Imagine all the fairy tale characters you’ve ever read about and loved have been forced violently out of their homeland by a great war, that an evil force known only as the Adversary has waged battle on “a thousand separate kingdoms spread over a hundred magic worlds.” While all the fairy tale animals—the Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs, etc.—are forced to live on an upstate New York farm, anyone that can pass for human resides in the city. The likes of Cinderella, Bluebeard and Jack (of beanstalk fame) hide in New York City, in exile, in the real world. And in the real world, happy endings are hard to come by.
Bill Willingham takes the concept and turns it into one of the best reads in comics today, mixing mystery, action and humor into one book. The post-modern storybook spin may resemble Shrek, but you won’t find any jabs at Disney here. Old King Cole is the figurehead of Fabletown (with Prince Charming gunning for his job), but the one really running the show is Snow White. While trying to keep Beauty and the Beast out of legal trouble and stop Prince Charming from auctioning off his royal title, she finds out her sister, Rose Red, is missing—her apartment trashed and covered in blood. In order to find the culprit, she calls on Fabletown’s resident detective Bigby Wolf—the Big Bad Wolf himself, now able to assume human form—and the search is on.
The murder of the first story arc “Legends in Exile” served primarily as a backdrop for introducing the characters that inhabit Willingham’s world. He has taken his time crafting every character you can think of, and some that you may not recall without consulting a copy of the Brothers Grimm. While “Legends” sets everything up, the second arc is when everything begins to be torn down. In “Animal Farm,” Snow White makes her bi-annual visit to the farm, where we meet Goldilocks, who has turned into a gun-toting revolutionary leading an uprising of the Fabletown animals against anyone that may challenge them.
Willingham has a tough job proving that these characters belong in the real world, but he does it convincingly. Giving each character enough time to shine and interact with the others, they come to life and stay true to the roots of what they once were, while adding layers of depth. Whether it’s Pinocchio complaining of his wooden body or Boy Blue searching for his one true love lost in the war, they all get their moment in the sun, even if it is brief. After all, not every story can end with a “happily ever after.”
FABLES By Bill Willingham and Various artists Vertigo Publishing
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