As of this moment, one of my favorite comic book series is Fables by Bill Willingham. The concept is about as simple as it can be- Fairytales living in New York- but the execution is absolutely brilliant. Seeing as how it’s the end of the year and people will have some extra money here and there, what better time than to tell you about a series that’s topnotch and defines the “Fairytales gone wrong” genre of storytelling? Let’s take a look at Fables for today’s Comic Book Club.
Currently, Fables has 15 trade paperbacks (one is a side collection), not including seven from the spin-off Jack of Fables (that’s for another time). In the grand scheme, Fables just hit its 100th issue, placing it at quite the milestone for longevity.
The first collection starts things fairly simple, introducing the main Fables you’ll be following: Snow White is the deputy mayor of Fabletown to King Cole; her sister, Rose Red, is a troublesome no-good alongside Jack (the one from every story mentioning a Jack); Boy Blue is an assistant in the Fabletown offices while Flycatcher (the Frog Prince) is a janitor; Blue Beard is one of the wealthiest Fables left whereas Prince Charming has squandered his wealth and continues to mooch off his ex-wives.
My favorite character for the longest time turned out to be Fabletown’s sheriff, Bigby Wolf, AKA The Big Bad Wolf. He’s like if Wolverine were a little more of a badass and had less of a mysterious past. Bigby continually steals the show in a phenomenal ensemble cast, and that’s saying something.
Initially things start slow. Well, maybe “slow” is the wrong term. We’ll go with “simmer.” A murder involving Rose Red comes to light and Bigby goes about tracking down her killer, eventually leading to an enjoyable final reveal in the last issue of the first trade paperback. Mainly we start to learn why Fables live in New York and it all has to do with a war in the Homelands as caused by someone named the Adversary, the identity of which isn’t revealed for many, many more issues.
As the series progresses, the problem moves from the immediate conflicts within Fabletown itself and how the residents have a tough time dealing with life in a foreign and non-magical land to the overarching conflict in the Homelands and the war abroad, eventually coming to an amazing and satisfying conclusion. And then of course Willingham sets up the next plot arc that, to my knowledge, has yet to be finished.
The strangest part of Fables, for me anyway, is how rapidly Willingham is capable of shift around your favorite character from one Fable to the next. For the longest time I thought no one could be cooler than Bigby, then Boy Blue way upstaged him, then Flycatcher way upstaged HIM, and the cycle just continued with side characters getting the spotlight here and there and most every Fable achieving a believable backstory within a reasonable amount of time, but not so reasonable that you don’t have to wait for it. Fables is a page-turner at its core, no matter how many volumes you have sitting next to you.
The reason for this is Willingham’s ease with story progression and character dialogue. Fables is not a comic book for children. Language, sex, and violence are everywhere. Granted, the original fairytales are much the same way, but that’s not the point. The point is how Willingham uses the source material to its fullest. Bigby gets a lot of playtime as an example of a well-established character you know and evolves into an entirely new one that feels faithful to what you’d expect. This happens with pretty much everyone that appears on the page.
That’s the best part of Fables (and possibly the easiest aspect for Willingham to write): Just about every character already has a basic backstory imbedded in your head. You’re already aware that Snow White lived with seven dwarves, that Beauty and the Beast are married, that Mogli is an adventuring outdoorsy type, and that King Cole is indeed a merry old soul. There’s only room to move forward, assisting in the momentum of the story. You won’t have to get bogged down whenever a new character is mentioned because when Cinderella shows up you already know roughly where she came from and how she’ll act.
Willingham leaves no corner of the world unturned, either. I thought I’d get to the point where I’d just start checking off the remaining Fables he could possibly use, but that never turned out to be the case, probably because the amount of Fables in the public domain are nearly endless. Without making some sweeping conclusion like saying Fables is the only reason anyone should be writing stories about fairytales grown up…well I don’t know how to finish that sentence.
No one quite succeeds like Willingham succeeded with his comic, so go out there and read up on the greatest story ever told regarding every story ever told. You won’t be disappointed, even if you’re a cold-hearted hater of fairytales. This is Disney on crack in the best way, so kudos Willingham, and good luck on the next 100 issues!
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