Re-told fairy tales seem to be a trend these days with the popularity of shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm. Before them, though, Bill Willingham was exploring the concept in his Fables comics.
Snow White, Prince Charming, the Big Bad Wolf (now known as Bigby), Cinderella, even characters like Bluebeard have all fled their homeland after it’s conquered by a figure known only as The Adversary. Those who can pass as human live in the Fabletown complex in New York, and there are few “happily ever afters” in this world. Beauty and the Beast are having marital issues, Prince Charming is hard-up for money, and Snow White’s party-animal sister Rose Red is missing, presumed dead. Everyone has been granted amnesty from what crimes they may have committed in the homeland, but a number of them could be guilty—it could be that Bluebeard hasn’t left his violent ways behind, or maybe Jack is a jealous lover, or perhaps Snow White herself finally lost patience with her sister’s recklessness in partying with the “Mundies,” or mundane citizens of this world. Bigby is on the case, though, in this whodunit.
The mash-up of fairy tales and classic gumshoe story is an entertaining one. Bigby has the brooding, trench-coated, smoking detective down pat, and even Snow White provides moments of damsel-in-distress (though that seems otherwise at odds with her cool, controlled exterior). Even the big reveal is something straight out of a classic detective story with Bigby, like Sam Spade, having long-since figured things out and finally deigning to fill in everyone else. Each volume begins with a brief preview of events to come, also lending to the pulp adventure feel. And the art? It reminds me of older Sunday comics, a la Brenda Starr, Journalist, a bit on the nostalgic side, but fitting for its coverage of characters nostalgic for what they have lost.
This is a world I want to see more of. Characters’ pasts are alluded to, and some of their history is given, but clearly a lot has transpired between losing their home and where they are now. There are also more characters to come: the creatures who could not pass as human have gone upstate to “the Farm,” and I’m curious to see who resides there and what they’re up to in this world. I also cannot wait to see what other genres Willingham dabbles with as he has so much interesting source material to play with.
I would recommend this for fans of urban fantasy and rebooted fairy tales, as well as readers looking for a series to sink their teeth into—with 19 trade paperback compilations out (and #20 due out later this year), there is plenty of good reading ahead, and if that’s not enough, the series is slated to conclude next year, making it the perfect time to head down to your local comic book store and start a pull file for new issues as they come out.