In the latest edition of Comics to Read Before You Die, Jessie Robertson looks at Fables Vol. 1…
Fables #1-5 (May – Sept 2002)
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciller: Lan Medina
Inkers: Steve Leialoha & Craig Hamilton
Colorist: Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original Series Covers: James Jean & Alex Maleev
Fables is a comic book about characters from fairy tales. Now, don’t let that tagline fool you. There is nothing kid-friendly about this book. But, adults will eat it up. Fables re-introduces you to characters in a whole new light, stuck in New York City, trying to hide themselves and their identities from everyone else, which for some, isn’t easy.
In Issue #4, King Cole (mayor of Fabletown) delivers a speech that gives you all the details of the backstory you need. A powerful entity named the Adversary invaded a hundred different worlds where different fairy tale characters lived and eslaved them. A group comprised from all the lands managed to escape to New York to be free, but also free of who they were (there’s amnesty for everyone, so the Big Bad Wolf cannot be held accountable for trying to eat the 3 Little Pigs.) This gives you the landscape of the world you enter when you start this series. Inside this story is a detective story, and one in every sense of the phrase. Rose Red (Little Red Riding Hood) has gone missing and her apartment is covered in blood.
Her boyfriend, Jack (who once climbed a beanstalk) arrives in Fabletown’s City Hall to tell the sherriff, Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf, now reformed). He then informs Deputy Mayor, Snow White (I’ll let you figure that one out) and they investigate the crime scene. From there, this is becomes a who-dunnit. The language used in this story is so precise and cutting, every sentence has sharp edges and definite meaning. It isn’t until Bigby has a relapse and transforms into a monstrous creature later on that the weight of his investigative powers really hits you. And this story (if you go back and look) like any great mystery, gives you all the clues but it isn’t until the “Parlour Room Scene” (without the parlour room as Willingham writes) that you can see them as clearly as Bigy. This is marvelously well written and if you like detective stories, you will enjoy every panel of this one.
Along the way, you are introduced to a myriad of characters from these stories: Beauty and The Beast who are having marital problems (as they say, it’s hard to make things work for over a hundred years), Prince Charming (divorced twice and a welching conman taking advantage of every naive woman he can), Pinocchio (who never asked the Blue Fairy to leave him as a boy because damn it, he’s tired of being in a boy’s body and being so horny!), and more. He takes spins off all these characters to give them full personality traits instead of just being “the Prince” or “the Princess.” One of my favorite characters is Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs. He keeps crashing on Bigby’s couch because Bigby still owes him for blowing down his straw house.
Another great thing about this world is it sets up the rules and parameters of this universe right from the start so you know just about the measurements of the sandbox you’re playing in, and then it expands a little at a time each new issue. The Fables have a government structure, okay, how does that work, well they take donations each year at their Remembrance Day party to celebrate their past and forge ahead to their future. But how do the more non-traditional, non-human characters keep from being noticed? Well, you either are living on the Farm (an upstate farm kept to house those poor souls) or you buy Glamour (which is basically a powder that gives you a human appearance.) So, as you go, the rules become more and more defined and it just builds upon this world more and more.
Let’s also quickly talk about the artwork done in this book; I’m a big fan of the lines in the character’s looks. Each character is drawn with dark lines that accentuate their authenticity and blend them seamlessly into the backgrounds of this real life setting, so when you see a talking pig snoring away on someone’s couch like a real person, or see a troll as a butler in a fancy mansion it all fits.
This is a fantastic series and the first book is just the jumping off point; it grows and grows as you delve further into the books; so my recommendation is to start with this first volume and keep on going. It was recently announced that next year, this classic series will end with issue #150.
next week, we get a bit murky and muddy….