I mentioned in my Watchmen review that I’ve been hesitant to read any comic book series because they are so overwhelming, but then I started seeing various bloggers talk about Fables, Bill Willingham’s series that started in 2002 and has been collected in 11 volumes of usually five to ten comics each. As it happens, my library has been aquiring the collected volumes, so I thought it would be fun to give it a try. It was well worth it.
For those who don’t know, the Fables comics posit that many of the characters from the fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and fantasy stories that we grew up with are alive and well and living in a section of Manhattan known as Fabletown. These Fables, as they call themselves, must live among the “mundys” (ordinary humans) because they have been forced out of their Homelands by a mysterious figure known only as the adversary. The mayor of Fabletown, King Cole, governs this underground community with the help of Snow White (who has the real power) and Bigby Wolf, the former Big Bad Wolf who now handles law enforcement in Fabletown. Bigby and several other Fables are able to appear human through a magic spell. The magic is not, however, available to everyone, and some animal Fables live on a farm in upstate New York.
As you can see from the premise, Willingham is not shy about subverting our expectations regarding well-known characters. Now that they live in the Mundy world, many of the Fables villians have signed an amnesty agreement and are now on the side of good. And other well-known heroes are less heroic and more rebellious. Willingham very cleverly takes what we know about these characters’ personalities and backgrounds from the stories and makes them fresh and new. Some are closer to the mythical versions than others, but all of them feel like the sorts of people these characters could have become, given these circumstances.
Over the course of the 75 issues that make up the 11 collected volumes that have been published, the Fables fall in and out of love, have near-fatal adventures, struggle with political conflicts, and look back on their years in the Homelands. As the issues go on, the plot gets more complex, and the Homelands and the adversary become more important. I loved how the story grew and evolved in unexpected ways. The series also includes several “short stories”–one or two issues that veer off from the main storyline and often feature art in a completely different style from the rest of the series. Some of these are great fun; others are less so. The Cinderella ones cracked me up, and the Rodney and June story was great. I could have done without most of the stories involving the cubs or Jack Horner.
For me, the characters are the best thing about the series. I especially appreciated how certain characters turn out to be much more than they appeared to be at first. Prince Charming, for example, seems like nothing more than a rogue who loves a chase, but he’s much, much more interesting. Flycatcher was nothing more than a background character and comic relief for the first few books, but his story turned out to be one of the most moving in the whole series. And Frau Totenkinder’s secrets have yet to be revealed, I think, but she has plenty of them, and I can’t wait to find out what they are. Maybe they’ll be divulged in the next collection, due out in August. The last collection, War and Pieces, had such a remarkable ending that I’m very interested to see where the series will go.