“Once we were a thousand separate kingdoms, spread over a hundred magic worlds. We were kings and cobblers. Wizards and woodcarvers. We had our sinners, our saints, and our blatant social climbers. And from the grandest lord to the lowliest peasant girl, we were, for the most part, strangers one to another.”
“It took an invasion to unite us.”
Reimagining fairy tales is not necessarily a new endeavor. They have ranged from the cute and fun “Tangled” to the popular TV series “Once Upon A Time” to the strange action-oriented stuff like “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” Authors like Neil Gaiman (“Snow Glass Apples”), Anne Rice (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty) and Alan Moore (Lost Girls) have taken their shot at spinning these classic tales as often darker, more sexual and more dangerous than their original versions allowed. It’s the nature of these stories that they’re rich enough to withstand being reworked in new ways by new creative forces and still retain a lot of their potency.
Like many, I was first exposed to Bill Willingham’s Eisner Award winning series Fables through Telltale Games’ great game “The Wolf Among Us.” It is a wonderful game that acts as a prequel to the series and lets you into the world of Fabletown and its various inhabitants. That said, even without playing a minute of the game, the first volume of the series, titled “Legends in Exile”, acts as a solid introduction to the series.
Fables tells the tale of the denizens of Fabletown, beings and creatures out of the fables and fairy tale stories of old. Centuries ago, an unknown and powerful being dubbed “The Adversary” marched upon their various lands and conquered, enslaved and killed many of the fairy folk. Those lucky enough to escape found their way to New York City, where they founded a new community: Fabletown. Refugees in a strange and dangerous new land, the fable folk took to finding new positions within their community or the normal (aka the mundane or “mundy”) world as best they could. Some managed to escape with their vast wealth intact while others left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. This has created a stratified society where some live in relative luxury while others scrounge just to get by.
Into this world, a murder mystery sets us off when Jack (of Jack & the Beanstalk fame) walks into the office of Sheriff Bigby Wolf (AKA The Big Bad Wolf) and claims that his long-time girlfriend Rose Red is dead. It becomes Bigby’s job to solve the disappearance/murder of Rose with the support of Rose’s sister, Snow White. This is complicated by the return of Snow’s ex-husband, Prince Charming, the demands of Snow’s job as Deputy Mayor of Fabletown and the upcoming Remembrance Day, when all the fairy folk remember their exile. It is also the day much of the operational funds for Fabletown are raised. To say nothing of the various schemes and plots by different fairy folk.
Much of the fun is uncovering where fable characters have landed unto our world. Like I said, the protagonist-cum-hero is the Big Bad Wolf. Reformed into being the Sheriff of Fabletown, Bigby is a noir detective, wearing a coat and smoking like a chimney. Meanwhile Prince Charming is an unrepentant womanizer, lout and schemer, who has burnt his last bridge among European nobility. And Snow White, his ex-wife, loathes him for having cheated on her with her sister, Rose Red. She’s instead focused on the day-to-day operations of Fabletown and finding a way to keep it all running as smoothly as it is possible; taking it all in and shouldering the load for a people without a home onto herself.
The artwork by Lan Medina (Aquaman) is solid as it manages to convey the world and the characters. Taking a lot of his cues from traditional depictions, the Fables are recognizable even as they have morphed into new creatures in the “real world.” So the villainous Bluebeard has trimmed his infamous beard thin after his escape from the Fables lands. Bibgy can transform into a werewolf-like version of himself. Prince Charming is a dapper, always dressed and always smiling confidence man. And so forth.
From all reports, the series gets even better than this initial volume. Wars, conflicts, double-crossings and children all enter the picture. I cannot recommend you try it enough. If you’re interested in a new take on classic characters, it’s an interesting and fun. You end up wanting to read more.