Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile COMICS RETROSPECTIVE: And they all live (un)happily ever after.


Fables Volume 1 Cover 1. Published by Vertigo.

Fables Volume 1: Legends In Exile.

Collecting 'Fables' Issues 1-5.

Written by Bill Willingham, Pencils by Lan Medina,

Ink by Steve Leialoha &Craig Hamilton.


Here we go, folks! The start of another grand Comics Retrospective! I thought I'd try something different this time around, and do a long-running series written by, and starring, a lady. But apparently, that doesn't exist... so I had to change tack, a little. I've long been a fan of noir detective series and I LOVE a good twisted take on classic fairy tales... So how could I resist Fables! Launched in 2002, this multiple Eisner Award winning series takes all your favourite Fairy Tale characters and drops them into modern(ish) New York! What could possibly go wrong, right?


Well, firstly, there's been a murder...

Chapter One: Old Tales Revisited. Yes, you heard me! There's been a murder! Rose Red is now Rose Dead. So naturally her sister Snow White, Director of Operations and Deputy Mayor of Fabletown (where she and other Fables live), has put her best (wolf)man on the case: Sheriff Bigby, also known as The Big Bad Wolf. And just from that one line, I already love this series.


Chapter Two: The (un)Usual Suspects. Bigby begins to round up his suspects. After receiving some unrequested assistance from Snow White, who has decided to get personally involved in the cast. Then, Bigby's interrogation tactic gets him in a little hot water.


Chapter Three: Blood Tells. Little Boy Blue and Flycatcher get a little messy, but it's all for the greater good. The greater, blood soaked good. Meanwhile, Snow White Talks to the Mayor, and Bigby stops Bluebeard from doing some interrogating of his own.


Chapter Four: Remembrance Day. The Big Day is here! Everyone is looking super fancy. But, much like every party I've ever been to, it's all going to end in tears, as Bigby gathers the key players, and the murderer is revealed... after a fashion.


Chapter Five: The Famous Parlor Room Scene (Sans Parlor). With the culprit revealed, all that remains is for Bigby to explain exactly what happened, and how he worked everything out! Then, punishments and payouts are awarded to those that deserve them and everything ends happily. Or, rather, as happily as it CAN, given the circumstances.


Talk about a Grimm tale...

Well, there we have it! Our first foray into the world of Fables wraps everything up with a bow... peep. Starting this volume off, I knew absolutely nothing about this series, other than the vaguest outline. I've got to say, this first volume somehow managed to be exactly what I was expecting, while also exceeding my every expectation. Can't wait to dive back in, and see what chaos is in store for us!

His shadow is a wolf. Love it. Love everything about it.

I really wasn't sure what to expect, starting Fables. I knew the rough outline; Story Book characters have been exiled to modern day Earth and are trying to live under the radar, so normal people (referred to in series as 'Mundanes') don't catch on. It's a solid premise that leaves you with SO much room to work with, it's almost easier to guess what they WON'T do with it.


But I have to say, even with that very loose outline to work with, Fables Volume 1 still managed to surprise and please me.


Here's the thing, I could go on for HOURS about how brilliantly Willingham and company wove together that framework of stories. How Prince Charming shows up as a sleazy, broke, pick-up artist, conning mundanes into sleeping with him, so he has a place to crash. I could go on and on about the subtle tells and nods in the artwork, how Medina made Bigby's shadow a wolf, or the multitude of small references in the background art. I could write for days about the opening scene, where Snow White councils Beauty & The Beast through a rough spot in their marriage, because every time Belle gets mad at the Prince, his curse returns and he starts to grow more bestial...

This is your yearly reminder that Beauty & The Beast is a trash story, that undercuts its own point.

But here's the thing that really stood out, for me:


Willingham and Co could easily have just phoned it in. Thrown a few references at us, given us characters that we know and love, in roles that we recognise, updated to a modern setting, and overall it would have been fine. But he didn't. He went WAY beyond that.


Because, when you strip everything else out. When you remove all the wrapping and drill down to the core... what you find is a genuinely fun detective tale, which uses these characters and references to enhance the story and act as a little bonus, rather than being the primary focus of the book.

The Adversary, you say? Interesting...

