Fables was a near-perfect comic book series. Over the course of its 150 issues, spin-off series, and one-shot specials, it hardly ever hit a lull in its storytelling, with the adventures of the citizens of Fabletown escalating believably from one event and threat to the next. That’s mighty impressive for any comic book, let alone one that reached a triple digit issue count. The only series that I can think of that probably exceeded Fables in quality over an extended run was The Sandman, but the two books are so incredibly different that it’s not really a fair comparison.
So, yeah, Fables was great, and it had a perfect ending. There was definitely room for more adventures, based on the way the final graphic novel length issue played out, but they weren’t needed. We left Bigby, Snow, the Cubs, Flycatcher, and all of the other characters on a note of closure that felt fitting and earned.
With the announcement that we’d be getting more Fables in the near future, then, please understand why I’d be a little apprehensive, and even skeptical. The fact that the creators of the entire series are on board for a continuation that picks right up with issue 151 is encouraging, yeah, but we’re living in the age of the revival. For every series that returns to great success and acclaim, there are just as many that fizzle out if they’re ever released at all.
And then we have a crossover between Bigby Wolf, Fabletown’s resident gumshoe, and Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective. Surely a gripping mystery could be spun out of the meeting of these two giants, with Bigby bringing his more feral instincts to the table while Batman utilizes his more… well, I’d say “refined approach” to crimesolving, but he’s just as likely to wreck some dudes for information as he is to work in his portable Bat-crime lab. Even still, in addition to living in the age of the revival, we’re also living in the age of “Batman is in everything,” with a good chunk of the market saturated with the Caped Crusader’s presence. Just because Batman can be in something, doesn’t always mean Batman should be in something.
But here we are, with Batman vs. Bigby! A Wolf in Gotham. Why is there an exclamation point? It’s all terribly exciting, you see.
And the Big Bad Wolf.
In one place.
You know what that reminds me of?
Now we’re talking.
Alright, so getting to the actual issue after that lengthy preamble, I’m going to be honest: I didn’t like this very much when I first read it. The voices felt off– which is strange, considering Willingham created one half of the issue’s characters and wrote some lengthy runs on the other– the art is… unique, we’ll say, and the overall story just didn’t grab me. Seeing as how I’m more familiar with Fables than anyone else on the team, it seemed like a book that should be very much up my alley, but alas, it was not.
Then I read it again, after sitting with it a while. Josh even said he thought it was solid, so maybe with fresh eyes my opinion would change.
And it did. Just a bit, anyway. I’m still not in love with the book just yet, and there are some areas that have quite a bit of room for improvement, but I’d at least kind of recommend this now rather than pretty firmly warning against it.
At its core, this is a good old fashioned murder mystery. Several bodies have been found across Gotham, and they all look like they’ve been mutilated by a pretty large animal. Naturally, this draws the attention of Batman, who taps several Robins to investigate alongside him.
How many Robins? Yes, several.
Or… three. Which is still weird, because one is Stephanie Brown. Yes, she has been a Robin, but only for like twenty minutes. Since then, she’s been Spoiler and Batgirl twice, and is running around as the latter right now in the other Batbooks. I don’t hate this, it’s just a weird choice that isn’t justified in the story. It’s cool that Damian (who looks like he’s 37) and Tim are both using the code name, but Steph could have just as easily been Spoiler or Batgirl and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
But I digress. Running concurrently with Batman’s “Wolf Murder” investigation, we see some pretty shocking scenes of implied torture and dismemberment. There’s a group of individuals with names of famous writers, one of whom specializes in, uhh, “surgery.” It’s pretty chilling, and could make for some compelling drama down the line, though it’s not completely in line with the main story. Which is a shame, because some of the dialogue here is just weird. Batman tells the Robins that he’s “going to go find someone to hit,” and he tells a newly transferred detective on the force that “half the PD wants to be my pal.” I’m all for a Batman who’s not always grim, and can even have a casual conversation with people that he’s not trying to apprehend, but those lines are just an odd fit.
Though he gets second billing in the title, Bigby isn’t in the issue much, only popping up in a single panel at the beginning before a fight scene with Batman in the final few pages. It’s that specific scene that kind of sums up my overall feelings toward the issue: the dialogue is awkward, and some of the character models are a bit strange, yet the actual sequential art is great. That might sound strange, but I can certainly nitpick Damian looking older than Tim and a Batman with some weird piping and textures to his suit while still appreciating the layouts.
And friend, some of these layouts and sequences are incredible. Brian Level, Jay Leisten, and Lee Loughridge contribute some truly stunning pages here, be it a torture victim’s life flashing before our eyes, or the crimson soaked sequence where Batman posits that a killer is more than just a common wolf. That latter sequence in particular is moody and intense, as it’s awash in bright reds and blood “drips” down the page. Or there’s a scene where a character is gassed, and Level draws them multiple times in the same panel to simulate losing their balance, and Steve Wand’s TTTSSSSSHHHH leading them down to the ground where they ultimately lose consciousness.
Visually, it’s a pretty great issue, despite some qualms. As for the writing, well, about half of it works, and the other half doesn’t, but on a second read it didn’t bother me as much. I don’t know if it was just burnt out or in a bad mood on my first read through, but I’ve come around to where I enjoyed this book a bit more than at first glance, so I’m cautiously optimistic for the rest of the series.
- You enjoyed Fables.
- You enjoy Batman.
- You enjoy a lot of Robins.
Overall: Interesting characters and a murder mystery plot should have made this a home run, but I’d say it’s more a base hit. The sequential art is great, especially in the scenes that don’t feature costumed heroes, and I’ve warmed up to the issue after sitting with it and giving it another read. It isn’t perfect, and I hope that the series improves as it goes along, but Batman vs. Bigby! A Wolf in Gotham is off to a fairly promising start. Consider this my muted recommendation, with a few caveats attached.