California Literary Review

Fables: The Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 by Bill Willingham

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January 21st, 2010 at 12:07 pm

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Fables: The Deluxe Edition (Book 1) by Bill Willingham
Fables Deluxe Edition Vol. 1
by Bill Willingham
Vertigo, 260 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Once Upon a Time . . .

The back cover of Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Vol. 1 asks the question: “Imagine that all the characters from the world’s most beloved storybooks were real—real, and living among us, with all of their powers intact. How would they cope with life in our mundane, unmagical world?”

Leave it to Bill Willingham to answer it.

Comic and graphic novel fans probably know Willingham through Robin, Shadowpact, and the Sandman spinoff Thessaly: Witch for Hire. Willingham superfans might also have encountered less known titles like Elementals, Coventry, and Ironwood. But without a doubt, it’s the series that he began seven years ago, Fables, that has captured the imaginations of so many readers. The premise of this story is clear and simple—familiar characters from fairy tales and folklore escape after an army of creatures led by the mysterious Adversary has come to conquer their home worlds. Where do all these exiled creatures go?

New York City, of course.

The first book included in this deluxe edition, though, is a classic whodunit mystery where Snow White’s wild-child sister, Rose Red, vanishes. Her room shows signs of a struggle and the darkly-drawn crime scene shows blood everywhere. Written in blood on the wall is “No more happily ever after,” which sums up the mood of this series, too. In comes the gumshoe werewolf detective, Bigby Wolf, who chain smokes, sports a five ‘o clock shadow, and speaks like he’s Mickey Spillane’s twin brother. The backdrop of this murder mystery is the annual celebration called Remembrance Day, where every Fable “dressed up to the nines, old stories are retold,” and everyone makes donations to support the Fabletown government.

The suspects of Rose Red’s demise are many. Snow White, the second in command of the Fables, who has had a falling out with her sister after Rose Red slept with her husband, Prince Charming. Jack the Giant Killer, who reported the crime in the first place and is a constant schemer, trouble magnet, and sometimes boyfriend of Rose Red’s. Bluebeard, the pirate and serial killer, who had been dating her recently. And Rose Red partied hard, so who knows what low-lives she had around her who might have simply lost it?

Don’t be dissuaded by the predictable outcome of the Rose Red story. The writing gets infinitely better from here on out, as does the larger story line. Many large tales start slow, and this one is no exception. It’s as if the primary goal is to show the day-to-day life of those in Fabletown, though we do get a pretty good handle on Bigby Wolf and Snow White along the way.

Part of the real charm of this series is how the characters you think you know are turned, almost twisted, into something more devious and more interesting. Prince Charming is a many-times-divorced playboy who makes Hugh Hefner look innocent. Goldilocks is a greedy, violent communist. Pinocchio only attends the Remembrance Day celebration in hopes of running into the blue fairy who turned him into a real boy because she did it too literally—he’s stuck in pre-pubescence forever and wants to “kick her pretty azure ass.” He continues with his rant, saying, “I’m over three centuries old and I still haven’t gone through puberty. I want to grow up, I want my balls to drop, and I want to get laid.” That’s a good sample of the tone and style that this series offers. Willingham’s work isn’t for the weak-hearted.

If the characters exist in the public domain, they’re fair game whether they’re from The Jungle Book, nursery rhymes, ribald ballads, or whispered legends. In his introduction, Willingham warns: “You’re about to meet some old friends that you haven’t seen in a while. You already know their first stories—their adventurous tales form long ago. Now you get to find out what they’ve been up to lately. Some you can trust. Others you should never turn your back on. But isn’t that always the way of things?”

A major problem for the Fables is that many cannot pass for human, so they collectively buy a huge farm upstate to hide the non-human members within while the others live in a luxury apartment complex in downtown New York called The Woodlands. Sure enough, this leads to a sense of the haves and have-nots. When Snow White heads upstate to the Farm after the Rose Red incident, she doesn’t worry unduly about the strange meetings and furtive glances all around her. But then the head of a friend and wise companion of hers, Colin Piggy (of the Three Little Pigs), shows up on a stake. The phone lines are cut. The Farm creatures have taken sides—those who desire going back and attacking the Adversary, and those who are loyal to the current Fable government, headed by Snow White (Director of Operations) and King Cole (unofficial mayor for life). Bigby Wolf and Little Boy Blue eventually learn that something is amiss at the Farm, so they muster a posse and head to Snow White’s rescue. Only she doesn’t need help, having gotten it already from some very powerful, very unusual creatures the Goldilocks-led rebels didn’t count on.

While the drawings are only fairly good, the dialogue is hilarious, the Fables are interesting, and the goal seems to always be pure, fast-paced entertainment. If you’ve been following Fables long enough to have already read the first two volumes (ten issues) that make up this deluxe edition, this isn’t a must-buy except for the true collector. It does have a nice introduction by Willingham and a few early sketches of some of the Fables cast. This book seems really designed for someone wanting to plunge deeply into this mysterious world of fairy tales and legends versus just getting their toes wet at the edge of this dark, dark pool.

Go ahead—they’re waiting for you.

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