The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us title screen
Copyright Telltale Games.

A One-Page Review Game Review

The Wolf Among Us is the first Telltale game I have played. Their games are a modern form of the old point-and-click variety, a genre that I enjoyed in my younger years. I was a huge fan of LucasArts. But one thing that Telltale brings to the table is choices that affect the story. So, when I interact with characters or choose to investigate certain places over others, the story alters based on my choices.

TWAU is set in the Fables comics universe that was created by Bill Willingham. I was a huge fan of this series. In the game, you take control of Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby investigates the murder of a prostitute named Faith. What is particularly interesting in this game is the exploration of the seedy side of Fabletown and learning about Fables that fell between the cracks. Not everyone was a prince or princess. Some Fables were trolls or woodsmen or Grendel. A mysterious man known only as the Crooked Man has started an organization that provides for, and controls, Fables that can’t afford the Fabletown services—in particular, those that can’t afford the glamors that allow them to pass as human so they don’t have to go to the Farm.

Basically, TWAU is a noir exploration of the seedy underbelly of the Fables’s world.

Bigby gives Collin a cigarette.
Copyright Telltale games

For the most part, I enjoyed the game. I liked how Telltale introduced new characters who were based on urban myths, such as Bloody Mary and The Jersey Devil. I loved when Bigby finally tuned into his full, Big Bad Wolf form. And there were plenty of moments when I agonized over decisions I had to make. But at times I didn’t find the game too engaging. I would have enjoyed just watching and not playing, or even reading the story if it was a comic. Sometimes I forgot I was playing a game, and realized I had to answer a question or dodge a punch. (Be warned: don’t ever let your hands drop off the keyboard, just in case.)

Overall, I wanted more gameplay and exploration. The Wolf Among Us, however, is a well-made game, and a well-told story. It just wasn’t quite my thing.

Final Rating: 7/10

2011 Book Review Part 3

It wasn’t my intention to group similar books together, but it seems to have worked out that way.  Thus, this will be the comic post because I read quite a few graphic novel collections this year.

Alan Moore is one of the most highly-respected writers in the comic medium.  He has also gained an infamous reputation for slagging off virtually everything in the comic industry that isn’t his.  And whether or not you agree with is criticism of the modern comic industry, there is no accusing the man of being a hack.  Alan Moore has done much to influence the comic industry and propel it beyond escapism into postmodernism and philosophical territory.  This year I read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the first time.  Of all his work that I have read (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke, and that Green Lantern story that has fueled most of Geoff John’s run), League may well be the most fun.  I enjoy the concepts of British Victorian Adventurers forming a secret league to fight evil, specifically evil that threatens the British Empire.  Not only was the first collection a fun read, it has made me curious about the other characters that I have not read, from Fu Manchu to H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon.  I also can’t help but wonder if Moore was influenced by Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Family, or if he came up with this similar but distinct idea on his own.  Regardless, linking together these similar examples of adventurers is a fascinating exercise and the world Moore created is a fun conceptual playground.  His use of the Invisible Man is a bit disturbing, however.

Spurred on by the premiere of Once Upon a Time, I decided to revisit a series with a similar concept.  Bill Willingham’s Fables comics series by Vertigo likewise deals with fairy tale characters in our world, but that is where the similarity ends.  While the characters in Once Upon a Time have forgotten their pasts due to the curse enacted by The Evil Queen, Fables shows a group of exiles forced out of their homeland by a mysterious adversary who has been conquering the fable world.  The collections Legends in Exile and Animal Farm set up the two primary mundane world locations, the Fabletown ghetto in New York City and The Farm in rural upstate New York.  The city location houses the human fables, The Farm houses the non-humans.  These two collections lay the groundwork for the series.  It is quite imaginative and a lot of fun.  The first collection reads a bit like a television pilot.  It is the weaker of the two.  Animal Farm, however, finds its footing quickly as Snow White and her sister Rose Red must put down a rebellion led by the Three Little Pigs.  Animal Farm also introduces regular series artist Mark Buckingham, who is just brilliant.  If you don’t like the typical comic art cliches of men with six-pack abs and women with busts larger than their heads, Buckingham is your artist.  His characters look realistic and are realistically proportioned.  A warning, however: As Fables is a part of the Vertigo imprint, it is meant for mature readers.

The most-represented author on my reading list for 2011 was Grant Morrison.  I read six of his books this year.  You can probably tell I am a fan.  For Christmas I got the first volume of New X-Men: The Ultimate Collection.  In this title, Grant Morrison turns his deconstructionist eye to Marvel’s X-Men and attempts to re-imagine them for the new millennium.  Not all readers enjoyed what he did, but I feel he breathed new life into characters that were growing stale and uninteresting.  It seems that The X-Men were not developing beyond their 1980s archetype portrayal, and Morrison was not satisfied with this.  He changed their costumes.  He shook up Scott and Jean’s marriage.  He introduced a score of new mutants who couldn’t possibly pass as human.  And he introduced the idea that humanity was dying out, slowly being replaced by homo-superior and that a new race was evolving from homo-superior, one that would be more powerful than the mutants that humanity feared.  There is a wealth of interesting concepts here.  But with Grant Morrison, there always is.

The second Morrison book was volume two of his run on Animal Man.  It is a bit hard to review this work as I haven’t read volume one.  I found this one in a used book shop and bought it for fear of it not being there on the next visit.  Animal Man was one of the works that catapulted Morrison to stardom and it is well written.  The central concept seems to be about comic characters becoming self-aware as their Silver Age past is re-written for the darker modern era.  Suddenly faced with two sets of memories, sentience starts to dawn.  I’m eager to finish this series one day.

