By Bill Willingham
Art by Craig Hamilton, Jim Fern, Ray Snyder, and Mark Farmer
Cover by Daniel Dos Santos
Available now from Vertigo (DC)
WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND is the second standalone trade in Bill Willingham's Fables series. I preferred the first (1001 NIGHTS OF SNOWFALL), but that may be because I loved its structure so much.
WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND finds Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf to those who haven't read a Fables book before), arriving in Story City, Iowa. He's searching for a new location for Fabletown and did not expect to find a community of werewolves - especially not one containing a few familiar faces.
Vertigo promises that WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND is a good place to start Fables as well as entertaining adventure for old fans of the mythos. As someone who has read several Fables books but not even close to half of what is available, I'll endorse that statement. There's nothing going on in the novel that requires knowledge of the main story arc, and plenty of hints about what has gone on to intrigue new readers. (At least, it will intrigue new readers who want to see Prince Charming duel Bluebeard.)
Art is, of course, a big part of any successful graphic novel. For the most part I like the art in WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND. The colors are soft, the lines are clean, and there are plenty of backgrounds but the panels aren't cluttered. The shading feels rather old school to me, which I liked. It fits a tale involving a long flashback to WWII. But some panels just didn't work for me. Some of the close ups just have such dead eyes that it is both creepy and distracting.
The story is pretty simple. I wish Oda, the girl passed out on the cover, had more to do. She might be precognitive and she certainly gets a portentous last line, but she disappears during the climax . . . passed out. (Before that she gets the cliche woman trying to seduce a guy to her purposes scene.) Bigby Wolf, meanwhile, gets to show off his sense of law and justice on the frontier. Unsurprisingly, it's swift and brutal. It's nice to see a bit of Bigby's past, but it's a bit boring to see him put up against a group of werewolves who are so outclassed. (And I don't think the whole "Bigby-as-the-werewolf-God" thing was every fully explained.)
WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND is an entertaining adventure and will definitely appeal to those looking to read a standalone graphic novel in addition to fans of the Fables series. Fairytale fans might pursue an entry in the series more based in folklore, however. And yes, this book is rated for mature readers including violence and full-frontal nudity of both genders, mostly nonsexual. Probably nothing an older teen can't handle, but not the best choice of reading for your morning commute depending on how nosy your fellow passengers are.