Review: Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” Set I

Title: Fables
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Various (See individual books on Goodreads for details)
Average Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DC Comics, 2002-2005

What if all the characters from your beloved fairy tales lived here in our world, in New York City? Welcome to the world of Bill Willingham’s award-winning Vertigo series Fables. This review is for the first five collected volumes, or issues #1-33. (I decided against reviewing each individual volume on here due to spoilers and generally not having enough to say to justify a full-out write up. On the other hand, Willingham doesn’t play nicely with status quo, so my secondary plan to just blanket review the whole series fell through as well. Instead, I’m reviewing what I consider to be longer, mostly-contained story arcs–from one earthshaking change to the next. You can find links to my short reviews of the individual volumes below.)

The premise is simple. Centuries ago* all of the Fables were driven from their lands by The Adversary, winding up in our world. They congregated in the New World, setting up their own community among us where they have been living ever since in relative peace. As a founding principle of their community, all sins commited in the Homeland are forgiven–you start out in Fabletown with a clean slate. No one embodies this fact more than Bigby (Big Bad) Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown and one of the main protagonists of the series. There are others, of course–this is an ensemble book, and you will get stories featuring everyone from Snow White to Flycatcher and everyone in between. Willingham has created something truly awesome here, taking characters we all know, as well as less familiar ones like Bluebeard, and putting a different spin on them. I’ll avoid spoilers, for the most part here. Some memorable characters we are introduced to here include:

-Bigby “Big Bad” Wolf: Sheriff of Fabletown and a werewolf (or more accurately a werehuman, as a wolf is his original form.) In the Homelands he was a feared beast before the Adversary came, at which point he became a severe thorn in the enemy’s side.
-Snow White: Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, first ex-wife of Prince Charming. King Cole, the Mayor, handles the ceremony and gladhanding; Snow handles the dirty business of keeping things running.
-Prince Charming: A serial womanizer and ex-husband of a number of Fable princesses. He has been spending most of his time in Europe, mooching off of the royalty there, but seems to have outstayed his welcome….
-Jack: Rose Red’s feckless boyfriend, always up to one get-rich-quick scheme or another. Former owner of some magic beans, among other claims to fame.
-Bluebeard: The richest man in Fabletown. In the Homelands he had a habit of killing his wives on their wedding night. He can’t be charged for this given the General Amnesty that holds the Fables community together, but everyone can’t help but wonder if he has returned to old habits.
Other characters drop in and out, usually becoming important in later volumes. Beauty and the Beast make an appearance, still together although when Belle gets annoyed with him Beast’s curse will begin to reappear. Little Boy Blue shows up as Snow’s assistant, seemingly young but with a deep-seated tragedy in his past haunting him. Cinderella would seem to be nothing more than a local shop owner, but is in reality one of Fabletown’s most experienced black operatives. Assorted other fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters make up the supporting cast, from goblins to the Three Little Pigs. The tales in these first five volumes run the gamut, from a murder mystery to an attempted revolution, from an invasion to dealing with a Mundy who thinks he’s discovered their secret–the Fables are all vampires! I promise, you’ll have fun with this series. You can see the reviews for the individual collections below, but be forewarned that all but the first will have spoilers for the previous volumes….

Volume I: Fables In Exile (*****)
Volume II: Animal Farm (****)
Volume III: Storybook Love (*****)
Volume IV: March Of The Wooden Soldiers (*****)
Volume V: The Mean Seasons (****)

Content: This is a series from DC’s Vertigo line, intended for adults. Its firmly rated R, though maybe not so much as others from that house such as Preacher or anything written by Alan Moore. R-rated language, not on the level of a Tarantino flick, but assorted uses of the “F-bomb.” There’s not infrequent violence, and sometimes it can be a bit gory or disturbing. Sexual content also sometimes shows up, with occasional nudity. Some magic, but given the fairy tale setting I wouldn’t really describe it as “occult.”

*It would seem that the Fables are functionally immortal, though they can be killed.

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