I was a freshman in college when I started reading comics, and as someone who’d cut her teeth on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Bill Willingham’s Fables struck a sweet spot I was previously unaware I’d had. Fables, the literal characters and enchanted objects from fairytale and legend alike, have been displaced by an otherwise unnamed Adversary. Chased into our world, they occupy a block in Manhattan, and hide their existence from the “Mundies” using a variety of means, but mostly magic.
Fables manages to take the truly outlandish and otherworldly, and translate it to the bureaucratic and banal. I mean that in the best way. Fabletown is draped in more red tape than one woman can handle. Fables: Legends in Exile, the first trade paperback of the comic series, follows Snow White and Bigby Wolf through a murder investigation. Snow is the beleaguered assistant to Major King Cole, handling the heavy-lifting while he takes care of the gladhanding. Bigby Wolf, pardoned from his crimes against other Fables after the diaspora, is the sheriff, investigating the murder of Snow’s sister, Rose Red. Whodunnit? Rose’s boyfriend, Jack the Giantkiller? Or her fiance, Bluebeard?
The characters themselves come off as charicatures here, which of course they are. Willingham is exploring what the audience knows of Snow White, our expectation of her versus who she is now in the Mundane reality. What is a displaced princess with a rogue sister to do? Bigby serves as a fun contrast to Snow; he is every inch the hardboiled detective, grizzled and gruff with a spotty past. It’s fun to watch how various Fables react to him.
Legends in Exile is a fun mixture of noir and fantasy. The art is laden with easter eggs (what’s that in the background? The vorpal sword? Snicker-snack, and all that?). And if you decide to seek out the individual issues, James Jean’s covers are breathtaking. I’m pretty sure that Jean’s covers are why I picked up the book initially. It’s worth noting, though, that even though the subject matter stems from childhood fairytales, the story is not for children. Willingham’s Fables are decidedly adult in their appetites (yes, even Pinocchio, though not explicitly).
If you are into: fantasy/fairytale tropes and noir mysteries. Fables: Legends in Exile is a fun (though not sticky) read.