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Book Review: Fables, Volume 1 by Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton

Title: Fables: Legends in Exile Vol. 1

Author: Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton

Genre: Graphic Novel

Stand alone or series: First volume in the Fables comics; collects issues 1-5.

Summary: (from Vertigo)
Who Killed Rose Red?
In Fabletown, where fairy tale legends live alongside regular New Yorkers, the question is all anyone can talk about. But only the Big Bad Wolf can actually solve the case--and, along with Rose's sister Snow White, keep the Fabletown community from coming apart at the seams.

Why did we read this book: For Dark Fairy Tale Appreciation week! The premise sounded very intriguing with the outcast fairy tale characters, and very high recommendations online.

Review:

First Impressions:

Thea: My immediate first impression: "Fuck! Another comic book series I will need to catch up on, and break my wallet to read!" Fables: Legends In Exile is really damn good. REALLY good. Seeing my favorite fairy tale characters un-happily relocated to NYC, cussing, divorced, dealing with the bureaucratic minutiae that keeps Fabletown on its feet--all of it was fantastic. Essentially, this first volume is a good old fashioned Detective Story--complete with the ultimate Parlor Scene in which the Detective reveals who committed the dastardly crime, the fatal mistakes the criminal made, and the motivation behind it all.

Ana: Thea sent me this link one day about Fables asking "Shall we?" . I checked what she sent me and the premise alone was enough to make me want to read it: old fable/fairytale characters exiled in New York struggling to live a regular life? "Hell YES" was my answer, of course.
Right at the start there is this scene with Beauty and the Beast talking about their marital problems to an unsympathetic, divorced Snow White that sets the subversive tone of the novel and which I loved.

On the Plot:

Snow White is the Director of Operations of Fabletown--the Deputy Mayor, who makes all the nitty gritty decisions and to ensure that everything in Fabletown runs smoothly. The beautiful Snow White is divorced from her money grubbing ex-husband Prince Charming (whom she caught in bed with her sister, Rose Red), and one dirty mouthed, tough-brass biatch. The scene opens with Bigby--that is, the Big Bad Wolf (in human guise, of course, he's more like a werewolf these days)--smoking a cigarette, sauntering in and telling Snow that they have problems. Bigby happens to also be the Sherrif of Fabletown, and has been alerted by Jack (the rogue of the Beanstalk) that Rose Red's apartment has been trashed, covered in blood, and she is nowhere to be found. As Rose's sister and head government honcho in Fabletown, Snow insists that she accompanies Bigby to find out what could have happened to her estranged sister.

And thus, the mystery is on. Bigby sniffs out that all the blood in Rose's apartment is in fact Rose's blood, and he is hot on the trail to find out what exactly happened. The investigation involves money, sex, violence, betrayal, and a slew of interesting characters--including Bluebeard, King Cole, Boy Blue, Beauty and her Beast, a divorced Cinderella, and more. And the mystery must be solved quickly to prevent the tenuous Fabletown government from falling apart, and also to make sure that none of the Mundys--that is the "mundane" regular humans--catch on.

Thea: Plot-wise, this book kicked ass. I won't go into specific plot points as I don't wish to spoil anyone, but suffice to say that this is a good old fashioned whodunit mystery, with little clues strewn about along the way to the ultimate reveal. With nods to hardboiled detective novels of old like Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Fables manages to blend a traditional murder mystery with the fantastic elements of fairy tales--and the end result is wholly winsome. I've always been a sucker for a good mystery, and while I mostly figured this one out by the ultimate reveal, the journey is the fun part. I love that in the comic book medium, clues can be included in a subtle, visual way for the reader to discover--or ignore--on their own. Truly, a brilliant, tightly written story that left me wanting to immediately run out to the bookstore and purchase the next volume in the series!

Also, a word on the premise of the series and for this universe: I loved the idea that all the Fairy Tale characters have been evacuated from their home kingdoms to escape the Adversary (a power-hungry, evil force that had divided and conquered all of the old Fables's kingdoms). And I love that the only place safe from the Adversary's hungry gaze was the kingdom of America--so insignificant as to be completely overlooked by the evil lord.

Ana: This one is definitely a winner. Having read every single Agatha Christie novel out there, I have to say I love whodunit mysteries and this one was really good. And the best of all is that the Security Officer that is investigating the crime is a reformed Big Bad Wolf! The story flows rather nicely towards the climax and a great “parlour” scene where all is revealed – I had not solved the mystery and loved how Bigby walks us through the clues just like Poirot used to do, and we get to revisit some of the images that were there from start meaning that anyone could have solved the mystery. My reaction was the same I had every time I read an AC novel: a smack to my forehead followed by a “duh it was so obvious”.

But what I loved the most about Fables was the idea that fairytales have lives that go beyond the “happily ever after” and the small details inserted, sometimes very subtly, throughout the book. More than the plot itself, I was completely immersed in the characters looking out for old favorites and trying to get used to the idea that Prince Charming, for example, is such a slime ball in this re-invention. I loved to see them struggling for a new place in the world, with the loss of land and titles, with lack of money and getting immersed in the politics of the new Fabletown. Quite creative.

