Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mister Dark?

Vertigo’s “Fables” comic is not a series known for metafictional storytelling. It’s claim to post-modernism lies in it’s basis, a then-familiar Vertigo cliché, of recasting yesterday’s myths, this time around children’s fairytales, into the modern world, fully inspired by Neil Gaiman’s seminal “Sandman”. Since then on, it’s built up a continuity and settings it’s own that, though populated with fairytale characters famous or less so, has continued on as a basicly large and ambitious epic fantasy series.

It’s a wonder then how little mention was made of the writer Bill Willingham’s wink and a nod to Fables’ influential “predecessor”, Vertigo’s “Sandman”. “Sandman” started off with it’s God-like main character freeing himself from the prison he’s spent a long time in and going on a quest to gather his items of power. Having completed it’s initial arc, the series’ writer Neil Gaiman, opted to continue in a different direction, focusing on the profound questions of life, while continuing in less common story structure for what was still on the outside a fantasy series.

What has happened in “Fables” then, was that it’s creator, Bill Willinghem decided to have a massively powerful being awakened from it’s year-long confine and dealing with the beings that have usurped his power since. The similiarity to Gaiman’s series extended to the imitation of his main character’s look and the way of speech. But, just thinking on the subject for a bit more, makes the more interesting connection apparent.

Vertigo has released several volumes of it's critically acclaimed series, Fables. You could use payday loans to collect them all.

“Fables” is without a question, Vertigo’s best-selling series, that even spawned a relatively successful on it’s own, in “the Jack of Fables” ongoing series. One could even go so far as to say that it is Vertigo’s most succesful series since “Sandman”, and it’s myriad spin-offs (the most notable of which being Mike Carey’s excellent “Lucifer”, a noteworthy comic and, interestingly, a direct structural parallel to Gaiman’s series). And yet, it was “Sandman” that popularized the trend of updating parts of folklore in today’s setting, as evident by many of Vertigo’s offerings since it debuted.

Willingham is not only aware of this, but he is commenting on it as directly as he can, using his own stand-in, in “Mister Dark”, a character that acknowledges to having many other names before. This was, of course, another trait that Gaiman’s “Sandman” exibited, along with the obvious ability to afflict the dreaming, which is how his opposite number in “Fables” seems able to influence the children of the world. He was also possessing of a magical weave whose threads Fables stole and remade into a magical cloak, that has help them conquer insurmountable odds and triumph. It should go without mention that the storyline that effectively ended “the Sandman” made many comparisions to storytelling comparing it to weaving a cloth. Using the chivalry code Willingham’s fantasy series has followed from the start, it only made sense to have the evil king return and claim back his spoils. Along the way he is, of course, building his castle, with his fate seemingly tied in with the workings of the three witches.

It’s very amusing to watch this new turn in Willingham’s “Fables”, and another sure sign that the series is in every way as vital as before, having entered it’s second major storyline with #76. Now, it would be excellent if Neil Gaiman saw this “challenge” as an opportunity to find a way to reach compromise with Vertigo, so that the proposed prequel to “Sandman” could see the light of day. That would be great way for Gaiman and Vertigo to continue their collaboration, but most of all, it would be a delight to fans, and I’m sure that most of the “Fables” aficianados“ hold a soft spot for “Sandman” in their hearts. It must be that Bill Willingham shares that belief, or else we wouldn’t see as much of “Mister Dark”, and with such a charm.


Anonymous said...

The problem is that Gaiman has long scince outgrown Vertigo. i don't thionk he will wvwr go back to comics in any way. Bill Willingham is really a very similar writer to Gaiman. I don't think he is trying to talk to gaiman through his work. If he had something to say tot he guy he would just say it. I think he is maybe talking to the fans of Sandman of which of course there are many. In any case, Mr dark isn't Morpheus.

Vanja said...

Thanks for the comment. I hope you find something else to your liking hereabouts

Pragmatic_chimp said...

This was a fabulously well written and thoughtful review, and I'm glad to have read it.

I wonder what Gaiman thinks of Mr. Dark, assuming that he's aware of him.

PauloIapetus said...

Well spotted comparisons between Mr Dark and Sandman.:-)

I was particulary fascinated by the similarities that could be found between Mr Dark and Boy Blue with Sandman of Gaiman in opposition to his "usurper", Hector Hall, acting as a pawn of Brute and Glob as the second Jack Kirby's Sandman .

I must confess that the similarities have eluded me untill that I've read your post, mostly because I was paying more attention to another close parallel:

The Keep , a novel of F. Paul Wilson and its subsequent series of five books, the Adversary Cycle. In it an ancestral evil is awaken by two thieves in a mysterious castle/fortress built in the mountainous passageways of Transilvania during World War II. The released creature can be the final condemnation upon all Earth

The Adversary, the villain of this saga is clearly a prototype to Mr Dark in all the essential elements: the pale visage, the dark clothes, the necromantic powers and the way in which he is empowered, preying upon the fear and other negative feelings of humanity. And he predates Gaiman Sandman's creation by seven years.

It must be said also that this version of Sandman (and the Keep's villain) also bears a striking resemblance to his Marvel Comics analogue, Dr Strange villain, Nightmare that also have a brother called, D'Spayre.The Keep's villain and Mr Dark can be seen as analogues to D'Spayre, too.'Spayre