Yes, I used a Taylor Swift lyric as the post title. Deal with it.
Bill Willingham was not the first to play in the fractured fairy tale sandbox. To my knowledge though (and I could be totally wrong), he was the first to do the whole fairy tale characters from different stories are transplanted to our world thing in his popular, award-winning comic series, Fables. I’m not normally into comics (I find an individual comic not long or satisfying enough to tide me over month-to-month. If I do read comics, I tend to wait until a multi-issue collection is put out.), but I’ve heard great things about this one and decided to download Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile (Vertigo 2002), a collection of the first five issues of the series.
Classic fairy tale characters have fled their homelands due to the terror inflicted by an adversary known as … The Adversary. Not the most creative name there, but whatever. So in the 1400s, these characters came to our world and established a peaceful society in New Amsterdam (which eventually becomes modern day New York City) called Fabletown. They also established an isolated community in upstate New York called The Farm for all the characters, like monsters and anthropomorphic animals, that can’t easily walk among the mundane humans (aka the mundys). Their government consists of Mayor Old King Cole, who usually handles all the ceremonial glad-handling stuff, Deputy Mayor Snow White, who actually runs the government, and Sheriff Bigby Wolf, the artist formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf.
The series starts when notorious party-girl Rose Red goes missing and they discover blood all over her ransacked apartment. All signs point to her being murdered and Snow White can’t help but push her way into the investigation since Rose Red is her estranged sister. Suspects include Jack Horner, Rose’s feckless live-in boyfriend, Bluebeard, her ex-lover and notorious wife-killer, Prince Charming, Snow’s smarmy ex-husband and Rose’s former fling, and even Snow White herself. After all, Snow had a pretty good reason to be mad at Rose: she slept with Snow’s husband. There are twists and turns and clues, and the whole thing concludes with a classic parlour room scene (and I’m spelling it the British way because it just feels right.), Agatha Christie style.
I really liked the story, though I didn’t love it as much as I thought I might. Does that make sense? I think it’s either because so many people gushed about it that my expectations were too high or that the concept isn’t as fresh to me as it probably was to original readers. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to enjoy here. I like the twists on the classic characters, like Snow White being a hard-ass career woman and Beast becoming more beast-like when Beauty is mad or annoyed. And Bigby is so excited that he gets to do a Agatha Christie parlour room scene. It’s adorable. The story arc drags a bit in the middle, but the mash-up between fairy tales and the classic whodunit is very entertaining.
I also enjoyed the visual style. I’ll state up front that I am no expert in art, comics or otherwise–Even my stick figures are horrendous–but I thought the style fit the tone of the series. It reminded me of old-fashioned comic strips like Dick Tracy or Brenda Starr (or even Mary Worth. Did y’all ever read that one? It was the most boring soap opera in the world. How it lasted so long, I just don’t know.) but with a more muted palate. I actually read it on my tablet, which is the first time I’ve ever read a comic on the e-reader. It actually looked great. The colors and pictures were really sharp and I could zoom in to see more detail. Thumbs up.
Though Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile didn’t quite live up to the hype, there was much enjoy here. Plus, there was a lot of great set-up to the world that can be explored further down the line. I look forward to reading more, especially because I heard shit gets weird later on.