on something from my youth, I get super-excited until I see that it’s coming out on IDW. I don’t know if it’s because most of it seems a bit rushed (why does everybody in Jurassic Park look like a PS1 character?) or if it’s fear of the realization that, inevitably, they will shove zombies into it, but I seem to be constantly let down. This is why I had a sort of “aw, goddammit” moment when I learned that IDW had secured the rights to publish a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic (in partnership with current owners, Nickelodeon Studios/Viacom International). Even the promise of Kevin Eastman’s involvement wasn’t a guarantee (I think I’m one of the five people who read his TMNT: Bodycount).

 

tmnt2First off, contrary to what every initial article about the series stated, this is not a continuation of the Mirage Comics stories (probably because, towards the end, Peter Laird had the turtles in their early-30s), but a reboot of the franchise. As with the first story arch of every other comic/TV show/movie incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this deals with the origin of the heroes. Unlike every other incarnation, however, this one seems a little different. April O’Neill is back in a lab assistant position (and a yellow jumpsuit!) working for Baxter Stockman (not a cyborg!), doing some sort of psychotropic drug testing on four turtles and a rat under the watchful eyes of the mysterious General Krang. The issue cuts back and forth between this story and the main one, involving Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello fighting Old Hob, a mutant alley cat, and his gang while Raphael broods elsewhere.

Kevin Eastman (o.g. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Tom Waltz (Silent Hill: Sinner’s Reward) do a wonderful job of making this feel like the old first volume issues. The dialogue is spot-on, straight down to the constant barrage of crappy one-liners which seamlessly segue in to more dramatic scenes. This series also blends the mythos of both the original Mirage run and the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, utilizing characters from and multiple references to each. The newcomer artist Dan Duncan does a great job of calling back to the style of the Eastman/Laird days (unlike the anime-look that most Ninja Turtles publications seem to use nowadays).

For the first time since 8-year-old me was let down by the abomination known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, I am genuinely psyched to follow my favorite childhood heroes again and, if you are a child of the 80′s, you should jump on this book immediately.

tmnt3

Look, baby, we know we’ve been distant lately. It’s just that, well, things looked like they were starting to get a bit stale. You know how we are! We had to go out! “Sow our wild oats” or whatever the expression is! But we realized that, after all that, the only place we really wanted to be was with you. So, internet, will you take us back? Will you forgive us for our… Ah, jeez, what do you call it… Wanderlust?

You DO? Aw, internet, you’ve made us the happiest blog in the world!

So, what exactly have we been up to since whenever the hell we last posted? Aside from constantly watching Spider-Man: The ’67 Collection and suffering from Flashpoint and Fear Itself-induced not-giving-a-shit, not a whole hell of a lot. Seriously, we didn’t even end up making it to SDCC this year or anything (I’m gonna go ahead and blame the cast of Glee and Hall H, which seems like the internet’s excuse du jour).

Basically, expect semi-regular posts picking back up within the next couple days or so… If I feel like it.

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Geeky women feel constantly isolated, female comic book geeks most of all. Plenty of women are into sci-fi. Plenty more are into fantasy. Female gamer geeks abound in numbers that seem astronomical compared to the measly population of female Wednesday afternoon comics consumers. Some of my girlfriends read “graphic novels,” a term used mostly to make the more intellectually elite comics sound like something, anything, other than a serialized comic. Some of my girlfriends like Sandman, they like Watchmen, they LOVE Fables - but to date I’ve only converted one graphic novel girlfriend into a voracious cape & tights installment reader.

Every week, I bound into my comic shop to pick up my pull list. I have seen two other women there, ever – both employees. (I’m sure plenty of other women shop there. I just never see them.) When I make pilgrimages to Meltdown in Los Angeles, I might see one other lady in the store, but more often than not she’s someone’s mom, someone’s bored girlfriend, or she’s just popped in to pick up some “graphic novel” her hipster friends have been raving about.

(Understand, if the term graphic novel brings more readers to the medium, I’m all for it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think you sound like a snobby jerk when you say it. Are there pik-chers and words in balloons? It’s a comic. Stop kidding yourself.) Ahem.