Finally, we have Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, all four volumes of which were a birthday gift.  Outside of his work on Batman, this may be my favorite Grant Morrison project.  He revives the long defunct Seven Soldiers team by bringing together seven very different, some forgotten, heroes to fight a race f ofuturistic insectoid scavengers known as the Sheeda.  The Sheeda ravage the earth every few millennia to supply their own society with technology and sustenance.  Then they allow humanity to rebuild for the next harrowing.  The four volumes were collections of seven miniseries with bookends and the pieces of the plot were scattered across the various books, often given out of order.  This is a series that rewards multiple readings.  Each hero encounters his or her own pieces of the puzzle and no more.  The reader must do the work of putting everything together in the end.  Each hero is even ignorant of his or her own place in the team as the Sheeda attack any gathering of seven for fear of the prophecy that would usher in their destruction.  Thus, the Seven Soldiers of the title are working as individuals with no knowledge of one another, their actions guided by a mysterious group of men that exist just outside of reality.  I’ve given away enough of the plot, but there is so much more that I haven’t even touched.  If you enjoy high-concept fiction and don’t mind putting effort into piecing together complicated plots, you will probably enjoy this series.

Fables Book One: Legends in Exile

Created and Written by Bill Willingham

I’ve mentioned it in my reviews of Once Upon a Time and Grimm, so I figure it is time to talk about Fables in more detail.  I couldn’t help returning to the first story arc, the pilot if you will, after watching the premiere episode of Once Upon a Time.  The two stories are quite different.  While both involve fairy tale characters leaving their world for ours, the motivations and narratives couldn’t be more distinct.  Where Once Upon a Time is a quest to reawaken the characters to their true nature so they can break a curse, Fables sees characters from both fairytales and folklore in exile in a small ghetto in New York City.  They remember who they are and where they came from.  The basic premise is that they have lived in our world for centuries after being compelled to flee from a being known only, as of book one, as The Adversary.

The Adversary came upon the Fablelands slowly, conquering outlying regions one at a time.  Before many of the inner kingdoms realized that his plan was total domination, it was too late.  He conquered and enslaved.  Many Fables found their way to our world and upon the discovery of The New World (America), they started a colony.  This colony, now a small ghetto, is presided over by King Cole (mayor of Fabletown) with Snow White doing the bulk of administration.  Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf . . . get it?) is a detective in employ of the city.  He has taken human form, and option given to all non-human Fables.  It is required of all who live in the city.  Those who refused the enchantment were relocated to The Farm, an isolated piece of property in upstate New York that has enchantments that discourage visitors.  A general amnesty is offered to all Fables upon acceptance into the community.  All crimes committed prior to exile are forgiven. Just a note, despite the amnesty Bigby isn’t allowed on The Farm due to unpleasant encounters he had with some of the tenants prior to the exile.  At the moment both communities live in peace, but King Cole and Snow do worry from time to time as the peace is contingent on the various Fables continuing to abide by the agreements they have made.  It could all fall apart in short notice.

Now that the backdrop is in place, the first book deals with the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister.  Her wrecked and bloodied apartment is discovered by her boyfriend Jack (the subject of all the “Jack Tales” you may have heard).  Bigby is brought in to investigate, Snow tagging along much to his annoyance.

In many ways, Legends in Exile is similar to a television pilot.  The story is primarily concerned with introducing the concepts described above, while introducing the myriad characters that populate this world (well, Fabletown at least.  The Farm isn’t visited until Book Two).  Character dynamics are explored throughout the investigation, and the tension between Snow and Bigby is signposted quite clearly.  He is drawn to her, something that is explored in the back-up short story.  And while the investigation is interesting enough, the writing and characterizations are still a bit rough.  At times, Snow seems even more hard-nosed than later portrayals.  Perhaps that is down to Lan Medina’s artwork.  This is the only story arc Medina illustrated.  He was replaced by Mark Buckingham as the primary artist, and I prefer Buckingham.  His style suits the story, alternating between whimsical and serious.  Legends in Exile, while compelling in concepts, still hasn’t found its stride.  Fear not, however, as that will be achieved soon enough.

Following the five-part collection is a short story by Willingham entitled A Wolf in the Fold.  It tells the story of Snow White’s first meeting with The Big Bad Wolf while still in the Fablelands.  This story is prose with illustrations, and its writing is much stronger than that of Legends in Exile.  I was a bit concerned that I was mis-remembering how good Fables was as I read Legends, but A Wolf in the Fold reassured me.

Part of the fun of this title is identifying the legends and fairytales that are peppered throughout, both obvious and not-so-obvious.  In the obvious camp we have Boy Blue, The Frog Prince, Beauty and The Beast, and a flying monkey from Oz.  One of the more subtle references is to Aslan and Narnia, which Willingham could only imply as both are still under copyright.  A Wolf in the Fold even references Vlad Tepes, if I’m not mistaken.  There’s also a fun reference to both Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Bullfinch (of Bullfinch’s Mythology fame) on the first page if you pay attention to street names.  There’s a lot on the page to reward the eagle-eyed.

So, while Legends in Exile may not be the strongest offering of the Fables series, it is still a good read and it is essential to start at the beginning.  It only gets better.  If you are apprehensive about comics because you don’t like superheroes or you feel they are just for kids, this is a good starting point.

Content Note: Fables is published under DC Comics “Vertigo” imprint.  Vertigo comics are meant for mature readers, meaning they can often deal with adult concepts or themes.  They also may include strong language, graphic violence, nudity or sex.  Fables: Legends in Exile does have some strong language and one sex scene though there is no actual nudity.  It definitely isn’t for children.