Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fables: Issues #1 - #10 [July 02 - April 03]

Mindless wander through the review blogs brought to me piece of information that there is a comic book series that starred all the fairy tale characters and more. My awareness that Fables existed built like a puzzle, until I read a guest review on the Book Smugglers site [actually a Guest Dare] and I got a detailed picture what I could expect from Fables, so I decided to hunt down whatever I could find as issues. The result is that I have around 50 issues [40 or so short from being up-to-date with the original run], which isn’t at all satisfactory, but I’m still young and a virile reader and will manage to secure the rest of these issues.

‘Fables’ has a simple enough premise to ensure it has a long, healthy run before a conclusion comes in sight. Maybe the series will even live as long as Batman with 600 issues and more, hopefully. The world, from where the fables originate, has fallen under occupation. With no alternative but to run, the fables hide in our mundane world to avoid death and enslavement. The human looking fables are located in the Woodland Apartment building in NYC, while the talking animals and all not so easily passed off as humans fables are located in an estate as far away from prying eyes, simply referred to as the Farm. The series is situation based and acts as the record of the fables’ lives in our world.

The ten issues I have read so far cover two large story arcs, which convinced me that the idea is a gold mine and it’s clear why Fables have persisted in the market. Bill Willingham’s name is one I’ll make sure to remember, because his writing is spectacular. One can tell that he is a natural born story teller with a vivid and unlimited imagination. The appeal behind having all the beloved fairy tale and classic novel characters re-imagined in our world in order to adapt to our world and then seen through the prism of immortality, is instantly magnetic. All adults, who have grown with the happily-ever-afters, know that real life is quite on the opposite, so to introduce the characters that set some standards on how perfect life could be/should be with not-so-pleasant grey realism is a double win, because then readers are hooked on nostalgia as well as the opportunity to see how well will these princes/princesses fair, when there’s no sure happy end predestined. At least this has been my reaction towards the series’ premise. The issues I have read confirm this theory for me.

What I loved was the reinvention iconic characters have received. Snow White is the woman behind the fable community. From a Disney innocent princess she’s become a frosty business woman, always in a suit. She’s divorced. Prince Charming is a money hungry Bohemian. The Big Bad Wolf is called Bigby and is the community’s sheriff, while Blue Boy is a secretary to Snow and Goldilocks is a revolutionary. I can continue with this list, but there is not a point to spoil your fun from discovering these yourselves and will move on to the first two arcs.

The series kicks off with a bang as the community is shook with the sudden and violent death of Rose Red [Snow’s estranged sister / part child extraordinaire]. Genre-wise this arc is pure detective crime mystery and is treated as such with issues titled like “Whodunit”. Bigby is on the case and while on the surface he seems to be messing around more than he is helping the end result is impressive. The reader is taken on a carousel ride with suspect interviews with Jack of Tales, the Blue Beard and even Snow White herself, while at the same time there is no corpse, no direct evidence and clues strewn all over, which later on assembled gives tribute to the best tales in this genre. I especially enjoyed the Big Bad Wolf as a detective/sheriff with timeless trademarks like the trench coat, cigarette habit, unshaved face and wise cracking mouth. It felt like reading through stills from an old 80s detective sitcom like Colombo. This impression is also left by the artist Lan Medina, who has a very classic technique, which is ingenious to the retro comics from a few decades back [80s, again?], though I wish I could pinpoint it exactly.

The case ends with a shocking revelation that the murder has been a hoax, conceived by Rose Red herself and her boyfriend Jack of Tales in order to get out of debt. With this blast-off I never needed any more coaxing into digging further in my stash. The second arc adds speed and momentum to series by introducing the Farm and the beginnings of a Civil War between the human Fables and the non-human fables. The politics have been handled by the three pigs, which aren’t little anymore, while the muscle behind the operation is Goldilocks and the three bears. Snow White has picked the wrong time to bond with her sister at the Farm and soon is prime target for assassination. Snow survives, but not without suffering a head shot first and making it only because she’s a beloved icon and the humans’ belief in her did the magic trick.

What I enjoyed here is the attention to detail and resourcefulness, with which Willingham has handled the arc. His characters are full rounded and compelling, even the antagonists. From their fairy tale roots to their modern incarnations everything is flawless from backstory in this world, to speech, manners and even clothing. Everything fits and modifications to the original essence of these beloved figures have been allowed in reasonable moderation. I love risk takers and Willingham doesn’t play it safe, willing to turn fable against fable and go as far as issuing executions to those that started the Civil War in the first place. Reading this arc was accompanied with a lot of ‘wows’ and ‘is this really happening?’. Mark Buckingham takes the position as artist and I barely noticed the transition, since his technique emulates Medina’s to a degree that the careless eye might notice the change after a few issues in.

Verdict: I am in the bouncing stages of pure, unadulterated joy. I give this series an ‘A’ with a whole lot of pluses. Can you believe that this is just the beginning? Vertigo, you amaze me as an imprint.

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