While the influx of casual new female readers to the comics industry is a great leap forward, we still lag far, far behind in terms of week to week fandom, and even further behind when it comes to superheroes. The general female disinterest in superhero comics isn’t terribly shocking; comic book superheroes are thematically steeped in male wish fulfillment. True, movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man have made some heroes accessible on a wider cultural level to both men & women, but getting a woman to read anything other than the direct movie adaptation is still going to be a tough sell.  Superhero narrative in comics has come a long way since Action #1, but it’s still laden with rock-em-sock-em, save-the-day, get-the-girl motifs.

post_photoshop-tutorial-wonder-woman-step-6-finishedThe Big Two have attempted to market to women in a million different ways over the years. (Don’t get me started on Marvel Divas again.) We’ve had Wonder Woman shoved down our throats so much that we’ve choked on her. Writers like Greg Rucka and Gail Simone have certainly brought her out of bondage – literally – but at the end of the day she is fundamentally un-relatable for most women. Wonder Woman is steeped in male wish-fulfillment fantasies just as much as Superman & Batman are. A writer might be able to rise above that over the course of a single arc, but the truth remains that until we finally find the ret-con that works, Wonder Woman is still a reactionary warrior, a man’s woman. We don’t relate to her, no matter how much they play up the COMPASSION aspect, no matter how much they de-power or over-power her, because she’s not one of us. We need women we can relate to, women that fill a FEMALE superhero wish-fulfillment fantasy, not a warped version of the male one.

Which brings me to the modern Bat-family. I couldn’t relate one bit to Cassandra Cain, the until-recently Batgirl. Cass was socially handicapped and functionally illiterate, thanks to growing up in near-complete isolation. For Pete’s sake, she fought crime in a fetish suit. Her mouth was literally zipped shut in the thing. Even as Rucka and then Simone tried desperately to guide Diana out of the sub-dom bondage subtext, Cass Cain embraced it heartily. Cass Cain was a trained assassin at the cost of severe childhood abuse and some serious Daddy issues, she’s an over the top, beyond screwed up problem for Batman to swoop in and solve. And when Bruce died (sort of) Cass just gave up, passing the cowl to Stephanie Brown, once Robin, once Spoiler and now, something entirely new.

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Stephanie’s Batgirl is the most relate-able since Barbara, if not more so, at least as far as so-called “regular women” are concerned. She’s young, she’s in college, she’s kind of a screw-up. True, she’s also a product of the hit-or-miss nineties comics industry, but Steph is just…normal, unlike most women in capes. The first arc of the new ongoing Batgirl book dealt with Stephanie desperately trying to grow up, to see something through and gain the blessing of her forebear, Barbara Gordon. And when she did, I wept. You see, I was kind of a screw-up kid too; I spent most of my early twenties desperately trying not to be total screw-up and generally failing miserably at it. Not everyone was a big mess of young adult flakey-flix, but the need to overcome, to be better than what you’ve been on a realistic human level – as opposed to trying to learn to read and be a little less traumatized by your assassin upbringing? That’s relatable. That’s interesting. That’s a story women who don’t read comics just might pick up. If they knew it existed.

At the other end of the Bat-spectrum, we’ve got Kate Kane, the awesome, punk rock, redheaded, kick ass grown up holy crap-I-want-to-BE-HER Batwoman. And oh yeah, she’s a lesbian. Of course, her sexual orientation is more a matter of fact than a matter of narrative. Batwoman is not an after school special. Kate is the cool senior girl we all wanted to become when we were freshmen. She’ll throw an elbow and kick you into the wall, and she’ll do it in full body armor with her boobs covered up. She’s got awesome hair, badass tattoos and sweet red stomper boots. While Kate gets ground support from her Colonel Dad,  she doesn’t need the him or the Oracle in her ear to tell her to watch out for marauding frat boys. In a way, Steph is what we were, and Kate’s who we wanted to be.

Too bad neither one of them actually has POWERS. Even Marvel let the ball drop here. While Marvel technically has more high-profile powered women than DC, most of them are, as Wonder Woman, completely unable to connect. Storm was a princess turned orphan turned queen, Jean is so over-powered they had to turn her into a metaphor for PMS, Emma connects a bit, but only because she’s totally that one girl we ALL hated (admit it, you still know the first and last name of the first girl who told you she was better than you.) The Marvel women we DO relate to on some level, we relate to in the most depressing ways. Rogue is a runaway who hurts everything she touches, we might relate to that on some level as well, but there’s just no happy ending for her – be it in marriage or gratuitous sex or just, you know, being able to be close to ANYONE she loves physically.

And Kitty? Mommy and Daddy loved her so much they sent her to the special school where she could learn to be more specialer. Her biggest problem was that her boyfriend died for, like, ten minutes. And when it comes to Sue Storm, you kind of expect Reed Richards to start humming “Under my Thumb” at any given moment.

