Fables (Vol. 2): Animal Farm by Bill Willingham (author) and Mark Buckingham (artist)
Animal Farm is the second volume in Fables, a comic book series that presents characters from various “make-believe” lands living the immigrant life in the USA. In Volume One, we met Snow White, the capable vice-mayor of Fabletown, and her rebellious sister Rose Red. In Animal Farm, Willingham pulls back the curtain to show us a few of the problems lurking just out of sight.
Humanoid fables can live alongside humans, and many of them do, hanging out in New York City; but when the fabled kingdoms were overrun by the Adversary, many non-human fables joined the exodus to our dimension. They are forced to live out of sight of humans, on a farm in upstate New York. Lately, there have been some fables going AWOL from the farm, and Snow decides to make her annual visit to the farm a bit earlier than usual. She takes her recalcitrant sister with her in an attempt at sibling bonding. It doesn’t go the way Snow expects.
When Snow and Red arrive, they find that Weyland Smith, the farm manager, has disappeared, and the three pigs tell Snow that he “retired.” There is an awkward moment when the two women interrupt a town meeting that was not meant for them. Colin, one of the three pigs and a friend of Snow, tells her bluntly that no matter how spacious or beautiful the farm is, it is still a prison, and the unpalatable truth is that the animal fables do not have the same rights as the humanoid ones. There are factions on the farm who plan to change that.
Willingham expands the fable world, including characters from literature as well as fairy-and-folk tales, and he explains a little bit more about how fabled life works. He also boosts the tension with the murder and mutilation of a character we’ve come to like, and a guerilla war that breaks out of the farm. Snow and Red are forced to choose sides. The story is suspenseful as characters we’ve come to like are placed in real jeopardy, and there is a devastating action against a main character near the end.
The most interesting character for me is Goldilocks, who, although she is human, has decided to stay on the farm with the bears. Papa Bear assumes this is because of his son’s sexual prowess (there was a reason that bed was “just right,” Goldilocks tells us,) but Goldi has more going on than that, and she is an adversary to be reckoned with. Once again, the issue of whether to declare some kind of war on the Adversary and attempt to take back their own lands is raised; but within the revolutionary group on the farm there are several factions. Things aren’t what they seem.
Mark Buckingham’s artwork is a good match for this story, especially his depiction of Kipling’s tiger Shere Khan and Reynard the Fox. Red comes into her own a bit here, as she explains what led to the schism between her and her sister Snow.
While that part of the story deepened both characters, it did not solve the problem I have with Willingham’s conflation of two fairy-tales. Snow White and Rose Red is a completely different tale than Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Red’s explanation for how she feels makes sense in the fable world, except that she isn’t Rose Red. I can see that this is going to bug me, like a hangnail, through the whole series, and I can see that I just better get used to it. Willingham has done the same thing with “Jack,” and that doesn’t bother me as much, so clearly this is my personal problem.
Animal Farm is a successful follow-up, suspenseful and twisty, funny and wry, and provides a good deal of information we will need as the story goes on. This series continues to deliver.