On the Characters:

Thea: In addition to the very well executed murder-mystery plot, the characters are what really set this book apart and give it extra sizzle. All of the characters in the story are familiar faces--Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Rose Red, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc. We have all heard of them before, and have grown up with their stories as our bedtime fodder. In this particular retelling, the Fables are transported to the more tangible location of New York and cope with very familiar everyday problems (money woes, marital issues, sibling rivalry and fallout, horrid ex-spouses and lovers). I particularly enjoyed the character of Ms. Snow White--far from the sweet, angelic forest dweller of her fairy tale, this version cusses (a LOT), is pushy, sarcastic, and highly intelligent. Similarly, the other main character Bigby is a treat--since the General Amnesty (granted to all the Fables that evacuated the home land), he has been a dedicated detective and sheriff of Fabletown, getting paid peanuts though generally a good guy (a slouchy, very hairy, chain smoking guy, but a good guy nonetheless). The pairing of both Snow and Bigby is brilliantly executed with her competent leadership and pervasive bitchiness, and Bigby's total lack of (or care to adopt) social skills but keen detective mind.

The many other characters in the story, from the roguish Jack to the self-obsessed Prince Charming are also wonderfully portrayed and given a nice spin on tradition in this retelling.

Ana: Have you ever wondered what happened to those fairytale characters after the “and they all lived happily ever after?” . Well, it turns out, they didn’t. Beauty and the Beast are having marital problems and considering seeking counselling. Jack from Jack and the BeanStalk is still looking for an easy way to make money and Snow White and Cinderella are divorced, foul mouthed, cynical women. They all have issues; most of them lost their money and their lands when they had to flee Homeland after the invasion.

And they must learn how to interact with each other – it is hinted that before they had to move to NY they all lived in the same land but confined to their own tales. Now you get to see Cinderella fencing with Bluebeard, Jack dating Rose Red and the best of all, Snow White working together with Bigby. I loved Snow White and her resourcefulness and dedication to building Fabletown. But I ADORED Bigby and how he lacked social skills but still tried hard to remain reformed – heck, he even allows one of the Pigs (the one with the straw house) to crash at his place whenever he is in town!

The characters definitely make this book.

Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:

Thea: On the art in this book--I'm not really crazy about the more muted coloring scheme, I would have preferred sharper, darker colors instead of the dreary violet wash that dominates almost every frame. However, the penciling here is superb--I love the sort of older bombshell meets pretty-princess look Snow White (and similarly all the princesses in Fabletown) were given, along with the gruff but likable appearance given to Bigby. And while the actual art in the book isn't my favorite, I have to admit that the original covers for each individual issue, by James Jean and Alex Maleev are beautiful:

Ana:On the art of the book - I had no problems with the coloring scheme and I agree wholeheartedly with Thea that the pencilling is superb. I loved the look for the princesses – both Snow White and Cinderella look gorgeous AND kick-ass. But to be honest, unlike Thea, I much prefer the art inside than the original covers – I am not a huge fan of those.

And will you just have a look at the Big Bad Wolf :

For the record, I am shipping the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White as of now.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

Thea: The scene just before the final reveal, with Snow and Bigby dancing at the gala is priceless! (As is the final scene to close out the novel between both characters...but I'll leave that for readers to enjoy by themselves):

Bigby: Now, show me how we do this.
Snow: You've never danced before?
Bigby: Never.
Snow: Put your hands here and here. A little more gently, please. I'm not some suspect your about to wrestle to the ground. Now, follow my lead and try to stay off my feet.
Bigby: Yes, dear.
Snow: Look up.
Bigby: Then I can't see my feet.
Snow: Do it anyway. You look like you're trying to peek down my dress.
Bigby: So? Why would you wear a neckline like that if you didn't want people to look?
Snow: Perhaps women wear low necklines to filter out the gentlemen from the dogs. Those few who can still manage eye contact, even in the presence of breasts like these, might actually have some potential.
Bigby: Woof.

Ana:

Cinderella: Hi, Pinocchio, I haven’t seen you in while. Enjoying the party?
Pinocchio: No. I am most certainly NOT having a good time. I never have a good time at this ridiculous celebration.
Cinderella: Then why do you come each year ?
Pinocchio: Because, sooner of later, that blue fairy, who turned me into a real boy, is going to show her face at one of these things, and I’m going to kick her pretty azure ass
Cinderella: Why? I thought you wanted to become a real boy.
Pinocchio: Of course I did. But who knew I’d have to stay a boy forever? The ditzy bitch interpreted my wish too literally. I’m over three centuries old and I still haven’t gone through puberty. I want to grow up, want my balls to drop, and I want to get laid.

Rating:

Thea: 8 Excellent - and a world I will definitely be revisiting shortly. Immediately, in fact!

Ana: 8 Excellent – what Thea said.

Reviewed by The Book Smugglers