Why I Read It: Fables is a series I’ve been wanting to start for a while now. My husband doesn’t have the individual issues. He started buying the hardcovers when they were first released, but warned me that it seemed like only one hardcover was going to be released a year (which was ridiculous, because the series had been running eight years at the time of the first hardcover’s printing), so I should wait until he had a few for me to read in one swoop. I agreed, and mentally put the series aside until this year, when I realized my husband had the last two Fables hardcovers but hadn’t read them yet. So I announced I was starting the series, which prompted him to catch up (because he hates reading something after I do, for some reason), which is a good thing. But the other reason for me starting this now, besides goading my husband, is because after indulging in the DC New 52′s, I’ve been hungering for non superhero comics, which has led me to reading the graphic novels of Joe the Barbarian, A Flight of Angels, and of course, Morning Glories: The Deluxe Collection: Volume 1, as well as individual issues of new titles like No Place Like Home and Thief of Thieves. All of that, and the spin-off series Fairest has inspired me to catch up as soon as I can, so I am.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile.
Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters created their own secret society-within an exclusive luxury apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side-called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Bigby, Fabletown’s sheriff, and a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the culprit is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.
This Deluxe Edition collects the first two trade paperbacks of the series, issues 1-10, and Bill Willingham’s prose story from Vol. 1, as well as character sketches.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. I want to talk more about the world-building, the characters, and the comparisons that’ve inevitably been made to the freshman television shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm. So feel free to keep reading, unless you’re in a hurry, and if that’s the case, just skip to “My Rating.”
The Story: First thing’s first: the above premise says there’s a prose story in this volume from Bill Willingham, and that is not true. Not in my deluxe edition, first printing hardcover. Maybe it showed up in later editions (if so, how annoying!), but there is an introduction from Bill Willingham, and maybe that’s what was meant?
At any rate, I came to series with few expectations. Despite implying otherwise above, I haven’t even watched the television shows that supposedly rip Willingham and Fables off. I just knew there were similarities, which was fine, because I wanted to enjoy Fables on its own terms.
The first surprise came when reading the introduction, because for some reason, I thought Fables was a relatively new series, but that’s not the case. It debuted in 2002, which sheds a lot more light on those cries from people who feel like ABC and NBC have ripped Fables off with their shows. Which is really interesting to me: apparently, both NBC and ABC tried to develop Fables as a television series before canning it and, incidentally, coming up with their own modern fairy-tale shows. Pretty damning, even if neither show is a blatant rip-off (which I’m not saying, as I’ve not watched either show) and are simply playing in the same sandbox as Willingham. Anyway, now that I’m reading the series, I’m very tempted to check out these freshman dramas, just to see how similar they really are. What a fun post that would make!
But fairy-tale retellings are nothing new. Adapting fairytales to the modern world is certainly nothing new. Willingham wasn’t the first, and he surely won’t be the last. But the first Fables hardcover brought me something I’d not personally seen before, which is keeping the characters as fairy tale characters, and depositing them into the modern world. Wait, I have seen that before… what was that cute Disney movie, Enchanted? Yeah, that’s it! But that came out in 2007, so that was probably inspired by Willingham too. However, that’s a good a point as any for comparison: fairy tale characters have been exiled out of their lands by the Adversary, and are trying to pass as “normal” in Fabletown (which is what they call their sect in New York City, but I’m still a little fuzzy on that part), and those who cannot pass for normal humans live on “The Farm.” Those in Fabletown do everything they can to protect and raise money for the Farm, and all of them dream, I believe, of the day they can go home.
It’s a gritty story. The first “volume” in the hardcover is “Legends in Exile,” which introduces us to everything and tells a rather fascinating murder mystery. At first, reading one issue a night was easy to do, but it didn’t take long for me to read more than one issue at a time. This particular volume had a kind of noir feel to it, and I loved the interaction between Snow White and Bigby Wolf. The second “volume” took a more violent turn as Snow White goes to The Farm on business, and uncovers something that could not only endanger all of Fabletown, but her life as well. This particular story had a surprising ending and definitely had me hankering for more.
I loved the pig, Colin, who kept showing up in random panels during “Legends in Exile” and making me laugh. I loved the skeevy-ness of Snow White’s Prince Charming. I loved how the characters aren’t just based on fairytale characters, but from folktale and classic stories too. I hated, hated, HATED Goldilocks, but in a good way, because I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to hate her.
The Art: The art surprised me, due in part to the age of the comic. The style had a particular feel to it that I associate more with comics I read that were published in the eighties and nineties, most notably, The Sandman. That’s not a bad thing: the art itself is done quite well, but it’s not the kind of art that has me glued to the pages. More notably, I actually realized (without looking at the credits for each issue, because I never read those unless I’m having a problem) that the artist for volume one and volume two were not the same people, and I have to say that as of now, I prefer the artist for volume one (Lan Medina). Again, it’s not art that I sink my teeth into, nor art that leaves me in rapture, but Medina captured the characters in a way that stuck with me better. Buckingham’s renditions lost a bit of edge when it came to characters I was already familiar with, and it made me want to punch some characters in the face (Goldilocks in particular — despite the fact she’s a despicable person, she was always was rendered with a REALLY TINY HEAD on a much bigger body. Probably because of the coat she was wearing, but still). That said, the styles were so initially similar to me that it took me a while to catch on. Anyway, both artists have their moments, but for now, I think I prefer Medina.
My Rating: 7 – Good Read
The first deluxe edition grabbed my squirming attention and held it firmly. I can see how easy it is going to be for me to tear through these graphic novels, and unfortunately, book five doesn’t come out until the middle of the year (which technically isn’t THAT far away, but still)! I loved the noir and gritty feel of the stories, and how Willingham isn’t afraid to introduce dark, disturbing story elements. And isn’t that what fairy tales are supposed to be about? Not the shiny, happy Disney-fied versions (as much as I loved those), but the ones told to scare the living shit out of kids in order to make them behave? Willingham is modernizing those tales for the modern reader, and it works rather well. Oh, we aren’t getting any moralizing really, and there are definitely some fun, humorous moments. But there are surprising, unexpected, and dark moments as well, and I’m definitely invested in the series and can’t wait to start reading book two. Fans of fairytales, especially modern retellings, should definitely get their hands on this, but fair warning: if you think it’s all a little too familiar, ask yourself if you’re watching Once Upon a Time or Grimm, and if so, then check your scorn at the door: Willingham has been writing Fables since 2002, and while I can’t say whether or not either show is a knock-off of Willingham’s work (I don’t watch either), I can say that regardless, Willingham’s work is more than worth checking out.
Cover Commentary: I love this! I think this cover is why the interior art surprised me so, because inside, everything’s rather traditional and normal, but the cover art is surreal, fantastic, and all over the place in a very eye-catching way. There’s just so much to enjoy and look at!