Granted there are slightly more obscure female characters that might resonate more with some women, on some level – but when it comes to solo titles, women aren’t buying female-hero helmed ongoings because, for the most part they (a) don’t exist or (b) don’t speak to women. At all. This is beginning to turn over a bit with Kate (+Renee), Steph, and Jessica Drew all heading up their own books right now, which is great – except most women have never even heard of these hero identities, much less the women under the cowls. And the Bat & Spider prefixes don’t help, unfortunately, most women hear _____Girl or _____Woman or Lady _____ and lose all interest.

tumblr_kux5gyYhj31qz9k45o1_500Pink trade paperbacks and Sex & the City with tights rip-offs aren’t going to bring women around on Wednesdays. Comics only recently became remotely socially and intellectually acceptable for dudes, it’s going to be a while before boys don’t double take when they realize that, no, I am not messing around, I really do know way, way, more about Wolverine than they do. Marvel’s recent Girl Comics is a step in the right direction, celebrating not only female characters but also female creators. The only thing is – why do we need to get our own special book? Why aren’t female characters and creators just standard issue? Women will start reading comics in droves if we can ever get the word out that, holy crap, some of these are good. At this rate, we’ll all be reading comics projected onto the wall by the implants in our brains by the time female creators are standard issue instead of rare & novel. But to get there, we need well written, relate-able, at least vaguely plausible female ass-kickers, not gimmicks and women desperately trying to fulfill male fantasies while kicking half-naked through the air.

 

Christmas came early this year! This morning, I woke up to a five page preview of BOOM! Studios‘ upcoming Darkwing Duck title. I’ve been a little nervous ever since the miniseries was announced because this thing has the potential to completely ruin my childhood. I needn’t have worried. Darkwing is safe under the stewardship of writer Ian Brill and artist James Silvani. Brill’s Darkwing effortlessly blends irreverence with cantankerousness, Launchpad is an idiot, and Megavolt shows up with a stupid, stupid, scheme.  Disney Afternoon enthusiasts will get a kick out of seeing Darkwing back in action,  people who hate happiness won’t be interested.

Check it out!

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fablesWho says that fairy tales are just for kids? Bill Willingham’s Fables has more than enough intrigue, politics, and drama to fill any number of high-brow literary works. Fables succeeds magnificently at molding the fairy tales you loved as a child into a grown-up saga without ruining your childhood (case in point: Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. Now THAT was a scarring experience). Fables is brilliant because it works on multiple levels. It’s comedy, romance, mystery, and action all at once without denigrating into crass parody. Although some characters are more integral to the story than others, Fables never focuses on just one main character – it’s like a Robert Altman film turned comic book fairy tale. Fables isn’t just a great work of comic book fiction, it’s a great work of fiction, period, proof enough to shut up all the naysayers who believe comics are just for teenage boys and adults caught in arrested development.

Fables begins in modern day New York, where Snow White, her sister Rose Red, King Cole and many others have been exiled after escaping their homelands, fleeing a mysterious threat known only as “The Adversary.” It can be said of many series that they start off a little weak, but only get better as the series goes on. This isn’t quite true for Fables, because while it isn’t weak by any means, the early issues don’t even hint at how rich and complex the world of Fabletown becomes as the series progresses. Volume One opens with Snow White, who is now the right-hand woman of Mayor King Cole, tracking down her sister’s murderer. Things aren’t quite what they seem of course, and as Fables unfolds over 82 issues, events snowball and lead up to the big showdown, in which the villian is unveiled and kingdoms are restored… for a time.

What makes Fables so special is that seemingly minor characters end up as major players later on, significantly altering the lives of the Fable-town residents and becoming more important than they (and the reader) ever imagined they could be. They’re the ones we root the loudest and cry the hardest for. These characters aren’t the elevated paragons of perfection, clear-cut black and white archetypes that we’re used to from traditional fairy tales. They are imperfect beings, with frail relationships handled expertly by Bill Willingham. Prince Charming is a cad who’s had three wives (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively). Snow White and Bigby Wolf have their own relationship problems, him being a wolf the least of them. The most stable relationship in the series is Beauty and the Beast’s. Healthy relationships are almost never interesting in fiction, (and really, who wants to read about happy couples?), but theirs is possibly the most fun, playful and yes, sexy healthy relationship I’ve come across in fiction, ever. No small feat.

And, like any great work of fiction, there is inevitable tragedy. The heartbreak of failed love between two characters is as devastating as the happy ones are uplifting. Late in the series, a final goodbye between a will-they-won’t-they pair ends not in forgiveness, but with one character revealing the hard, unvarnished truth about the other’s shortcomings. And it’s as painful for her to hear as it is for us, as Willingham knowingly wrenches our hearts by wrenching hers. He doesn’t let her off easy, even on his deathbed. And it just breaks your heart in half.

Most series would be content to wrap things up neatly in a bow and leave the residents of Fabletown to their happiness and content, but Bill Willingham never takes the easy route. It doesn’t end in “Happily Ever After” because, just like life, these stories will go on, even after we close the pages of the book.

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