Fables Volume 1

The Plot: The Adversary, a shadowy evil figure, has taken over the worlds of fantasy and forced their inhabitants, collectively known as the Fables, into hiding in New York City.  When Rose Red disappears amid a blood-strewn crime scene, her sister Snow White (the Fables’ deputy mayor) and detective Bigby (formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf) investigate. The trail takes them into contact with the lecherous Prince Charming, a furious Bluebeard, and a very bitter Little Pig, among many others.

The Author: Bill Willingham has been writing and illustrating comics and role playing games since the late 70s. He is the author of three novels, including Down the Mysterly River, and most recently wrote for the comic series Angel: After the Fall.

The Illustrator: Mark Buckingham got his start in the late 80s working on British magazine The Truth and American comic Hellblazer. He has done work on various Marvel and DC comics. Fun fact: author Neil Gaiman was the best man at his wedding.

Why It’s Awesome: The idea of a fairy tale person forced to live in the real world isn’t new, but what’s fun about this series is the fact that it isn’t just one character or two — it’s all of them.  The main players in this volume are traditional Grimm’s characters, but the illustrations include references to the Oz series and the Chronicles of Narnia as well as other world myths, suggesting that the Fables community incorporates every fantasy story ever written.  The chief pleasure of the series is watching those sometimes incongruous characters play off against both each other and the normal inhabitants of New York (the “mundanes”).

The story is told in a comic book format, with traditional comic-style illustrations.  The pictures are well-suited to the dialog and story line, often including sly hints to things the words themselves don’t reveal, such as a sub-plot involving an escaped fairy tale pig.  There are some clever details that play with the line between realism and fantasy, such as Bigby’s shadow, which is often lupine even when he looks human.

The plot is almost secondary in this first volume, which is more about establishing the characters and the rules of the fantasy world, but it’s engaging enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

Why It’s Not Awesome: Again, the plot is almost secondary to the story. It’s a murder mystery, but without enough of a hook to keep you truly engaged.  None of Rose Red’s back story really induces us to care about her murder–we’re only led to care about the detective solving it.

There isn’t much character development, even among the major players in the story.  I’m not sure if this is a result of having such a short story with so many characters, or if it’s because this is the first volume and the world is so intricate to set up.  Either way, for the most part  the characters end the story as the same people who began it.

The Final Judgment: An interesting spin on fairy tale/real world interaction.  I have the second volume on order.

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