Now, that's not to say that the fairy tale aspects are under-developed. While the main focus of this volume is undoubtedly Rose Red's murder, there is still some SOLID world building, and enough of a foundation is laid in place to set my nerd brain a-buzzing.


Very early on, Snow White namedrops "The Adversary" a mysterious but clearly antagonistic presence, who is responsible for the Fable's present condition. This is greatly expanded on in Chapter Four at the "Remembrance Day" ceremony. This is seemingly a yearly event, when all the Fables gather to remember how they were pushed out of their home... and serves as a very handy way for Willingham to drop a little world building on us.


The backstory is as simple as it is relatable, as it is tragic. The Adversary, about whom details are pretty scarce, began to amass power years back. He slowly started to take over surrounding kingdoms, but the Fables didn't really care. After all, this was all happening to people far away, so why does it matter, really?


Naturally, by the time the Fables started to get a bit worried, it was too late and before they knew it, they were the only Kingdom left that The Adversary hadn't taken, and no one was left to help them, when he attacked.


If you've read any of my Retrospectives before this, you can probably guess what I'm going to say next.


So, naturally, when a big bad is hinted out, I just HAD to start theorycrafting who it could be. I can't help it, it's who I am.


The way I see it, there are two main options:


Firstly, the simple option; it's another Fable creature. This is the most obvious choice, the question then becomes WHO. We've seen plenty of big names already, but with the exception of Bigby, they've mostly been the 'heroes' of their respective tales. There's no Maleficent here, the whole story was sadly lacking in Gaston... So there's plenty of space for one of the old names to come back.


But, somehow, I doubt it would be that predictable. This is a story where the Big Bad Wolf is our protagonist, Price Charming is a sex pest and Pinocchio is furious because he's trapped in a kid's body and can't get laid. It's far too simple for the (apparent) main antagonist of this series to just be some other Fairy Tale villain.


SO, we then start to consider the potential heroes who could have broken bad. And let's be real here, there are PLENTY of them. If you really look at the classic tales, many of the leads are questionable, at best. There is plenty of space there for some 'hero' or other to have gone off the deep end; some prince became a king, and 'happily ever after' lasted until he got bored, and wanted a little excitement.


Then, of course, there is the obvious choice. With a name like "The Adversary" and the throwaway line about him being "Thrown down from the vast heavens" for his corruption, there is always a chance that our big villain is some take on a/the Devil... but honestly, I feel like that route is dicey at best and dangerous at worst, so I really hope that's now how it plays out.


Then we have option number two: It's NOT a Fable creature. We know that the Fables were able to cross over and enter the real world, we know that real humans can interact with Fables, so what's to stop a human from going the other way? Who's to say that a human didn't stumble into the Fable's lands and decide that rather than trying to get home, he wouldn't hang around, and have a little run. I mean, they're not real, right? They're just stories... so, nothing you do to them is really wrong, right?


Right?


Oof, she's not even finished investigating one murder, and Snow White just committed another.

Overall, Fables Volume 1 was a VERY strong start. An excellent concept, well executed, with a clever and twisting tale at its core. Willingham takes characters that we have known for years, and breathes new life into them. Taking them, and us, on what promises to be a fantastic new adventure that I can't wait to read!


Combine that with Medina's art, with its retro-inspired designs, that feel like they've stepped off the page of a classic pulp detective novel, and the end result is a book which is practically dripping with '50s noir style. As you know, I'm a sucker for great character designs, and I really can't wait to see what Medina can do with the characters we've already seen... and the host of Fables we're yet to meet!


If you can't wait to meet them either, come back next time for Fables Volume 2: Animal Farm, collecting Issues 6-10. Travel to upstate New York, where the non-human Fable characters have found refuge on a farm, miles from mankind. But all is not well on the farm—and a conspiracy to free them from the shackles of their perceived imprisonment may lead to a war that could wrest control of the Fables community away from Snow White. Starring Goldilocks and the Three Bears.


So, if you want to read along, you can find Fables at your Local Comic Book store, or on Comixology/Amazon. But go to the comic store, they're WAY nicer.


You're not really helping your case there, Snowy...

 

Taheg Gloder is a Freelance Copywriter from England. Obsessed with comics and Manga since his teens, he now splits his time between writing comic reviews and retrospectives for POP, and doing reactions on his YouTube Channel, The Dragon & The Hound. He lives alone, because he’s a hermit.

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